Tag Archives: Daisy

James Abbott McNeill Whistler – Harmony in Grey and Green

6 Feb

“A fallen blossom
Returning to the branch?
It was a butterfly.”

(Moritake)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander, 1872-1874

Whistler painted quite a few ladies in white gowns, but those ladies usually have a look of melancholy or wistfulness on their gentle faces. The little girl appears to be showing off her clothes, her white stockings, her black satin slippers, her hat with a large feather, all the way to her dazzlingly white muslin gown, but as our gaze slowly moves up, we see a pale face with pouting lips and a distant gaze that doesn’t speak of joy or rapture. This little girl however looks rather moody, hiding her anger because she isn’t allowed to express it. But how can someone dressed in such a pretty gown be so moody? How can someone posing for an artist not have cheeks blushing from thrill and rapture? This dolly isn’t a typical melancholy muse as Joanna Hiffernan was; Whistler’s lover and companion who posed for his Symphony in White no 2 and some other paintings. This little girl is Miss Cicely Alexander, a daughter of a banker that Whistler met because of their mutual interest in Oriental art, and she was eight years old when this unfortunate sitting took place. More than one sitting naturally. It took the pedantic Whistler more than seventy sittings to paint everything just as he had envisioned it. He didn’t seem to take Miss Cicely’s feelings into consideration and despite the lyrical beauty of the portrait, it didn’t remain in good memory for the little girl. This is what she had to say about the sittings: “I’m afraid I rather considered that I was a victim all through the sittings, or rather standings, for he never let me change my position, and I believe I sometimes used to stand for hours at a time. I know I used to get very tired and cross, and often finished the day in tears.

That’s why she looks moody! Why, wouldn’t you be moody and angry yourself, if you had to stand still for a long time and not be able to play with dolls or joke around with your friends or siblings. Sitting for Whistler surely made her feel like Sisyphus carrying that huge stone to the top of the hill over and over again; a never ending pursuit…  which did have its ending after all. And the result is a very dreamy painting that continues Whistler’s tradition of portraits of wistful ladies inspired by Japonism. In this portrait, hints of Japan come in form of bright curious daisies on the right and a few butterflies that desperately want to escape the canvas. I really love how the tall daisies seem to be leaning towards the girl, as if they are trying to comfort her; “shhh little girl, don’t cry, that Mr Whistler may be awfully demanding but the painting will be a dream once finished”. The daisies are such prophets and they were right. Whistler’s eccentricity, love for l’art pour l’art philosophy and his pedantic approach to his art truly shine through in this portrait. He paid meticulous attention to all the aspects of the setting, especially the colours because he wanted to achieve a palette of muted shades, white and greys. The carpet and the walls are in many shades of grey while Miss Cicely shines in white like a resplendent white flower. The carpet was order made and that gorgeous muslin dress was designed by Whistler and made especially for Miss Cicely to wear in this portrait. He even made sure the family find the right muslin, as a dandy he would know the fabrics!

I really love all of Whistler’s harmonies and symphonies and their balanced colour palettes, dreamy ambients and pretty wistful sitters. For a long time my favourite was The Little White Girl, and perhaps it still is, but I feel that in this portrait Whistler achieved the minimalism of colours and space that he so loved in Japanese art; the background isn’t cluttered with fur carpets or fireplaces, it is just that meditative grey that stretches on and on, the mood of infinity broken only by that black line which somewhat reminds me of a canvas by Rothko, and the canvas is a little bit elongated which brings to mind the ukiyo-e prints and the formats they used. When I look at this portrait for a long time, at first I hear silence but then I hear quiet music emerging, an echo of the daisies’ laughter, and a sound of flute carried on by the butterflies chasing each other around the moody girl in white… Oh, how she wishes she could join them!

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Oscar Wilde – Speak gently she can hear the daisies grow

22 Feb

Today I’ll share with you a poem I recently stumbled upon and loved very much: Requiescat by Oscar Wilde. I particularly loved the first stanza and the last one, and the rest in between.

The Birch Tree (1967), by Ante Babaja

Tread lightly, she is near

Under the snow,

Speak gently, she can hear

The daisies grow.

 

All her bright golden hair

Tarnished with rust,

She that was young and fair

Fallen to dust.

 

Lily-like, white as snow,

She hardly knew

She was a woman, so

Sweetly she grew.

 

Coffin-board, heavy stone,

Lie on her breast,

I vex my heart alone,

She is at rest.

 

Peace, peace, she cannot hear

Lyre or sonnet,

All my life’s buried here,

Heap earth upon it.

Rimbaud – Sensation

21 Mar

Spring has finally sprung! Every daisy in the grass, every drop of spring rain, every velvety breeze promises excitement! My days will soon be filled with laughter and colourful clothes, reading on the window sill, daydreaming to the sounds of Psychedelia or Madchester music, ‘Lazing in the foggy dew‘, and endlessly strolling around.

1872. springtime - claude monet1872. Springtime – Claude Monet

Arthur Rimbaud’s poem ‘Sensation‘, written in March 1870 when he was just sixteen years old, perfectly expresses a sense of freedom, excitement and being young. Along with Kerouac’s On the Road, this poem is the epitome of freedom, at least for me.

Sensation is Rimbaud’s rapturous dream of escaping into nature which was his main inspiration. Nature represented a wellspring of freedom and inalienable love at the same time. In Rimbaud’s eyes Nature was Venus, his love inspiration to whom he dedicated his poem Sun and Flesh (Credo in Unam). Poem ‘Sensation’ evokes sensuous freshness of Rimbaud’s early verses which were written while he still lived in a small town of Charleville. Life in the province suffocated Arthur Rimbaud, an intelligent and eloquent young man, with eyes that a childhood friend described as ‘pale blue irradiated with dark blue—the loveliest eyes I’ve seen‘.

His father had already left the family, and his mother, Vitalie, was a dominant and pious woman, patronising young Arthur and depriving him from his freedom. In all of his early poems there’s a sense of longing for freedom, an enormous wish to fly away, venture into the unknown; a typical teenage rebellion and yearning for excitement. His poems are marked by revolt against traditional values; family, patriotism and Christianity. For young Rimbaud the only escape from that bleak world of tradition was to wander off into the woods, and idle in the shadow of trees, imagining Venuses, Nymphs and fatal women, while still as inexperienced as a sixteen year old lad can be. Fruit of his musings were poems such as Sensation, A Dream for Winter and Nina’s Replies (‘Seventeen! You’ll be so happy!/Oh! the big meadows/The wide loving countryside! – Listen, come closer!…‘), all of which have an aura of dreamy and idle afternoons. A woman is an adventure, an escape into solemnity of senses, and a realised love equals liberation from all constraints of society.

Strong desire to escape boredom which pervades Rimbaud’s early poems, and their mystical quality is a combination which makes them popular today still. Rimbaud’s poems were read and admired by many different artists, from Amedeo Modigliani to Richey Edwards. I can’t even put it in words what this poem means to me, how it enlightened me, inspired me! Memories of reading Rimbaud’s poems for the first time are still vivid in my mind. I remember the thrill, the passion, the tremble, the rapture I felt upon reading ‘Sensation‘ for the first time, then Season in Hell and Illuminations. I was reborn after discovering Rimbaud!

Ever since I read ‘Sensation’ for the first time, these verses stayed etched in my head (‘I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:/But endless love will mount in my soul’). I know the poem by heart, and do not hesitate to recite it during one of my long, long walks, in the rain, in the sun, in the dusk; those are the moments when I really feel free, like a bird released from its cage.

Sensation

On the blue summer evenings, I shall go down the paths,
Getting pricked by the corn, crushing the short grass:
In a dream I shall feel its coolness on my feet.
I shall let the wind bathe my bare head.

I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:
But endless love will mount in my soul;
And I shall travel far, very far, like a gipsy,
Through the countryside – as happy as if I were with a woman.

1873. Reading by Berhte Morisot1873. Reading by Berthe Morisot

His ‘genius, its flowering, explosion and sudden extinction, still astonishes‘.