Tag Archives: J.M.W. Turner

J.M.W. Turner – Romantic Watecolours of German Castles

23 Jul

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Klotten and Burg Coraidelstein from the East, 1840

The great British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner was not content with just painting the green English meadows and cathedrals like John Constable, or Welsh castles and mountains like Paul Sandby. His visions were grander and his spirit more insatiable for the new landscapes and new skies. Led by romantic wanderlust, Turner traveled to Germany, and visited the area of Middle Rhein ten times in years from 1817 to 1844. The area was famous even then for its pictorial and spiritual beauties; lush green hills surrounding the river were littered with castles and ruins of castles, remains of monasteries and churches which had been demolished in political wars following the Reformations and in later centuries as a result of Napoleon’s quests. And then there is the golden-haired siren, made famous through Heinrich Heine’s poem “Die Lorelei” written in 1824, who sits on the Lorelei rock, combs her long hair and with her voice alone leads wanderers and sailors to their doom.

J.M.W. Turner, Lorelei Rock, c. 1817

I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening’s final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
So marvelous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She’s combing her golden hair.

(Read the rest of the poem here.)

An artist living in Romanticism, an era which praised nature, imagination and the past simply couldn’t have visited the Rhine area without being captivated by the eerie legends and poems surrounding the Lorelei rock. In 1817, when Turner first visited the area, he made the painting of the Lorelei rock that you can see above. As interesting this painting is, and similar to many romantic landscape paintings that I like, I much prefer Turner’s more spontaneous works made in graphite, watercolour and gouache, painted during his travels to Germany in 1839 and 1840. His focus clearly shifted from the river and the Lorelei rock to the castles on the hills around the Rhine. The sketches are less theatrical than Turner’s famed earlier seascapes glistening in yellow and gold, and the atmosphere is gentler than that of his wild shipwrecks and seas under the moonlight’s glow. As much as I enjoy those paintings for their romantic exaggeration and dramatic flair, gazing at these dreamy watercolours is perfect for drifting into a reverie.

The softness and vagueness of these castles and landscapes appears as if it was designed to be completed in one’s imagination. Here and there you can see the traces of the pencil showing under the faint layers of warm dusky colours. It seems like the sunset is colouring the castles in orange and yellow shades, while in some drawings pops of blue and sharp white awake our eyes. Vague and dreamy, somewhere rich layers of brown and yellow form the mountains, and at other places, the contours of towers and roofs simply fade… Vague, loose brushstrokes, almost Impressionistic. I think we could rightfully call these watercolours “Turner’s impressions” of old castles, hills, skies and ruins. This vagueness is precisely what draws me to these drawings, and it was the same quality that made these artworks unpopular in his times, especially in Germany. I like all of these watercolours because they make me daydream, but the one called “Burg Thurandt” from 1839 interests me especially because it’s so abstract.

J.M.W. Turner, Burg Eltz and Trutz Eltz from the North, 1840, Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper

J.M.W. Turner, Burg Bischofstein, 1840, Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper

J.M.W. Turner, Burg Eltz and Trutz Eltz from the North, 1840, Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper

J.M.W. Turner, Burg Hals from the Hillside, 1840, watercolour and gouache on paper

J.M.W. Turner, Alken and Burg Thurandt, 1840, Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper

J.M.W. Turner, Klotten and Burg Coraidelstein from the East, 1839

J.M.W. Turner, Burg Thurandt, 1839

J.M.W. Turner, Burg Bischofstein, 1839, Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper

J.M.W. Turner, Alken and Burg Thurandt from the South, 1839

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Pre-Romanticism: Ruined Abbeys, Erotic Dreams and Strange Visions

29 Oct

In this post we’ll explore Pre-Romanticism through its main themes and occupations; ruined abbeys, erotic dreams and strange visions. There’s a strong Gothic vibe in early Romanticism; dreams, visions, vampires and hallucinations, and artists sought inspiration in myths and ballades of the past, Celtic and Germanic fairy tales, and everything that evoked the spirit of the Middle Ages. Compared to the flashy second generation of Romanticism, art of Pre-Romanticism is shrouded in thousands of veils, in it an insurmountable mountain, a misty lake in a desolate countryside, it’s a dream of Albion. Pre-Romanticism is a gentle plant that grew from the imagination of the people of the North; from their gloom soothed by the roaring of the sea and their melancholy which enabled them to look within and to transcend the darkness of their surroundings.

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794

Romanticism developed very early in British art and literature. In the same years when fashion and interior design were ruled by Rococo exuberance, and visual arts were dominated by Classical ideas imposed by the French painter David, a new sensibility was arising from the mists of Albion. Strongly opposing the cold and rational age of Enlightenment, artists of the new generation, represented by Thomas Gray, James Macpherson and Ann Radcliffe in literature, and Henry Fuseli, Turner and William Blake in visual arts, praised imagination and strong feelings, and advocated the return to nature. ‘Sturm und Drang’ in German literature and writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau were also very important in creating the new spirit.

These artists found inspiration in everything otherworldly, dreamy and shrouded in mystery. All of a sudden, the artistic and literary stage of Europe was swamped with vampires and other ‘dreadful creatures’ (a tendency further developed by Mary Shelley). Proneness towards melancholy, strange visions, thoughts of death and transience, sleep and dreams, old ruins, long forgotten castles – all these themes suddenly pervaded the artistic landscape. Interest in the cold and gloomy North revealed to early Romanticists the beauty of old Icelandic sagas, the charms of the Scottish bard, the allure of dark Germanic, Celtic and Scandinavian legends and fairy tales, and drew their attention to everything ‘Gothic’; sombre, gruesome, frightening, because that’s how the folkloric and historical legacy of the ‘dark’ Middle Ages was perceived as.

Tintern Abbey, West Front circa 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), Tintern Abbey, West Front circa 1794

Old ruins

As I’ve already mentioned, old ruins were an interesting subject for painters to incorporate in their sublime landscapes, and for poets they served as starting points for contemplation about life and death. William Wordsworth wrote verses inspired by the famous Tintern Abbey, and J.M.W. Turner captured its delicate beauty overgrown with ivy a few time. We could say that this ‘old ruin’, a symbol of some other times, was a muse for early Romanticists. You can easily picture a young man resting in the shadow of the Abbey, thinking of his lovely maiden, treasuring a lock of her hair, and thinking of the day they will finally be together. You can also imagine the Abbey in the stillness of the night, above it the shining full moon and stars. Ruins were popular because they were perceived as ‘pictures of despair and destruction’, further developing the sensibility of sublime.

1790-91-henry-fuseli-the-nightmareHenry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1790-91

Erotic Dreams

Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote that ‘Gleams from remote world visit the soul in sleep’, and the main focus of Fuseli’s art lies in dreams. He believed they were the most unexplored areas in art, which isn’t really a surprise because, firstly – how do you paint dreams, and secondly – until Romanticism there wasn’t really a concept of artist as a genius, a visionary, and because they were considered mere craftsmans, themes of their artworks were limited.

This isn’t the original version of this painting. Due to the popularity of the original, painted in 1781, Fuseli painted a few more versions and this is one of them. It shows a young woman sleeping and experiencing a nightmare. In a restless sleep, her arms are stretching, her golden ringlets falling down. Poor maiden, as helpless in her sleep as a virgin from one of Hammer production vampire films. It’s interesting that we can see her and the content of her nightmare at the same time. There’s a stark contrast between her light white-blueish nightgown and her almost ghostlike pale skin, and the darkness that lures from the background. Fuseli took inspiration from Germanic folkloric beliefs that demons and witches posses people who sleep alone. Lady’s pose was considered rather erotic when it was painted, but Fuseli was known to have had a collection of erotic drawings that might have served as an inspiration.

Still, what’s so appealing about this painting isn’t the composition or the colours, but its ability to anticipate the hidden and restless world of nightmares and the unconscious.

1790s ‘The Wandring Moon.’ Watercolour by William Blake (1757-1827).

William Blake (1757-1827), The Wandering Moon, Watercolour, 1816-20

Strange Visions

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.‘ (W.Blake)

Ah, finally, the visionary, the revolutionary-mystic, the rebel, the pot-head of Romanticism – William Blake, important for poetry and paintings alike.

Madame de Staël (Anne-Louise-Germaine),writes that people living in the North were more prone to melancholy, at the same time naming it as the reason that made their imaginations more vivid, more restless than it was with nations in the South. I’ll quote the book: ‘The people of the North were less engaged in pleasure than in its opposite sensation; and this rendered their imagination more fertile: the prospects of nature had almost unbounded influence over them; but it affected them as it appeared in their climate, always dark and gloomy.‘ (Madame de Staël, The Influence of Literature Upon Society, Volume 1, page 271)

William Blake is one of the finest examples of fertile imagination of the people of the North, as his poems and drawings were not only original and unique, but also very strange, mystic and flamboyant in terms of colours and ideas. His lonely and unreachable imagination produced drawings and watercolours that perfectly combine themes from Milton, Dante and the Bible, made with a prophetic vigour in strong and bitter colours. As an example of Blake’s wonderful imagination I’ll mention his portrayal of a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hell, Canto V, where he shows two sinful lovers, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo, painted in deep blue and luminous white greyish shades. Namely, Dante reserved the second circle of hell for sinful lovers; Cleopatra, Paris, Helena, Tristan, Paolo and Francesca, who are carried away by the wind as a symbol of passion that guided them during their lives. Blake here used the motif of wind and created the composition as strange as it is imaginative.

1824-27-william-blake-the-lovers-whirlwind-francesca-da-rimini-and-paolo-malatestaWilliam Blake, The Lovers’ Whirlwind, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, 1824-27

I love Pre-Romanticism, the mystic gloominess of it, and I have to stress this point again – it is characteristic for Northern nations; mainly England and Germany. While the playful, sweet and flowery aesthetic of Rococo ruled the court of France, British artists had already dipped their fingers in the sea of Pre-Romanticism, and later elaborated it to the finest detail because they naturally had an eye for wild and untamed nature, picturesque seashores, lovely gardens lush with greenness. Even Thomas Gainsborough added a slight romantic sensibility in his portraits by painting nature as a background, whereas his French peers preferred a salon to showcase their wealth and luxury. Even with painters such as John Constable who are a tad more traditional with landscapes, you see that romantic spirit. In his painting ‘Stonehenge’ he chose to capture the old, mysterious pagan ruins, and the wild majestic sky over them. I think with Romanticism and British art and literature, it was just a question of time when it would raise to the surface, but it was a sensibility deeply woven into the art of the island. I’ll quote Madame de Stael again, it’s a bit long citation, but I couldn’t resists adding it because it perfectly captures the spirit of Pre-Romanticism.

Melancholy poetry is that which accords best with philosophy. Depression of spirits leads us to penetrate more deeply into the character and destiny of man, than any other disposition of the mind. The English poets who succeeded the Scots bards, added to their descriptions those very ideas and reflections which those description ought to have given birth to: but they have preserved, from the fine imagination of the North that gloom which is soothed with the roaring of the sea, and the hollow blast that rages on the barren heath, and, in short, every thing dark and dismal, which can force a mind dissatisfied with its existence here, to look forward to another state. The vivid imagination of the people of the North darting beyond the boundaries of a world whose confines they inhabited, penetrated through the black cloud that obscured their horizon, and seemed to represent the dark passage to eternity.‘ (page 271)*

1835-stonehenge-john-constable-1John Constable, Stonehenge, 1835

If you survived reading this very long post, I congratulate you!

J.M.W. Turner and John Constable’s Approach to Landscapes

15 Oct

The importance of landscape painting changed under the influence of the Romantic movement in the late 18th century, and great artists took the job of elevating this genre of painting to new dimensions as their life goal. Tradition was both an obstacle and help. Two English artists of Romanticism approached this problem differently, though equally interesting and inspirational for generations to follow, those were J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.

Peace - Burial at Sea exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851Peace – Burial at Sea – J.M.W. Turner, 1842

Turner was a successful artists whose paintings often caused sensation on the Royal Academy. His ambition in life was to reach, if not surpass, the glory of Claude Lorraine’s landscapes. When he died, Turner left all his paintings, drawings and sketches to the English nation, under one condition – that his painting Dido building Carthage (1815) is always exhibited next to the paintings of Claude Lorrain. His comparison is a bit unfair; while the world of Lorrain’s paintings is a world of dreams, undisturbed serenity and simplicity, Turner’s painting, which also reflect fantastical worlds bathed in gold lightness and shining with beauty, radiate not serenity but motion and excitement, his worlds are not those of simple harmonies but of astonishing grandeur. Turner deliberately painted with an aim to captive and amaze the viewer, and his landscape of turbulent seas, storms and fires imply the romantic sumptuousness of nature.

If we take a look at Turner’s painting above ‘Burial at Sea’ the sense of excitement and movement is evident, and limited amount of colours – black, yellow, white and blue were quite enough for Turner to create this dynamic rapture. Objects in Turner’s art are usually shapeless, but as Stephane Mallarme said “To define is to kill. To suggest is to create.” Turner’s sea scenes of boats, storms and waves are here to fulfill the needs of our imagination, not to teach us about boats and boat equipment. Turner’s paintings always portray an emotion.

1838. Ovid Banished from Rome - J.M.W. TurnerOvid Banished from Rome – J.M.W. Turner, 1838

Tradition was always a burden for Constable. It’s not that he lacked the admiration for old masters, but he simply wanted to paint what he saw in front of him, not what Claude Lorrain saw centuries ago. To Constable ideas weren’t of much importance, all that mattered was the truth. Fashionable landscape painters of the time admired painters such as Lorrain and invented a whole set of techniques which allowed them to easily create such works for their bourgeois customers. The formula was simple: a tree in the foreground as a contrast to the vast nature scene in the background, soft brownish and golden shades in the foreground, and the background was suppose to turn pale from blue to white shades. Constable despised all those tricks. And really, where are all those imitation of imitations of landscapes, while Constable remains an important painter of his generation.

It is said that a friend objected to Constable for not using the usual soft ‘violin’ brown shades in the foreground of his paintings, to which Constable replied by taking a violin outdoors and comparing its soft brown shade to the radiant green colour of the grass; the real colour instead of the conventional shades of brown that the audience was accustomed to. But Constable didn’t want to shock the audience, he simply wanted to paint what he saw. Green grass, such a ‘radical move’. His perhaps best known painting ‘The Hay Wain’ shows exactly what Constable wanted to achieve: paint nature with honesty and simplicity by refusing to paint landscapes more impressive than nature itself.

1821. John Constable - The Hay WainJohn Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821

Breaking with tradition left the landscape artists with two paths embodied in Turner and Constable. Painters could either become ‘poets’ in painting in search of wild, touching and dramatic effects, or, they could hold onto the real motif and explore it with all their persistence and honesty. Another representative of the first group is my darling Caspar David Friedrich and his poetic, melancholic scenes of forests at night or lovers by the shore. Camille Corot is a good example of the second path: he studied nature attentively and infused his painting with honesty, that way influencing the development of Realism in France.

Which path is more appealing to you? I know some art historians think that the second path achieved something of long-lasting value, but I support the first path because romanticised nature in art appeals to me more.

Romantic and Picturesque Tintern Abbey – Its Effect on Art and Poetry

29 Nov

Ruins of the Tintern Abbey situated in Southeast Wales inspired many poets and artists, from Wordsworth and J.M.W. Turner to Lord Tennyson and Ginsberg. Once representing the architectural developments of the day, Tintern Abbey was abandoned and doomed to solitude and decay, but the spirit of this once magnificent Abbey, resistant to transience, still resides, woven into these old stone walls.

Tintern Abbey, West Front circa 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-18511794. Ruins of West Front, Tintern Abbey by J. M. W. Turner

Tintern Abbey is situated on the Welsh bank of river Wye; a river which forms the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England. It was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow on 9th May 1131. Tintern Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery founded in Wales, and only the second to be founded in all of Britain.The present-day remains of Tintern is a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1131. and 1536, thought very little of the first buildings remained. Abbey was mostly rebuilt in the 13th century in the ‘Geometrical‘ style; first period of the Decorative Style; part of English Gothic Architecture. Tintern Abbey, as it is seen today, represented the architectural developments of its day, being built of Old Red Sandstone in a typical Cistercian ground plan which is charasterised by a cruciform plan and a rectangular shaped apse. The Abbey put Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk’s coat of arms in the glass of the east window in token of gratitude as he was a generous benefactor in the rebuilding of the Abbey.

However the Abbey was disestablished in 1536. under the reign of Henry VIII. His ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries‘ ended the monastic life in England and Wales that was cherished in this Abbey particularly for more than four hundred years. Valuables from the Abbey were sent to the Royal Treasury and the lead from the roof was sold. Decay of the buildings had begun.

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-18511794. The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window by J. M. W. Turner

No one has shown interest in the history of the site in the next two centuries and it wasn’t until the mid eighteenth century that the interest arose again, as it was popular to visit ‘wilder’ parts of the country. Wye Valley, where the Tintern Abbey is situated, is particularly known for its picturesque and romantic landscapes, and was often visited by ‘romantic‘ tourists; poets, writers, painters and other ‘romantic fanatics‘. The Abbey was overgrown by ivy which was considered especially romantic.

In 1745. John Egerton, later Bishop of Durham, started taking his friends on boat trips down the valley. The area, however, became more widely known following the publication of works by the poet Thomas Gray who traveled throughout Britain in search of picturesque landscapes and ancient monuments which he did found, in places such as Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland. These elements were not particularly valued in the 18th century, at the peak of the Enlightenment era. Gray’s writing on these subjects, and the Gothic details in works such as Elegy and The Bard, foreshadow the Romantic movement. Lake Poets such as Coleridge and Wordsworth taught people to value picturesque, Gothic and sublime. Some of the most famous poets, writers and artists of the day made the pilgrimage to the great sights such as Tintern Abbey, and were inspired by its romantic and magical sensibilities.

Wordsworth in particular was captivated by the area, having written a famous poem ‘Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey‘ or simply ‘Tintern Abbey‘ after a tour that took place July 13th, 1798. In the poem he expresses his fascination not only with Tinter Abbey, but with the River Wye also, and presented his philosophies on nature. Revisiting the natural beauty of Wye filled the poet with a sense of ‘tranquil restoration‘. He felt the ‘divine creativity‘ at these old ruins, gazing at the old red sandstone which changed colours from purple to grey in the sunset.

1790. Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard - Philip James De Loutherbourg1790. Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard – Philip James De Loutherbourg

Tintern Abbey inspired not only poets, but artists too, J.M.W. Turner most notably. Turner painted the Abbey many times, which is unusual as he favored painting seas and ships, but seems like he was powerless against the magical spirit of the old ruins. The wealth of decorative detail displayed in the walls, doorways and archways has surely been inspiration for painters, as it was for poets. Numerous other artists painted the abbey and made engravings, such as William Havell, Edward Dayes and William Henry Bartlet, but the most interesting among them is Philip James De Loutherbourg, a Franco-English painter famous for his landscapes and elaborate stage designs for London theatres.

In 1790. he painted a painting called ‘Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard‘ which is very romantic and melancholic in its sensibilities, but also very dark and nocturnal. A figure is standing in the overgrown ruins of an abbey, identified as Tintern Abbey, contemplating the remnants of an old painting showing the Resurrection. Above the figure of Christ is sundial which casts a long moonlight shadow which, along with the ivy overgrown ruins, old graves and sculls, suggests the imminence of death, but also the possibility of salvation. This painting shows another reason for the popularity of Tintern Abbey; its emotive historical associations with the Protestant Reformation. Many elements of the painting; ambiance itself, ruins of an old abbey, the nocturnal setting, the idea – inability to resist transience, make this painting a Romantic one.

1820s Tintern Abbey by William Havell1804. Tintern Abbey by William Havell

The popularity of Tintern Abbey did not fade in the Victorian era thanks to Lord Tennyson, a much respected Victorian poet, who, inspired by his visit to the ruins of the abbey, wrote a poem ‘Tears, Idle Tears‘ in 1847. He said the convent was ‘full for me of its bygone memories‘, and that the poem was about ‘the passion of the past, the abiding in the transient.‘ Lord Tennyson developed the similar theme as Wordsworth in his poem ‘Tintern Abbey‘ written almost fifty years earlier. The final verse of Tennyson’s poem however reveals the true reason for melancholy and tranquility. It was the unhappy attachment to Rosa Baring, the love of his youth, that provoked such deep emotions.

Tears, Idle Tears

 Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

   Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

   Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

   Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign’d
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

1794. Edward Dayes, Tintern Abbey & the River Wye1794. Edward Dayes, Tintern Abbey & the River Wye

After inspiring artists and poets, and many other ‘romantic souls‘, old ruins of Tintern Abbey still reside in the picturesque and magical Wye Valley, old walls still change their colour from purple to gray in the sunset, Autumn rains still mourn over those sad ruins, wind still blows through the branches of hawthorn trees, old archways are still adorned by evening shadows in the dusk, moonlight still illuminates the old doorways and the spirit of the past pervades the old Abbey, now enriched with memories of many visits.

Year without a Summer – Its effect on Art and Literature

26 Aug

Year 1816. is known as the Year without a Summer due to an eruption of a great Mount Tambora volcano in East India (today’s Indonesia). The volcano eruption which lasted from 5th to 15th April 1815. caused a volcanic winter; a reduction in global temperatures caused by vast amounts of volcanic ash obscuring the Sun. However, this very summer proved to be inspirational for Mary Shelley and her circle of friends.

1828. Chichester Canal's vivid colours may have been influenced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. - Turner1828. Chichester Canal’s vivid colours may have been influenced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. – J. M.W. Turner

It rained heavily in April 1816, and in May too and that’s when Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, along with his lover Claire Clairmont and his physician John William Polidori headed to Switzerland, planning to spend their summer by the beautiful Lake Geneva. Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, who just turned eighteen in April, was a lively, voluptuous brunette who caught Lord Byron’s eye, and was already pregnant with his child. The party arrived at Geneva on 14th May 1816. and Lord Byron joined them on the 25th May. They rented neighbouring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Lord Byron and his physician settled themselves in Villa Diodati; mysterious place hidden in the trees, in the darkness of the large pines, while the Shelleys rented a smaller, less sumptuous villa nearby.

‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer’, remembered Mary in 1831, ‘and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house’. Memorable tranquil, bleak and desolate atmosphere proved to be inspirational despite the long rainy afternoons without a glimpse of sun. The landscapes, frightening and lonely, only added to the atmosphere, and even after many years Mary remembered them clearly, as she later recorded in her work ‘Never was a scene more awefully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime’.

The group amused themselves by reading German horror stories and discussing, among other things, galvanism, by a log fire in Byron’s villa where the group usually gathered. There, on the lake Geneva, in the dreary May, Percy Shelley first met Lord Byron and the two were having endless discussions; they needed nobody else, nor did they noticed the other guests. It was in one of these long, tranquil, rainy afternoons that the idea of a ghost story arose. The tension in the villa hadn’t helped; Polidori was becoming more and more interested in Mary who showed no accept of his affection, and, at the same time, Claire was pretty much relentlessly fixated on Lord Byron whereas to him she has became dull a long time ago. This claustrophobic atmosphere proved to be hard for Percy who found himself slipping into a mood of oppression and morbidity. One rainy night, as the guest were all sitting by the fire in the great room, Lord Byron read a few verses from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’. It the poem, a character Geraldine (who appears as a women but is in fact Lamia, a disguised serpent) seeks not only the physical but also the spiritual possessions of Christabel who is innocent and beautiful. Percy seemed to be very impressed, perhaps with the poem itself, perhaps with the hypnotic way Lord Byron recited it, still, he fled the room screaming, in horror. He later explained his sudden departure by the sudden mental of a woman who had eyes instead of nipples on her breasts. Polinori later used this event in his novel Vampyre, written originally as a short story during the same holiday in Geneva. In only six years time, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Polidori would all be death.

Some verses from Christabel:

‘(…) There she sees a damsel bright,
Dressed in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandaled were;
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, ‘t was frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she-
Beautiful exceedingly!’

Later that night Mary had a mental vision too, in the darkness and tranquility of a stormy night, her heightened consciousness of terror created something that would later be known as a novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.

‘Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion …’ Frankenstein’s monster and Frankenstein the book had both been born.’

A Year Without a Sun proved to be inspirational not only to poetic group of Romanticists who made up ghost stories for fun but also to J.M.W. Turner, famous landscape painter who studied the sky with a great flair. His painting shown above, Chichester Canal was inspired by the sky as it appeared in that infamous Summer Without a Sun. The painting depicts the Chichester Canal in Sussex and its brilliant, vivid colours were influenced by atmospheric ash from the previously mentioned volcano eruption.