Tag Archives: Love’s Daydream End

Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love – John George Brown, Fragonard, Winslow Homer, Marcus Stone

17 Oct

Heart, we will forget him!

You and I, tonight!

You may forget the warmth he gave,

I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me

That I my thoughts may dim;

Haste! lest while you’re lagging.

I may remember him!

(Emily Dickinson)

John George Brown, Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love, 1865

Carving names, initials or symbols into barks of the trees is a thousands of years old practice that is popular among lovers. The mention of the practice dates back to the writings of Callimachus who was a librarian in the famous library in Alexandria, the writings of Virgil and is even mentioned later in works of Shakespeare. The indiginous Moriori people of New Zealand also practiced the carving of the tree bark. But in this post we will take a look at some examples of love-related tree carving in the art of four artists; John George  Brown; Jean-Honore Fragonard, the Rococo master of frivolity and carefreeness; Winslow Homer and Marcus Stone.

The first painting in this post is a visually beautiful and striking one, but its title alone is alluring; “Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love”, painted in 1865 by the American painter John George Brown. The painting shows a young girl in the lush, vibrant yellow forest. She is turned towards us, but her downward gaze is hiding her eyes, probably glistening with tears. With her left hand she is holding onto the soft tree trunk whilst her right hand is carefully tearing away the love carving which says “W&Mary”. The light falling on her snow white skin and bare shoulders makes her seem almost angelic and pure, all alone in that soft, dreamy birch forest. The detailing on that birch bark is wonderful and birches are one of my favourite forest beauties. Their whiteness, gentleness and delicacy are in accord with those same qualities that the young lady seems to be exuding. But perished have the memories of her love. It’s over between she – Mary – and the mysterious Mr W. (perhaps William?) Oh, William, he must be thinking that it was really nothing! Nothing for him and everything for her. Now this tree is the last memory of the transient ardour shared by those two souls. From sweet hopes to bitter disillusionment, such is the trecherous, thorny path of love.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Souvenir, 1775

Fragonard’s painting “The Souvenir” is a sweet little Rococo reverie with touches of the upcoming Romanticism in the flutter of the leaves and delicacy of the trees. A young girl in a salmon pink gown with a matching pink ribbon in her hair is seen carving something into the tree. Her faithful companion, a cute little dog, is observing her all the while. The opened letter is lying on the ground; presumably from her beloved. And the words he wrote must be bursting with unbearable honey-and-ripe-fig sweetness and juicy with promises because she is enthusiastically carving her and her lover’s initials into the tree, to symbolically represent their love. The 1792 catalogue from the exhibition says that the girl in the painting is the lead character of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel “Julie or the New Heloise” (titled at the time as: “Letters from two lovers living in a small town at the foot of the Alps”) The background is painted in a very delicate and gentle manner with detailing of the tree branches typical for Fragonard. The way he paints trees makes them seem otherworldy, the only other example for this comes to mind in some artworks of Camille Corot. Anyhow, Fragonard’s painting is sweet and slightly sentimental, but definitely shows the merry side of love and so does our next rendition of the motif by the American painter Winslow Homer.

Winslow Homer, The Initials, 1864

Winslow Homer’s painting “The Initials” is an interesting romantic digression in his otherwise nature oriented oeuvre. The painting shows an elegant Victorian lady dressed in her beautiful blue walking attire. She is standing very near the tree and carving something into it, judging by the title, she is carving the initials of herself and her beloved. The blueness of her dress is in contrast with the almost garish orange-brownness of the woods. Visually the painting is similar John George Brown’s painting “Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love” because it shows a girl and a tree upon which something is being carved or taken down and the scenery of the backdrop is a lush forest, but Homer’s painting shares its mood of hope and romance with Fragonard’s “Souvenir”. Homer and John George Brown’s paintings are both painted around the same time, in the mid 1860s, but their ladies are dressed very diffently in these paintings. Homer’s lady seems to be dressed more appropriately for a walk in the woods, but Brown’s is more visually striking for the centre of the painting.

Marcus Stone, Love’s Daydream End, 1880

Marcus Stone’s painting strikes me as fascinating by the title alone; “Love Daydream’s End” because it implies that there is a (day)dreamy aspect to love that will inevitable fade away; wither like a flower, turn to dust like a dry moth… The girl in the painting, dressed in an elegant, white dress which brings to mind the Regency dresses from the first quarter of the century, is experiencing the same sadness and disappointment as the girl in the first painting by John George Brown. And how sombre her furrowed brow appears, how unconsolable and broken. Two hearts are seen intertwined together, carved in the tree against which the lady is leaning her sad little head, silent like a Greek muse. She experienced the very thing that The Shirelles famously sang about. One day you are carving initials or hearts in the tree and exchanging lovelorn glances, and the other you are weeping over the loss of something which but yesterday was the source of all your delights… Ah, love, what a fickle thing!

“Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow
Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure
Can I believe the magic in your sighs
Will you still love me tomorrow?”

(The Shirelles, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow)