“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
~ John Steinbeck
Summer has officially hit here in New York City and with it has come stifling heat and humidity. Make no mistake about it, I loathe despise and abominate summer. I’ve been working on one particular blog post for about 2 weeks now and the words just aren’t coming. While it gestates in my mind and (hopefully) comes to fruition at some point in the future, I have decided to switch tactics a bit. Presenting a smattering of paintings I’d rather be in then New York in the summer! I should state that this list will probably be skewed against the Pre-Raphaelites (but features their associates) because let’s face it; the PRB tended to pick heavy topics. Heavy is a word I do not want associated with anything in the heat.
A Coign of Vantage, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1895
Lawrence Alma-Tadema is one of those artists whose body of work is almost instantly recognizable. If you look at A Coign of Vantage, Expectations & Ask Me No More you can tell that all of them were done by the same man. The ladies have this sort of ethereal almost hazy quality to their faces and dresses, the color palette skews toward somewhat bright pastels and the skies are almost always this amazing gorgeous shade of blue. Alma-Tadema drew the sky in ways that I don’t think have been seen since. One of my favorite songs is Blue Skies by BT featuring Tori Amos. Whenever I listen to this I think of the blue skies of Alma-Tadema.
Flaming June, Sir Frederic Leighton, 1895
At some point I’m going to have to devote an entire post to Flaming June because it is in many ways one of the things that has completely shaped my adulthood. For now let me say that when people wax poetically about summer I always imagine them somewhat resembling this picture. Minus the woman’s somewhat contorted pose (when she wakes up she is going to have one painful crick in the neck a la the genie in Disney’s Aladdin) she looks very peaceful. The dress she is wearing seems to be made of a light airy material so combined with the fact she’s resting on what seems to be a patio with the sun setting behind her, I imagine she’s very comfortable indeed. My favorite part of this painting however is the reflection of the setting sun on the water. One of my lifelong goals is to go to Ibiza and watch the sunsets (while listening to downtempo music because naturally that is what one does there) with a nice cold drink in my hand. Flaming June invokes that in me;a feeling of absolute serenity after a long hot day.
Twilight Fantasies, Edward Robert Hughes, 1911
Ah Hughes. While Midsummer Eve is my favorite painting of his (and my favorite Fairy painting ever) this is a list about where I’d like to be in summer. Summer in the woods = bugs = Karyn getting bit by said bugs and generally being a miserable beast the rest of the time. Twilight Fantasies at least looks to be in the Autumn so the insect population is smaller than normal! I love the color scheme in this painting so very much. When I was first going to redo my room and was casting about for ideas Twilight Fantasies immediately popped up in brain because the scheme is just so cool. With deep purples and a hint of gold the painting is rather dark but still illuminated. I’m not sure what or who the main character is playing for, a first the cluster of figures looked to be angels but then I thought perhaps they were the Fae and then further I thought maybe it was anthromorphic frogs. Who knows! One of the things I’d like to highlight about this painting though is the usage of light, particularly on the woman’s face and shining through the background of the trees. It’s almost as if the music coming from her flute is what is illuminating the sky. Most of Hughes’ work is imbued with this sort of mystical quality.
Winter Rose, Kinuko Y. Craft, 1997
A (somewhat) recent work! Le gasp! Kinuko Craft has the distinction of being my favorite living artist. I first discovered her work when I picked up the book that this painting was made for, Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip. Craft seems to be mostly inspired by a combination of both the Elizabethan age and faeries. It’s a strange heady mix but it works. I love the starkness of this picture, the wild hunt riding in the background and our heroine front and center with the blood-red rose border. The eyes of the woman haunt me in this, not only do they masterfully accent the eyes of the owl on her shoulder (who is then again reflected in her cape) but no matter which direction you stand, they follow you. While I’m not entirely sure if I would like to be in the painting because of the plot (Winter Rose is a retelling of Tam-Lin and yeah, I’m no Janet) I don’t deny that on grossly humid days I would like nothing more than to take a horseback ride in the brisk winter air with light snow on the ground. Sans the Wild Hunt of course.
In conclusion I’d like to that while summer has its virtues (eating gelato in a sidewalk cafe, boat rides, the Jazz Age Lawn Party) I would gladly trade the humidity, swampiness of the subway and general grumpiness of people for the chance to be in one of these paintings. Unfortunately I will have to settle for the ability to gaze lovingly at these works, preferably in a place with lots of air conditioning.