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5 Days of Oscar Wilde – 4: The Grosvenor Gallery, 1877

oscar-wilde-portrait

Welcome to day 4 of ‘5 Days of Oscar Wilde’!

THE GROSVENOR GALLERY, 1877

(Dublin University Magazine, July 1877.)

That ‘Art is long and life is short’ is a truth which every one feels, or ought to feel; yet surely those who were in London last May, and had in one week the opportunities of hearing Rubenstein play the Sonata Impassionata, of seeing Wagner conduct the Spinning-Wheel Chorus from the Flying Dutchman, and of studying art at the Grosvenor Gallery, have very little to complain of as regards human existence and art-pleasures.

Descriptions of music are generally, perhaps, more or less failures, for music is a matter of individual feeling, and the beauties and lessons that one draws from hearing lovely sounds are mainly personal, and depend to a large extent on one’s own state of mind and culture.  So leaving Rubenstein and Wagner to be celebrated by Franz Hüffer, or Mr. Haweis, or any other of our picturesque writers on music, I will describe some of the pictures now being shown in the Grosvenor Gallery.

The origin of this Gallery is as follows: About a year ago the idea occurred to Sir Coutts Lindsay of building a public gallery, in which, untrammelled by the difficulties or meannesses of ‘Hanging Committees,’ he could exhibit to the lovers of art the works of certain great living artists side by side: a gallery in which the student would not have to struggle through an endless monotony of mediocre works in order to reach what was worth looking at; one in which the people of England could have the opportunity of judging of the merits of at least one great master of painting, whose pictures had been kept from public exhibition by the jealousy and ignorance of rival artists.  Accordingly, last May, in New Bond Street, the Grosvenor Gallery was opened to the public.

As far as the Gallery itself is concerned, there are only three rooms, so there is no fear of our getting that terrible weariness of mind and eye which comes on after the ‘Forced Marches’ through ordinary picture galleries.  The walls are hung with scarlet damask above a dado of dull green and gold; there are luxurious velvet couches, beautiful flowers and plants, tables of gilded and inlaid marbles, covered with Japanese china and the latest ‘Minton,’ globes of ‘rainbow glass’ like large soap-bubbles, and, in fine, everything in decoration that is lovely to look on, and in harmony with the surrounding works of art.

Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt are probably the greatest masters of colour that we have ever had in England, with the single exception of Turner, but their styles differ widely.  To draw a rough distinction, Holman Hunt studies and reproduces the colours of natural objects, and deals with historical subjects, or scenes of real life, mostly from the East, touched occasionally with a certain fancifulness, as in the Shadow of the Cross.  Burne-Jones, on the contrary, is a dreamer in the land of mythology, a seer of fairy visions, a symbolical painter.  He is an imaginative colourist too, knowing that all colour is no mere delightful quality of natural things, but a ‘spirit upon them by which they become expressive to the spirit,’ as Mr. Pater says.  Watts’s power, on the other hand, lies in his great originative and imaginative genius, and he reminds us of Æschylus or Michael Angelo in the startling vividness of his conceptions.  Although these three painters differ much in aim and in result, they yet are one in their faith, and love, and reverence, the three golden keys to the gate of the House Beautiful.

On entering the West Gallery the first picture that meets the eye is Mr. Watts’s Love and Death, a large painting, representing a marble doorway, all overgrown with white-starred jasmine and sweet brier-rose.  Death, a giant form, veiled in grey draperies, is passing in with inevitable and mysterious power, breaking through all the flowers.  One foot is already on the threshold, and one relentless hand is extended, while Love, a beautiful boy with lithe brown limbs and rainbow-coloured wings, all shrinking like a crumpled leaf, is trying, with vain hands, to bar the entrance.  A little dove, undisturbed by the agony of the terrible conflict, waits patiently at the foot of the steps for her playmate; but will wait in vain, for though the face of Death is hidden from us, yet we can see from the terror in the boy’s eyes and quivering lips, that, Medusa-like, this grey phantom turns all it looks upon to stone; and the wings of Love are rent and crushed.  Except on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, there are perhaps few paintings to compare with this in intensity of strength and in marvel of conception.  It is worthy to rank with Michael Angelo’s God Dividing the Light from the Darkness.

Next to it are hung five pictures by Millais.  Three of them are portraits of the three daughters of the Duke of Westminster, all in white dresses, with white hats and feathers; the delicacy of the colour being rather injured by the red damask background.  These pictures do not possess any particular merit beyond that of being extremely good likenesses, especially the one of the Marchioness of Ormonde.  Over them is hung a picture of a seamstress, pale and vacant-looking, with eyes red from tears and long watchings in the night, hemming a shirt.  It is meant to illustrate Hood’s familiar poem.  As we look on it, a terrible contrast strikes us between this miserable pauper-seamstress and the three beautiful daughters of the richest duke in the world, which breaks through any artistic reveries by its awful vividness.

The fifth picture is a profile head of a young man with delicate aquiline nose, thoughtful oval face, and artistic, abstracted air, which will be easily recognised as a portrait of Lord Ronald Gower, who is himself known as an artist and sculptor.  But no one would discern in these five pictures the genius that painted the Home at Bethlehem and the portrait of John Ruskin which is at Oxford.

Then come eight pictures by Alma Tadema, good examples of that accurate drawing of inanimate objects which makes his pictures so real from an antiquarian point of view, and of the sweet subtlety of colouring which gives to them a magic all their own.  One represents some Roman girls bathing in a marble tank, and the colour of the limbs in the water is very perfect indeed; a dainty attendant is tripping down a flight of steps with a bundle of towels, and in the centre a great green sphinx in bronze throws forth a shower of sparkling water for a very pretty laughing girl, who stoops gleefully beneath it.  There is a delightful sense of coolness about the picture, and one can almost imagine that one hears the splash of water, and the girls’ chatter.  It is wonderful what a world of atmosphere and reality may be condensed into a very small space, for this picture is only about eleven by two and a half inches.

1868_Lawrence_Alma-Tadema_-_Phidias_Showing_the_Frieze_of_the_Parthenon_to_his_Friends

The most ambitious of these pictures is one of Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends.  We are supposed to be on a high scaffolding level with the frieze, and the effect of great height produced by glimpses of light between the planking of the floor is very cleverly managed.  But there is a want of individuality among the connoisseurs clustered round Phidias, and the frieze itself is very inaccurately coloured.  The Greek boys who are riding and leading the horses are painted Egyptian red, and the whole design is done in this red, dark blue, and black.  This sombre colouring is un-Greek; the figures of these boys were undoubtedly tinted with flesh colour, like the ordinary Greek statues, and the whole tone of the colouring of the original frieze was brilliant and light; while one of its chief beauties, the reins and accoutrements of burnished metal, is quite omitted.  This painter is more at home in the Greco-Roman art of the Empire and later Republic than he is in the art of the Periclean age.

The most remarkable of Mr. Richmond’s pictures exhibited here is his Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon—a very magnificent subject, to which, however, justice is not done.  Electra and her handmaidens are grouped gracefully around the tomb of the murdered King; but there is a want of humanity in the scene: there is no trace of that passionate Asiatic mourning for the dead to which the Greek women were so prone, and which Æschylus describes with such intensity; nor would Greek women have come to pour libations to the dead in such bright-coloured dresses as Mr. Richmond has given them; clearly this artist has not studied Æschylus’ play of the Choëphori, in which there is an elaborate and pathetic account of this scene.  The tall, twisted tree-stems, however, that form the background are fine and original in effect, and Mr. Richmond has caught exactly that peculiar opal-blue of the sky which is so remarkable in Greece; the purple orchids too, and daffodil and narcissi that are in the foreground are all flowers which I have myself seen at Argos.

Sir Coutts Lindsay sends a life-size portrait of his wife, holding a violin, which has some good points of colour and position, and four other pictures, including an exquisitely simple and quaint little picture of the Dower House at Balcarres, and a Daphne with rather questionable flesh-painting, and in whom we miss the breathlessness of flight.

I saw the blush come o’er her like a rose;
The half-reluctant crimson comes and goes;
Her glowing limbs make pause, and she is stayed
Wondering the issue of the words she prayed.

It is a great pity that Holman Hunt is not represented by any of his really great works, such as the Finding of Christ in the Temple, or Isabella Mourning over the Pot of Basil, both of which are fair samples of his powers.  Four pictures of his are shown here: a little Italian child, painted with great love and sweetness, two street scenes in Cairo full of rich Oriental colouring, and a wonderful work called the Afterglow in Egypt.  It represents a tall swarthy Egyptian woman, in a robe of dark and light blue, carrying a green jar on her shoulder, and a sheaf of grain on her head; around her comes fluttering a flock of beautiful doves of all colours, eager to be fed.  Behind is a wide flat river, and across the river a stretch of ripe corn, through which a gaunt camel is being driven; the sun has set, and from the west comes a great wave of red light like wine poured out on the land, yet not crimson, as we see the Afterglow in Northern Europe, but a rich pink like that of a rose.  As a study of colour it is superb, but it is difficult to feel a human interest in this Egyptian peasant.

Mr. Albert Moore sends some of his usual pictures of women, which as studies of drapery and colour effects are very charming.  One of them, a tall maiden, in a robe of light blue clasped at the neck with a glowing sapphire, and with an orange headdress, is a very good example of the highest decorative art, and a perfect delight in colour.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mr. Spencer Stanhope’s picture of Eve Tempted is one of the remarkable pictures of the Gallery.  Eve, a fair woman, of surpassing loveliness, is leaning against a bank of violets, underneath the apple tree; naked, except for the rich thick folds of gilded hair which sweep down from her head like the bright rain in which Zeus came to Danae.  The head is drooped a little forward as a flower droops when the dew has fallen heavily, and her eyes are dimmed with the haze that comes in moments of doubtful thought.  One arm falls idly by her side; the other is raised high over her head among the branches, her delicate fingers just meeting round one of the burnished apples that glow amidst the leaves like ‘golden lamps in a green night.’  An amethyst-coloured serpent, with a devilish human head, is twisting round the trunk of the tree and breathes into the woman’s ear a blue flame of evil counsel.  At the feet of Eve bright flowers are growing, tulips, narcissi, lilies, and anemones, all painted with a loving patience that reminds us of the older Florentine masters; after whose example, too, Mr. Stanhope has used gilding for Eve’s hair and for the bright fruits.

Next to it is another picture by the same artist, entitled Love and the Maiden.  A girl has fallen asleep in a wood of olive trees, through whose branches and grey leaves we can see the glimmer of sky and sea, with a little seaport town of white houses shining in the sunlight.  The olive wood is ever sacred to the Virgin Pallas, the Goddess of Wisdom; and who would have dreamed of finding Eros hidden there?  But the girl wakes up, as one wakes from sleep one knows not why, to see the face of the boy Love, who, with outstretched hands, is leaning towards her from the midst of a rhododendron’s crimson blossoms.  A rose-garland presses the boy’s brown curls, and he is clad in a tunic of oriental colours, and delicately sensuous are his face and his bared limbs.  His boyish beauty is of that peculiar type unknown in Northern Europe, but common in the Greek islands, where boys can still be found as beautiful as the Charmides of Plato.  Guido’s St. Sebastian in the Palazzo Rosso at Genoa is one of those boys, and Perugino once drew a Greek Ganymede for his native town, but the painter who most shows the influence of this type is Correggio, whose lily-bearer in the Cathedral at Parma, and whose wild-eyed, open-mouthed St. Johns in the ‘Incoronata Madonna’ of St. Giovanni Evangelista, are the best examples in art of the bloom and vitality and radiance of this adolescent beauty.  And so there is extreme loveliness in this figure of Love by Mr. Stanhope, and the whole picture is full of grace, though there is, perhaps, too great a luxuriance of colour, and it would have been a relief had the girl been dressed in pure white.

Mr. Frederick Burton, of whom all Irishmen are so justly proud, is represented by a fine water-colour portrait of Mrs. George Smith; one would almost believe it to be in oils, so great is the lustre on this lady’s raven-black hair, and so rich and broad and vigorous is the painting of a Japanese scarf she is wearing.  Then as we turn to the east wall of the gallery we see the three great pictures of Burne-Jones, the Beguiling of Merlin, the Days of Creation, and the Mirror of Venus.  The version of the legend of Merlin’s Beguiling that Mr. Burne-Jones has followed differs from Mr. Tennyson’s and from the account in the Morte d’Arthur.  It is taken from the Romance of Merlin, which tells the story in this wise:

It fell on a day that they went through the forest of Breceliande, and found a bush that was fair and high, of white hawthorn, full of flowers, and there they sat in the shadow.  And Merlin fell on sleep; and when she felt that he was on sleep she arose softly, and began her enchantments, such as Merlin had taught her, and made the ring nine times, and nine times the enchantments.

. . . . .

And then he looked about him, and him seemed he was in the fairest tower of the world, and the most strong; neither of iron was it fashioned, nor steel, nor timber, nor of stone, but of the air, without any other thing; and in sooth so strong it is that it may never be undone while the world endureth.

So runs the chronicle; and thus Mr. Burne-Jones, the ‘Archimage of the esoteric unreal,’ treats the subject.  Stretched upon a low branch of the tree, and encircled with the glory of the white hawthorn-blossoms, half sits, half lies, the great enchanter.  He is not drawn as Mr. Tennyson has described him, with the ‘vast and shaggy mantle of a beard,’ which youth gone out had left in ashes; smooth and clear-cut and very pale is his face; time has not seared him with wrinkles or the signs of age; one would hardly know him to be old were it not that he seems very weary of seeking into the mysteries of the world, and that the great sadness that is born of wisdom has cast a shadow on him.  But now what availeth him his wisdom or his arts?  His eyes, that saw once so clear, are dim and glazed with coming death, and his white and delicate hands that wrought of old such works of marvel, hang listlessly.  Vivien, a tall, lithe woman, beautiful and subtle to look on, like a snake, stands in front of him, reading the fatal spell from the enchanted book; mocking the utter helplessness of him whom once her lying tongue had called

   Her lord and liege,
Her seer, her bard, her silver star of eve,
Her god, her Merlin, the one passionate love
Of her whole life.

In her brown crisp hair is the gleam of a golden snake, and she is clad in a silken robe of dark violet that clings tightly to her limbs, more expressing than hiding them; the colour of this dress is like the colour of a purple sea-shell, broken here and there with slight gleams of silver and pink and azure; it has a strange metallic lustre like the iris-neck of the dove.  Were this Mr. Burne-Jones’s only work it would be enough of itself to make him rank as a great painter.  The picture is full of magic; and the colour is truly a spirit dwelling on things and making them expressive to the spirit, for the delicate tones of grey, and green, and violet seem to convey to us the idea of languid sleep, and even the hawthorn-blossoms have lost their wonted brightness, and are more like the pale moonlight to which Shelley compared them, than the sheet of summer snow we see now in our English fields.

The next picture is divided into six compartments, each representing a day in the Creation of the World, under the symbol of an angel holding a crystal globe, within which is shown the work of a day.  In the first compartment stands the lonely angel of the First Day, and within the crystal ball Light is being separated from Darkness.  In the fourth compartment are four angels, and the crystal glows like a heated opal, for within it the creation of the Sun, Moon, and Stars is passing; the number of the angels increases, and the colours grow more vivid till we reach the sixth compartment, which shines afar off like a rainbow.  Within it are the six angels of the Creation, each holding its crystal ball; and within the crystal of the sixth angel one can see Adam’s strong brown limbs and hero form, and the pale, beautiful body of Eve.  At the feet also of these six winged messengers of the Creator is sitting the angel of the Seventh Day, who on a harp of gold is singing the glories of that coming day which we have not yet seen.  The faces of the angels are pale and oval-shaped, in their eyes is the light of Wisdom and Love, and their lips seem as if they would speak to us; and strength and beauty are in their wings.  They stand with naked feet, some on shell-strewn sands whereon tide has never washed nor storm broken, others it seems on pools of water, others on strange flowers; and their hair is like the bright glory round a saint’s head.

The scene of the third picture is laid on a long green valley by the sea; eight girls, handmaidens of the Goddess of Love, are collected by the margin of a long pool of clear water, whose surface no wandering wind or flapping bird has ruffled; but the large flat leaves of the water-lily float on it undisturbed, and clustering forget-me-nots rise here and there like heaps of scattered turquoise.

In this Mirror of Venus each girl is reflected as in a mirror of polished steel.  Some of them bend over the pool in laughing wonder at their own beauty, others, weary of shadows, are leaning back, and one girl is standing straight up; and nothing of her is reflected in the pool but a glimmer of white feet.  This picture, however, has not the intense pathos and tragedy of the Beguiling of Merlin, nor the mystical and lovely symbolism of the Days of the Creation.  Above these three pictures are hung five allegorical studies of figures by the same artist, all worthy of his fame.

Mr. Walter Crane, who has illustrated so many fairy tales for children, sends an ambitious work called the Renaissance of Venus, which in the dull colour of its ‘sunless dawn,’ and in its general want of all the glow and beauty and passion that one associates with this scene reminds one of Botticelli’s picture of the same subject.  After Mr. Swinburne’s superb description of the sea-birth of the goddess in his Hymn to Proserpine, it is very strange to find a cultured artist of feeling producing such a vapid Venus as this.  The best thing in it is the painting of an apple tree: the time of year is spring, and the leaves have not yet come, but the tree is laden with pink and white blossoms, which stand out in beautiful relief against the pale blue of the sky, and are very true to nature.

M. Alphonse Legros sends nine pictures, and there is a natural curiosity to see the work of a gentleman who holds at Cambridge the same professorship as Mr. Ruskin does at Oxford.  Four of these are studies of men’s heads, done in two hours each for his pupils at the Slade Schools.  There is a good deal of vigorous, rough execution about them, and they are marvels of rapid work.  His portrait of Mr. Carlyle is unsatisfactory; and even in No. 79, a picture of two scarlet-robed bishops, surrounded by Spanish monks, his colour is very thin and meagre.  A good bit of painting is of some metal pots in a picture called Le Chaudronnier.

Mr. Leslie, unfortunately, is represented only by one small work, called Palm-blossom.  It is a picture of a perfectly lovely child that reminds one of Sir Joshua’s cherubs in the National Gallery, with a mouth like two petals of a rose; the under-lip, as Rossetti says quaintly somewhere, ‘sucked in, as if it strove to kiss itself.’

Whistler-Nocturne_in_black_and_gold

Then we come to the most abused pictures in the whole Exhibition—the ‘colour symphonies’ of the ‘Great Dark Master,’ Mr. Whistler, who deserves the name of ‘Ο σκοτεινος as much as Heraclitus ever did.  Their titles do not convey much information.  No. 4 is called Nocturne in Black and Gold, No. 6A Nocturne in Blue and Silver, and so on.  The first of these represents a rocket of golden rain, with green and red fires bursting in a perfectly black sky, two large black smudges on the picture standing, I believe, for a tower which is in ‘Cremorne Gardens’ and for a crowd of lookers-on.  The other is rather prettier; a rocket is breaking in a pale blue sky over a large dark blue bridge and a blue and silver river.  These pictures are certainly worth looking at for about as long as one looks at a real rocket, that is, for somewhat less than a quarter of a minute.

No. 7 is called Arrangement in Black No. 3, apparently some pseudonym for our greatest living actor, for out of black smudgy clouds comes looming the gaunt figure of Mr. Henry Irving, with the yellow hair and pointed beard, the ruff, short cloak, and tight hose in which he appeared as Philip II. in Tennyson’s play Queen Mary.  One hand is thrust into his breast, and his legs are stuck wide apart in a queer stiff position that Mr. Irving often adopts preparatory to one of his long, wolflike strides across the stage.  The figure is life-size, and, though apparently one-armed, is so ridiculously like the original that one cannot help almost laughing when one sees it.  And we may imagine that any one who had the misfortune to be shut up at night in the Grosvenor Gallery would hear this Arrangement in Black No. 3 murmuring in the well-known Lyceum accents:

   By St. James, I do protest,
Upon the faith and honour of a Spaniard,
I am vastly grieved to leave your Majesty.
Simon, is supper ready?

Nos. 8 and 9 are life-size portraits of two young ladies, evidently caught in a black London fog; they look like sisters, but are not related probably, as one is a Harmony in Amber and Black, the other only an Arrangement in Brown.

Mr. Whistler, however, sends one really good picture to this exhibition, a portrait of Mr. Carlyle, which is hung in the entrance hall; the expression on the old man’s face, the texture and colour of his grey hair, and the general sympathetic treatment, show Mr. Whistler {19} to be an artist of very great power when he likes.

There is not so much in the East Gallery that calls for notice.  Mr. Leighton is unfortunately represented only by two little heads, one of an Italian girl, the other called A Study.  There is some delicate flesh painting of red and brown in these works that reminds one of a russet apple, but of course they are no samples of this artist’s great strength.  There are two good portraits—one of Mrs. Burne-Jones, by Mr. Poynter.  This lady has a very delicate, artistic face, reminding us, perhaps, a little of one of the angels her husband has painted.  She is represented in a white dress, with a perfectly gigantic old-fashioned watch hung to her waist, drinking tea from an old blue china cup.  The other is a head of the Duchess of Westminster by Mr. Forbes-Robertson, who both as an actor and an artist has shown great cleverness.  He has succeeded very well in reproducing the calm, beautiful profile and lustrous golden hair, but the shoulders are ungraceful, and very unlike the original.  The figure of a girl leaning against a wonderful screen, looking terribly ‘misunderstood,’ and surrounded by any amount of artistic china and furniture, by Mrs. Louise Jopling, is worth looking at too.  It is called It Might Have Been, and the girl is quite fit to be the heroine of any sentimental novel.

The two largest contributors to this gallery are Mr. Ferdinand Heilbuth and Mr. James Tissot.  The first of these two artists sends some delightful pictures from Rome, two of which are particularly pleasing.  One is of an old Cardinal in the Imperial scarlet of the Cæsars meeting a body of young Italian boys in purple soutanes, students evidently in some religious college, near the Church of St. John Lateran.  One of the boys is being presented to the Cardinal, and looks very nervous under the operation; the rest gaze in wonder at the old man in his beautiful dress.  The other picture is a view in the gardens of the Villa Borghese; a Cardinal has sat down on a marble seat in the shade of the trees, and is suspending his meditation for a moment to smile at a pretty child to whom a French bonne is pointing out the gorgeously dressed old gentleman; a flunkey in attendance on the Cardinal looks superciliously on.

Nearly all of Mr. Tissot’s pictures are deficient in feeling and depth; his young ladies are too fashionably over-dressed to interest the artistic eye, and he has a hard unscrupulousness in painting uninteresting objects in an uninteresting way.  There is some good colour and drawing, however, in his painting of a withered chestnut tree, with the autumn sun glowing through the yellow leaves, in a picnic scene, No. 23; the remainder of the picture being something in the photographic style of Frith.

What a gap in art there is between such a picture as the Banquet of the Civic Guard in Holland, with its beautiful grouping of noble-looking men, its exquisite Venetian glass aglow with light and wine, and Mr. Tissot’s over-dressed, common-looking people, and ugly, painfully accurate representation of modern soda-water bottles!

Mr. Tissot’s Widower, however, shines in qualities which his other pictures lack; it is full of depth and suggestiveness; the grasses and wild, luxuriant growth of the foreground are a revel of natural life.

We must notice besides in this gallery Mr. Watts’s two powerful portraits of Mr. Burne-Jones and Lady Lindsay.

To get to the Water-Colour Room we pass through a small sculpture gallery, which contains some busts of interest, and a pretty terra-cotta figure of a young sailor, by Count Gleichen, entitled Cheeky, but it is not remarkable in any way, and contrasts very unfavourably with the Exhibition of Sculpture at the Royal Academy, in which are three really fine works of art—Mr. Leighton’s Man Struggling with a Snake, which may be thought worthy of being looked on side by side with the Laocoon of the Vatican, and Lord Ronald Gower’s two statues, one of a dying French Guardsman at the Battle of Waterloo, the other of Marie Antoinette being led to execution with bound hands, Queenlike and noble to the last.

The collection of water-colours is mediocre; there is a good effect of Mr. Poynter’s, the east wind seen from a high cliff sweeping down on the sea like the black wings of some god; and some charming pictures of Fairy Land by Mr. Richard Doyle, which would make good illustrations for one of Mr. Allingham’s Fairy-Poems, but the tout-ensemble is poor.

Taking a general view of the works exhibited here, we see that this dull land of England, with its short summer, its dreary rains and fogs, its mining districts and factories, and vile deification of machinery, has yet produced very great masters of art, men with a subtle sense and love of what is beautiful, original, and noble in imagination.

Nor are the art-treasures of this country at all exhausted by this Exhibition; there are very many great pictures by living artists hidden away in different places, which those of us who are yet boys have never seen, and which our elders must wish to see again.

Holman Hunt has done better work than the Afterglow in Egypt; neither Millais, Leighton, nor Poynter has sent any of the pictures on which his fame rests; neither Burne-Jones nor Watts shows us here all the glories of his art; and the name of that strange genius who wrote the Vision of Love revealed in Sleep, and the names of Dante Rossetti and of the Marchioness of Waterford, cannot be found in the catalogue.  And so it is to be hoped that this is not the only exhibition of paintings that we shall see in the Grosvenor Gallery; and Sir Coutts Lindsay, in showing us great works of art, will be most materially aiding that revival of culture and love of beauty which in great part owes its birth to Mr. Ruskin, and which Mr. Swinburne, and Mr. Pater, and Mr. Symonds, and Mr. Morris, and many others, are fostering and keeping alive, each in his own peculiar fashion.

Categories
Literary

5 Days of Oscar Wilde – 3: The Tomb of Keats

THE TOMB OF KEATS

(Irish Monthly, July 1877.)

As one enters Rome from the Via Ostiensis by the Porta San Paolo, the first object that meets the eye is a marble pyramid which stands close at hand on the left.

There are many Egyptian obelisks in Rome—tall, snakelike spires of red sandstone, mottled with strange writings, which remind us of the pillars of flame which led the children of Israel through the desert away from the land of the Pharaohs; but more wonderful than these to look upon is this gaunt, wedge-shaped pyramid standing here in this Italian city, unshattered amid the ruins and wrecks of time, looking older than the Eternal City itself, like terrible impassiveness turned to stone.  And so in the Middle Ages men supposed this to be the sepulchre of Remus, who was slain by his own brother at the founding of the city, so ancient and mysterious it appears; but we have now, perhaps unfortunately, more accurate information about it, and know that it is the tomb of one Caius Cestius, a Roman gentleman of small note, who died about 30 B.C.

Yet though we cannot care much for the dead man who lies in lonely state beneath it, and who is only known to the world through his sepulchre, still this pyramid will be ever dear to the eyes of all English-speaking people, because at evening its shadows fall on the tomb of one who walks with Spenser, and Shakespeare, and Byron, and Shelley, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the great procession of the sweet singers of England.

For at its foot there is a green, sunny slope, known as the Old Protestant Cemetery, and on this a common-looking grave, which bears the following inscription:

This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English poet, who on his deathbed, in the bitterness of his heart, desired these words to be engraven on his tombstone: HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER.  February 24, 1821.

And the name of the young English poet is John Keats.

Lord Houghton calls this cemetery ‘one of the most beautiful spots on which the eye and heart of man can rest,’ and Shelley speaks of it as making one ‘in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place’; and indeed when I saw the violets and the daisies and the poppies that overgrow the tomb, I remembered how the dead poet had once told his friend that he thought the ‘intensest pleasure he had received in life was in watching the growth of flowers,’ and how another time, after lying a while quite still, he murmured in some strange prescience of early death, ‘I feel the flowers growing over me.’

But this time-worn stone and these wildflowers are but poor memorials {3} of one so great as Keats; most of all, too, in this city of Rome, which pays such honour to her dead; where popes, and emperors, and saints, and cardinals lie hidden in ‘porphyry wombs,’ or couched in baths of jasper and chalcedony and malachite, ablaze with precious stones and metals, and tended with continual service.  For very noble is the site, and worthy of a noble monument; behind looms the grey pyramid, symbol of the world’s age, and filled with memories of the sphinx, and the lotus leaf, and the glories of old Nile; in front is the Monte Testaccio, built, it is said, with the broken fragments of the vessels in which all the nations of the East and the West brought their tribute to Rome; and a little distance off, along the slope of the hill under the Aurelian wall, some tall gaunt cypresses rise, like burnt-out funeral torches, to mark the spot where Shelley’s heart (that ‘heart of hearts’!) lies in the earth; and, above all, the soil on which we tread is very Rome!

As I stood beside the mean grave of this divine boy, I thought of him as of a Priest of Beauty slain before his time; and the vision of Guido’s St. Sebastian came before my eyes as I saw him at Genoa, a lovely brown boy, with crisp, clustering hair and red lips, bound by his evil enemies to a tree, and though pierced by arrows, raising his eyes with divine, impassioned gaze towards the Eternal Beauty of the opening heavens.  And thus my thoughts shaped themselves to rhyme:

HEU MISERANDE PUER

Rid of the world’s injustice and its pain,
He rests at last beneath God’s veil of blue;
Taken from life while life and love were new
The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
Fair as Sebastian and as foully slain.
No cypress shades his grave, nor funeral yew,
But red-lipped daisies, violets drenched with dew,
And sleepy poppies, catch the evening rain.

O proudest heart that broke for misery!
O saddest poet that the world hath seen!
O sweetest singer of the English land!
Thy name was writ in water on the sand,
But our tears shall keep thy memory green,
And make it flourish like a Basil-tree.

Borne, 1877.


keats-deathbed

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

John Keats was a poet.

He inspired the film, Arterial.

Known for Endymion (1818), The Eve of St. Agnes (1800), and many more.

 

Categories
Literary

5 Weird Fiction Authors

Not sure what to add next to your reading pile?

  1. Charles Baudelaire.
    Portrait of Baudelaire, painted in 1844 by Emile Deroy (1820–1846)
    Portrait of Baudelaire, painted in 1844 by Emile Deroy (1820–1846)

    French. You’ll probably like his work if you enjoy Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas de Quincey and Emanuel Swedenborg. Charles Pierre Baudelaire was a 19th century French poet, translator, and literary and art critic whose reputation rests primarily on Les Fleurs du Mal; (1857; The Flowers of Evil) which was perhaps the most important and influential poetry collection published in Europe in the 19th century. Similarly, his Petits poèmes en prose (1868; “Little Prose Poems”) was the most successful and innovative early experiment in prose poetry of the time. Goodreads

  2. Mike Russell. British. You’ll probably like his work if you enjoy Philip K. Dick, Angela Carter, Algernon Blackwood and Franz Kafka. Mike Russell is a British author best known for his books Nothing Is Strange, Strange Medicine and Strungballs. Goodreads

    Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell
    Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell
  3. Matthew Lewis. British. You’ll probably like his work if you enjoy Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. Matthew Gregory Lewis was an English novelist and dramatist, often referred to as “Monk” Lewis, because of the success of his classic Gothic novel, The Monk. Goodreads

    The Monk (Oxford World's Classics)
    The Monk (Oxford World’s Classics)
  4. China Mieville. British. You’ll probably like his work if you enjoy J.G. Ballard, Michael de Larrabeiti, Thomas Disch and William Durbin. A British “fantastic fiction” writer. Goodreads. He’s the fifteenth most followed author on Goodreads, with over 200,000 book ratings. Titles include Embassytown, Un Lun Dun and Railsea.
  5. Howard Wandrei.
    MURPHY: THE COLLECTED FANTASY TALES OF HOWARD WANDREI VOLUME II
    MURPHY: THE COLLECTED FANTASY TALES OF HOWARD WANDREI VOLUME II

    American. You’ll probably like his work if you enjoy William Peter Blatty and Shirley Jackson. Howard Elmer Wandrei was a US artist and writer. Goodreads

Categories
Literary

My Top 101 Books (part B, 51-101)

Ok, let’s finish this!

51. ARh+ – H.R. Giger. This is a stunning book of A4 images of Giger’s work. As a teenager, I took out all of the pages and covered my bedroom walls! The great thing about a Giger piece is that you can never tire of looking at it. You spot something new every time.

52. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. I loved this book as a child! One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him ‘Wild Thing’ and sends him to bed without his supper. That night a forest begins to grow in Max’s room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king, and then the wild rumpus begins. But when Max has sent the monsters to bed, and everything is quiet, he starts to feel lonely and realises it is time to sail home to the place where someone loves him best of all.

53. The Gashlycrumb Tinies – Edward Gorey. Another Gorey book. I think this is probably the best.

54. A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin. This is for the whole series (or those which have been written).

55. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini. It’s been many years since I read this book, but I have vivid memories of crying uncontrollably on the bus to work. I never did get round to seeing the film adaptation. Anyone know if it’s worth it?

56. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank.

57. The Miracles of Archangel Michael – Doreen Virtue. Michael is my favourite of the Archangels (if that’s allowed!) and this is a wonderfully inspiring book. I’m a Spiritualist in case you’re wondering. archangel-michael

58. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke. Amazon link. I absolutely loved this book, particularly the little stories within the main story. As soon as I finished it I checked IMDB and saw that they were making the TV series, but when it finally aired I gave up after about three episodes as I found it excruciatingly boring.

59. Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Amazon link.

60. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley.

61. Pucca and Garu: First Meeting – Vooz.

62. Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman.

63. All About Symbols – Andrew T. Cummings. A very useful book when looking into dreams, planning art work, etc. ea963cc3ffe181be77fce84a24b344b4 Amazon link.

64. Justine – Marquis de Sade. I love this book because my mind battles with itself all the way through… I feel sorry for Therese… You can do it Therese!… What the hell Therese?! Sorry Therese…

65. The Chipmunka Anthology Volume 1 – Chipmunka. I mostly bought this book for the OCD diary segment, but the whole anthology is interesting. It also covers manic depression, abuse and self-harm.

66. Snuff – Terry Pratchett. Probably my favourite Sam Vimes Discworld book. According to the writer of the best-selling crime novel ever to have been published in the city of Ankh-Morpork, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

67. Louise Bourgeoise – Ann Coxonlouise_bourgeois_spider_iv_d5739118h

68. Mindfulness Plain & Simple – Oli Doyle“Wish I’d heard of this years ago I could have been well chilled out by now.” – from a four star Goodreads review by Julia. This book does exactly what it says! “Nicely written, very simple and calming, and full of wisdom.” – from a five star Goodreads review by Ben Payne.

69. John Cage – Rob Haskins. I’m a little bit in love with composer and artist John Cage and this is a wonderful book all about him. I highly recommend watching a couple of Youtube videos of Cage speaking if you don’t know who he is. “I am a fan of John Cage. He shattered the barriers between composition and philosophy.” – from a four star Goodreads review by Tara Brabazon. Amazon linkRob Haskins is Associate Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator in the Department of Music at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and has been involved with John Cage’s music as both a scholar and a performer for almost twenty years. He is the author of Anarchic Societies of Sounds: The Number Pieces of John Cage (2009). john-cage-2

70. A Little Book of Sloth – Lucy Cooke. Who doesn’t love a full-colour photo book of sloths?! “I loved this book so much that I renewed it from the library until I couldn’t renew it anymore, and after returning it, I went to Barnes and Noble on the same day to buy it.” – from a five star Goodreads review by Michelle.

71. The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka.

72. Mermaids 101 – Doreen Virtue. Amazon link. This does at times seem like an excuse for Doreen to show off in her special mermaid costume, but it’s a cute book anyway.

73. How to Meditate on the Train: A Commuters’ Guide – Michael J.W. PockleyA brief, simplified guide to meditation for those who have to commute by train. Readers will learn postures and techniques appropriate to travel by train, transforming their commute from an uncomfortable waste of time into a joyful opportunity for personal advance. 51lgphLQhPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

74. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain. Unfortunately, I never got round to reading this as a child, but I love it as an adult!

75. All-American Ads 60s – Taschenil_570xN.305180607 I try to avoid current advertising as much as I can, but I love looking back at old adverts!

76. The Visionary – James Hawthorne. Amazon link.

77. If This Is a Man – Primo Levitumblr_lp7ct3bkIf1qzn0deo1_1280 An unforgettable, harrowing, necessary book. I briefly studied Italian literature at university and this was on the reading list. I don’t know why it’s not on the UK school curriculum. It may have been at some point I suppose, but it wasn’t when I was at school. It belongs in the literature or ethics class just as much as it does in the history class. Levi is an amazing writer and I recommend his other books too. The photo above makes chemistry look super exciting. In my school I just doodled on the tables until I got sent out of the lab. There’s a lesson to be learnt here. In 1943, Primo Levi, a twenty-five-year-old chemist and “Italian citizen of Jewish race,” was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. Survival in Auschwitz is Levi’s classic account of his ten months in the German death camp, a harrowing story of systematic cruelty and miraculous endurance. Remarkable for its simplicity, restraint, compassion, and even wit, Survival in Auschwitz remains a lasting testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit.

78. BloodMarked – Lu J. Whitley. This isn’t normally the sort of book I would read (it describes muscly men taking their shirts off etc), but I really enjoyed it. A ‘townie’ college student, living off campus with her overprotective mother, Greta Brandt thought everything about her life was right on track. Everything, except for the nightmares that have been plaguing her for as long as she can remember.
When her reality is torn apart, Greta finds herself adrift in a world she thought only existed in her fevered dreams.

79. Nothing Is Strange – Mike Russell. Ok, so the truth is: Mike Russell is my other half. But! I was a huge fan of his writing before we were a couple and this is genuinely one of my favourite books of all time. Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique… all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell so put on your top hat, open your third eye and enjoy: Nothing Is Strange

80. Pucca: Hands Off My Dumplings! – Vooz. Pucca is one of the cutest things to have ever been created. mnIJoHRuIqx8rFuzqlPhlHw

81. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – George R.R. Martin. This is a great way to fill your time whilst waiting for the next book in A Song of Ice and Fire!

82. Mapwise: Accelerated Learning Through Visible Thinking – Oliver Caviglioli and Ian Harris. I went to a workshop run by Oliver Caviglioli and he’s very passionate about visual learning, particularly through the use of mapping. The book is inspirational for teachers and students, no matter what their preferred learning style may be. He spoke about not labelling people as visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners any more and I think this is really important. Once someone has given you the label, or you’ve attached it to yourself, you start to believe that you cannot learn in other ways. 41KV2GWTV3L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_

83. Louise Bourgeois – Deborah Wye.

84. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers. I’m actually only halfway through this book, but I know it belongs on this list. It’s just so strange and wonderful, and I have no idea where it’s going! I love every character. I will have to search for more books by this author. Any recommendations? Please let me know in the comments. thialh *10 out of 5 lonely, burning stars, light years apart, yet winking together in a shared cosmos.” – from a five (or ten!) star review on Goodreads by Traveller. Amazon link.

85. Challenging the Prison-Industrial Complex: Activism, Arts & Educational Alternatives – Stephen John Hartnett.

This is a must-read for anyone who can see what’s wrong with the (US) prison system.

Stephen John Hartnett is an associate professor and chair of communication at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the author of Incarceration Nation: Investigative Prison Poems of Hope and Terror and Executing Democracy, Volume One: Capital Punishment and the Making of America, 1683-1807.

86. Magnificent Vibration – Rick Springfield. This book is hilarious, but it’s also surprisingly thought-provoking and emotional. It’s full of “laddish” humour and features the main character talking about (and to) his penis a fair bit. But it’s also full of romance, friendship, spirituality and self-reflection.

87. The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter. Amazon link. A truly scary book. I’m quite new to Angela Carter, having only read this and The Sadeian Woman (mentioned earlier in this list). I’ve also seen a couple of her films. So far, everything is fantastic, so I’m looking forward to reading the rest! Any suggestions on what to try next? I think I have most of the books, so it’s just a matter of choosing. 1410384986 Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne, in 1940, Carter was evacuated as a child to live in Yorkshire with her maternal grandmother. As a teenager she battled anorexia. She began work as a journalist on the Croydon Advertiser, following in the footsteps of her father. Carter attended the University of Bristol where she studied English literature.

“Fairy tales reimagined for feminist times” (Grazia)

88. The Dalai Lama’s Book of Daily Meditations: The Path to Tranquility – Renuka Singh. Amazon linkHis Holiness the Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Today, he lives in exile in Northern India and works tirelessly on behalf of the Tibetan people, as well as travelling the world to give spiritual teachings to sell-out audiences. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. This is a page-a-day book. Sayings, prayers and stories drawn from the life and teachings of one of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers are here brought together – for the first time – as reflections for each day of the year. His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks with an informal practicality about almost every aspect of human life, from the secular to the religious. Reminding us of the power of compassion and meditation, he shares his thoughts about science and its relation to the spiritual life, and how we can still retain the simple values of love and courage in spite of the fact that the world is changing so fast. he also points out the interdependence between an action and its result so that we never forget the responsibility that lies in each of our deeds. Wise, humane and inspiring, these words will bring daily solace to all with their message of hope and their deep yet easily understandable philosophy of kindness and non-violence.

89. The Power of Mindfulness – Nyanaponika Thera. Amazon link. A very small (60 pages) but helpful book.

90. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton. Amazon link. A 320 page classic. 51sZlvr2pcL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_ The House of Mirth tells the story of Lily Bart, aged 29, beautiful, impoverished and in need of a rich husband to safeguard her place in the social elite, and to support her expensive habits – her clothes, her charities and her gambling. Unwilling to marry without both love and money, Lily becomes vulnerable to the kind of gossip and slander which attach to a girl who has been on the marriage market for too long.

“Superb, utterly perfect, I recommend this book.” – from a five star Amazon review by Francesca Abagnale. A sad but wonderfully written book. Considering how much times have changed, the story still feels so relevant (unfortunately). “Lily is marriage material. And within Manhattan’s high society at the turn of the century, women are meant to marry; and in order to marry women are meant to maintain a reputation of “pale” innocence (indeed, they must).

Lily hesitates to question these two fundamental rules that bind her, save on rare occasion in conversation with Lawrence Selden, the man it seems she would marry if the choice were hers, and who stands far enough outside Lily’s circle to critique that circle from an apparent distance. Selden, however, presents Lily with several problems.” – from a five star Goodreads review by Jason.

91. The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way – Ethan Coen. Amazon linkProvocative, revealing, and often hilarious poems by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of No Country for Old Men

In his screenplays and short stories, Ethan Coen surprises and delights us with a rich brew of ideas, observations, and perceptions. In his first collection of poems he does much the same.

“I have never read a book of poetry from cover to cover before…mainly due to induced narcolepsy after the first few pages. It was therefore with some degree of drowsy trepidation that I received this gift from a close friend. I read the first poem, then the next, then the last…and wondered where this guy had been all my reading life.
I found these poems to be surprising, cleverly metered and worded, and very, very funny. I loved “Agent Elegy”, a scathingly intimate portrait of a Hollywood agent in repose.” – from a five star Amazon review by A. Customer. “Hysterical! Just what you’d expect from a Coen. The author is Ethan Coen who is half of the Coen brothers duo who are famous for the movies, Fargo, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, etc. the limericks are crass just as a good limerick should be” – from a four star Goodreads review by Jaidene. I love this collection of poems. I don’t think anyone else could manage to be so filthy, clever and emotional. 144 I-can’t-believe-my-eyes pages!

92. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Brothers Grimm. Amazon linkWith the words once upon a time, the Brothers Grimm transport readers to a timeless realm where witches, giants, princesses, kings, fairies, goblins and wizards fall in love, try to get rich, quarrel with their neighbours, have magical adventures of all kinds and in the process reveal essential truths about human nature. When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm set out to collect stories in the early 1800s, their goal was not to entertain children but to preserve Germanic folklore; and the hard life of European peasants was reflected in the tales they discovered. However, once the brothers saw how the stories entranced young readers, they began softening some of the harsher aspects to make them more suitable for children. We have a lot to thank them for! 744 pages in fact.

93. The Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales – H.P. Lovecraft. Amazon link.

94. Five Children and It – Edith Nesbit. Free on Kindles! A good, old-fashioned children’s story. I think I saw a TV adaptation or a film of it as a child, but I loved reading this as an adult recently.

95. Surreal People – Alexander Klar. mg_9737

96. Children as Artists – R.R. Tomlinson.

An old and tiny book (31 pages).

97. Anna Dressed in Blood – Kendare Blake. Amazon link. ac6b35c41e854db268b036904c75c189

98. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot. 370 thought-provoking pages.

99. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson.

100. Making History – Stephen Fry. “Slow to get started, but once the set up ended (around page 150), it got completely awesome and very interesting. Michael and Leo try to fix the world by making it so that Hitler was never born, except the world that results is even worse.

I loved the glimpses of the technology in the alternate world.” – from a four star review on Goodreads by Shelley.

101. Diving Magic: The Seven Sacred Secrets of Manifestation – Doreen VirtueDivine-Magic