Category Archives: Artlove

Dreaming/masking interlude

As promised, the excerpt where my new blog title is from:

John: We live still.
Anne: But what has become of the dead? They forget.
John: These. Smilers, all who stand on promontories, slinkers, whisperers; deliberate approaches, echoes, time, promises of mercy, what dreams or goes masked, embraces that fail, insufficient evidence, touches of the old wound… But let us not think of things which we hope will be long in coming.

– W. H. Auden, Paid on Both Sides (first version)




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Nietzsche signs a contract

From issue 153 (November 1941) of Adam International Review:

For decades the Berlin theatre (now in ruins) was astounding in its vitality.
But as a whole the German theatre had also many things difficult to swallow. Ah, those nebulous dramas!… I know the manuscript, I know the performance, but I do not know the play.

Watching an average German play the critic has plenty of scope for conjecturing what is happening in it. The author, who himself does not know it, passes on this job to him. Then it is up to the critic to say of a mess that it is “profound.”

There are dramatists who deal wtih a problem in every play and even supply a solution – by chance coincidence. In such cases I have a vision of this type: Smith has fallen to the bottom of a high tower; his position is most precarious; the walls are covered with sharp spikes; the top of the walls is lined with broken glass; how will he escape?
The author answers softly: “The tower collapses.”

How does the average German dramatist deal with the symbolical?
If a suspension bridge occurs in a play, for instance, you may be sure that one of the characters will say: “Life is a suspension bridge.”
If the hero is a chiropodist, someone is bound to murmur: “At bottom, all men are chiropodists.”

In Germany there are plays full of a comforting pantheism which says: “We shall die, it is true, but what does that matter? We disappear, but life continues – in others.”
It is as though I said to the Countess Wartensleben after her pearls have been stolen: “Don’t worry, they still exist, only it is not you who have them.”

The average dramatist studies two kinds of human souls: that of his characters and that of the managers.

A critic’s nightmare: Nietzsche, still alive, signs a contract to film Zarathustra.

– Alfred Kerr, “Stray Thoughts of a Dramatic Critic”


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Life in Bohemia

So Whistler gradually surrounded himself with what he called his ‘no-shirt’ friends. These were penniless students and amusing characters of the Quarter. They lived in empty rooms and drew their furniture on the wall in charcoal with skillful effects of light and shade. Idle and unkempt, they would lean out of top windows, absorbed in the pastime of fishing for the landlady’s goldfish in a bowl on a balcony underneath, with a hook let down on the end of a piece of string. They used the bath for any other purpose than that for which it was intended. They ate off the bottom of a plate when the right side was dirty and had a gift for breaking crockery and furniture. Whistler was thrilled.
William Gaunt, The Aesthetic Adventure

Walter Robinson, Curator in training

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This is last week’s fairy post; I wanted to post it on Sunday, but then realized it’s the 15th of April, so yeah. Oh well, one day doesn’t make much of a difference.
(Surprisingly, it’s a Frenchman today; unsurprisingly, it’s another Shakespeare-inspired work.)
Edmund Dulac (also known as Edmond) was born in Toulouse, France, in 1882, under the amazing sign of the Libra. He studied art and law simultaneously, moved to London, and was asked to illustrate Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre when he was 22. That was the beginning of his success, as he moved on to famous fairy tales, newspaper caricatures, stamps, theatre set design, as well as illustrations for more ‘serious’ books (try googling his paintings for E. A. Poe’s poems). He died of a heart attack in 1953, while working on a masque by John Milton.
As most English (or wannabe English) artists, he also had an attempt at illustrating Shakespeare. The image below is from his take on The Tempest and it’s entitled Ariel in a tree (1908) (higher quality here):


I would love to delve into a (not quite)mini essay on Ariel as a Shakesperean character, his (her?) peculiar complexity and his strange nature, illusive, thin, air-like, which has been a nightmare for stage directors, as well as artists. I’m afraid I can’t come up with anything intelligent, though, nor with anything that a thorough google search/reading of the play would provide, so we’ll skip that part. (was that a very bad paralipsis?)
The painting, as the title suggests, depicts (an interestingly androgynous, but boringly substantial) Ariel in a tree which seems to bend to accommodate the shape of his body. The entire picture has a very flowing character, I’d say, and an interesting composition, with the subject to the top right of the image, and a whole lot of free space in the opposite corner. You can also see, especially in the HQ version, the green/dark shadows of the forest behind, which I thought was a lovely subtle touch providing a great contrast.
I will avoid being VERY predictable (that is, quoting Shakespeare), and settle for being merely predictable; this is Sylvia Plath’s poem Ariel, written in 1962, not long before her death, and published in 1965 in a homonymous antology. There are many interpretations of it, so that’s another topic I’ll skip, but it might be worth mentioning that Ariel was also the name of a horse which she used to write weekly in her youth, and that the name itself originates from Hebrew, in which it means “Lion of God”.

by Sylvia Plath

Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees! — The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Berries cast dark
Hooks —-

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else

Hauls me through air —-
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel —-
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

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The Lorelei

A supernatural being which appears, under various names, in the legends and tales of most Germanic peoples, is the Neck, or the Nixie, or the Nyx, or the Nykus, and I’ll stop here. They are spirits of the water, and I will most likely return to them in future posts; the one I wish to talk about now, though, is the Lorelei.
The most famous of the Nixes known as the Rhine Maidens, Lorelei is a mermaid-like creature of breathtaking beauty, who lures sailors with her enchanting voice, leading them to the perils of the rocky reefs of the Rhine. In some versions of the tale, she is uncomfortable with her beauty and regrets the deaths which it provokes; in others, she is no different from the evil sirens which attract Ulysses’s men in the Greek legend. Her name comes from the German lureln, meaning “murmur”, and the Celtic ley, meaning “rock”. There is a rock in Germany, on the eastern bank of the Rhine, which now bears this name, where Lorelei was said to sit and sing her endearing song.
Although it is a rather typical story, the legend is a beautiful one, and it has inspired many musicians, artists, and writers. Among them, Eduard Von Steinle, born in Vienna, in 1810, died in Frankfurt, 1886. A historical/Christian painter (he was part of the so-called Nazarene movement, the aim of which was a renaissance of the genuine, spiritual Christian art), he sometimes thought “screw that” and painted Shakespearean characters, or mythological ones. It was a good decision to do so, as Die Loreley (1864) has probably become his most known painting.


A rather… romantic painting, I guess, as the legend itself, after all. It is an almost hopeful, innocent image (seems like a fresh dawn, near the sea), but greatly enhanced, in my opinion, by knowing the actual legend, and wondering what could hide behind the simple picture of a beautiful woman on a rock.

Poems have also been written on this topic; the one that I should reference to is probably Heinrich Heine’s poem about the beautiful maiden with golden hair, which has become a classic (and which, most likely, inspired Steinle’s depiction as well). However, so many people know it (and everyone else can google it), so I’m going for someone more… recent instead.

by Sylvia Plath

It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier
Than sculptured marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear’s listening

Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source

Of your ice-hearted calling —
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.

And some music

(and this post would’ve been dedicated to John, as he loves both Sylvia and ToT, but he doesn’t do enough nice things, so.)


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The Fairy Tree

Uncle of the more famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Doyle is a British (I promise to try and find someone from outside the UK next time, although it seems the Brits were quite alone in their creepy fascination for fairies…) illustrator. He was born in 1824 in London, and displayed a great passion for fairy stories from a young age. Despite having no training (admittedly, his father was an artist as well, so that must’ve helped), Doyle became moderately famous around the age of 19. He started illustrating different books, including works by Dickens, Ruskin and Thackeray, and spent seven years working for a magazine called Punch (which, if you’re into useless trivia, was the first publication to use “cartoon” with the meaning we know today). He died in 1883, of apoplexy. He was known to his friends as Dicky or Dick Kitcat 🙂
His work is surprisingly good (from a technical, strictly artistic) point of view, considering his lack of any formal education. Its creativity and love of the fantastic are remarkable. His most ambitious project is a watercolour painting named The Fairy Tree, which you can view here at a decent quality, unlike below.


Yet again, the internet has failed to provide me with a date for that, but from what I’ve seen it’s probably from the second half of his life/career. The colours are a bit enhanced in the image above, so that the details are more visible. There are over 200 characters on the branches of the tree, and the relatively central figure with the very large moustache is supposedly the King of the Fairies. Another interesting bit of information is that the image of children (painted in a slightly different manner from the rest of the work) peeking at the fairyworld is a recurrent theme in his works, which I’d link you to if I didn’t want to save them for when it’s October and I’m running out of fairy paintings.

A song which is, I hope, about fairies…

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The Daisy Fairy

I think this is the first woman whose work I talk about here – it is Cicely M. Barker, an English artist and poet, born in Croydon, in 1895. At the age of 13, her father took her to an evening class at the Croydon School of Art, which she continued to attend for over 30 years, when she was hired as a teacher. She died at the age of 77, leaving behind a vast collection of fairy art, which have become rather famous nowadays (especially due to the fact that Penguin Books bought them), and can be found on calendars, bookmarks, notebooks etc.
She generally rejected all rules and conventions, claiming to paint and write instinctively; she used watercolours, as well as pen, ink, oils, and pastels. Her first book was published in 1923 and was called Flower Fairies of the Spring (Summer, Autumn and Winter followed). This consisted of beautiful and characteristically naive depictions of different fairies, each associated with a spring flower, and accompanied by a short poem.


This is The Daisy Fairy (1923). The fairy is very child-like in appearance and posture, which is something usual for her drawings. Not only does it hold three daisies, but also wears a skirt made of daisy petals, which, on a very simplistic level, suggests a similar association of the fairy to its flower as that of the hamadryad to its tree (see previous post).
The poem next to the illustration was, apparently, this

Come to me and play with me,
I’m the babies flower,
Make a necklace gay with me,
Spend the whole long day with me,
Till the sunset hour.
I must say Good-night, you know,
Till tomorrow’s playtime;
Close my petals tight, you know,
Shut the red and white, you know,
Sleeping till the daytime.

(I apologize for the large number of commas in this post, they seem to be superfluous, but I’m not sure why. I’ll just blame the bad weather, not my bad grammar.)

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