The Kindly Ones begins with Jenkins remembering his childhood in August, 1914. At lessons that morning he had learned about the Furies, who “inflicted the vengeance of the gods by bringing in their train war” and other calamities. “Miss Orchard had spoken of the manner in which the Greeks, because they so greatly feared the Furies, had named them the Eumenides — the Kindly Ones– flattery intended to appease their terrible wrath” [TKO 6/2] We follow the traditional mode of showing the Eumenides, here with belts forming X’s across their chests, on a Greek vase painting. However, over the centuries many other artists have shown them, often with more macabre portrayals of their terrible power.
Mr. Lloyd George
The Kindly Ones (TKO) begins with young Jenkins helping Albert lock-up for the night. Jenkins examines “a coloured picture, fastened to the wall by four rusting drawing-pins, of Mr. Lloyd George, fancifully conceived as extending from his mouth an enormous scarlet tongue, on the liquescent surface of which a female domestic servant in cap and apron, laughing heartily as if she much enjoyed the contact, was portrayed vigorously moistening the gum of a Health Insurance stamp.” [TKO 5/ 1]
David Lloyd George (1863-1945), was a Liberal cabinet minister from 1906 to 1916. He proposed a National Health Insurance Act in 1909. It was passed in 1911. Each week every worker contributed four pence and the employer added three pence to purchase an insurance stamp; general taxation funds contributed another two pence. Later Lloyd George was British Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922.
Zealots of All Sorts
As part of his introduction of Dr. Trelawney, Jenkins writes: “Simple-lifers, utopian socialists, spiritualists, occultists, theosophists, quietists, pacficists, futurists, cubists, zealots of all sorts in their approach to life and art … were then  thought of by the unenlightened as scarcely distinguishable from one another …” [TKO 32/ ]
Among this list of zealots, cubists, futurists, and perhaps simple-lifers merit more discussion of their approach to art. We have already mentioned cubists more than once.
The Italian Futurists, like the Surrealists, extended their philosophy beyond art to many aspects of life. In 1910 Boccioni, Carrà, Russolo, Balla, and Severini concluded their Manifesto of the Futurist Painters:
With our enthusiastic adherence to Futurism, we will:
Destroy the cult of the past, the obsession with the ancients, pedantry and academic formalism.
Totally invalidate all kinds of imitation.
Elevate all attempts at originality, however daring, however violent.
Bear bravely and proudly the smear of “madness” with which they try to gag all innovators.
Regard art critics as useless and dangerous.
Rebel against the tyranny of words: “Harmony” and “good taste” and other loose expressions which can be used to destroy the works of Rembrandt, Goya, Rodin…
Sweep the whole field of art clean of all themes and subjects which have been used in the past.
Support and glory in our day-to-day world, a world which is going to be continually and splendidly transformed by victorious Science.
The dead shall be buried in the earth’s deepest bowels! The threshold of the future will be swept free of mummies! Make room for youth, for violence, for daring!
The Guggenheim Museum, New York, mounted an extensive retrospective of Futurist Art in 2014, including examining the relationship of Futurism to Italian politics during the eras of the two World Wars.
We show Boccioni’s The City Rises not only because it is one of earliest Futurist paintings, but also because it illustrates the interest of the Futurists in looking at modern cities in new ways.
A sad postscript to the Futurist’s tale is that their First Manifesto also included the witless boast, “We will glorify war–the world’s only hygiene . . . .” A few years later, the First World War carried off Boccioni and several other Futurist zealots, along with countless millions of young soldiers less enamored of war’s glamour.
Yearning for the Simple Life has been a recurring human theme for generations, but we suspect Powell is referring in particular here to the Victorian simple-lifers, who intertwined with the British Arts and Crafts Movement inspired by William Morris.
This Snakeshead textile pattern by William Morris (1834-1896) is hardly simple, but Morris promoted production of his textiles with organic dyes and was concerned for the lives of the textile workers and for wide availability of his art to the middle class. He was friendly with many of the Pre-Raphaelites, and his design firm encouraged artisans in glass, furniture, metal work, architectual carving, and
Stonehurst, where the Jenkins were living in 1914, had been furnished by its former owners in a style reflecting their prior service in India. “In the hall the brass gong was suspended from the horn or tusk of some animal;
in the dining-room hung water-colours of the Ganges at Benares [now Varanasi], the Old Fort at Calcutta, the Taj Mahal;
in the smoking room, a small revolving book case contained only four books: Marie Corelli’s Sorrows of Satan, St. John Clarke’s Never to the Philistines, an illustrated volume of light verse called Lays of Ind, a volume of coloured pictures of Sepoy uniforms;
in the drawing-room, the piano was covered with a Kashmiri shawl of some size and fine texture,
upon which, in silver frames, photographs of the former owner of Stonehurst (wearing a pith helmet surmounted with a spike) and his family (flanked by Indian servants) had stood before being stowed away in a drawer.” [TKO 63 /61 ]
Writing a century after this scene, many of the images that we find on the Internet are of objects that are displayed in museums or offered for sale. In contrast, much of the Stonehurst decor was probably kitsch rather than high art and would be unlikely to survive to the twenty-first century, just as Marie Corelli’s Sorrows of Satan was one of the most popular novels at the beginning of the twentieth century but is largely unknown today.
Powell provides a précis in a paragraph, summarizing volumes of cultural history. For those who want to continue to explore, please “look inside the book” Lays of Ind (1837) by Aliph Cheem, a pseudonym for Walter Yeldham, which is a collection of ‘exalted doggerel‘ about British India, accompanied by drawings that expand Powell’s collage of the Raj.
Insulting a Priest
About 1929, Moreland and Jenkins are discussing the role of action in artistic creation. Moreland asks: “Is art action, an alternative to action, an enemy of action, or nothing whatever to do with action?”
Jenkins replies: “Ask the Surrealists. They are keen on action. Their magazine had a photo on the cover the other day with the caption: One of our contributors insulting a priest.” [TKO 79/
The actual quote from La Révolution surréaliste, no. 8, 1 December 1926. is “Notre collaborateur Benjamin Péret injuriant un prêtre.” Péret (1899-1959), shown on the left side of the photo, was a poet, novelist, and, at the time, editor of the magazine ; he was active in the surrealist movement from its inception until his death. This photo is frequently cited as an example of surrealist aggressiveness. For example, Luis Buñuel claimed that it was this photo, with its appeal to his own anti-clericalism, that drew him to join the surrealists, three years before he presented his film Un Chien Andalou, which he wrote with Salvador Dali. .
Huge Pictures of the Olympian Gods
Mr Deacon painted huge pictures of the Olympian gods but shunned the “female form divine,” [TKO 83/ 80]
In A Buyer’s Market, Jenkins introduced Mr. Deacon and told us much about his art and his antecedents (for examples, see our posts, Mr. Deacon’s Pre-Raphaelite Influences, Mr. Deacon at Auction, and Sketch of Antinous, among others). For this reprise of his work, we are imagining a synthesis of works of his two heroes, Puvis de Chavannes and Simeon Solomon.
The size of Mr. Deacon’s painting might be like Puvis de Chavannes’ mural shown above. The original version, part of a series of murals for the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, is more than 15 feet high by 34 feet long; we show a reduced rendition that is now at the Art Institute of Chicago, three feet high and seven and a half feet wide. (See our post The Boyhood of Cyrus for the story of Toulouse-Lautrec’s parody of this painting.)
For the all male cast, we would use images by Simeon Solomon, who did not limit himself to male figures, but who was frank about his homosexuality, for which he suffered. He painted three versions of the god of wine known as Bacchus to the Romans and Dionysus to the Greeks. We show this version with its homoerotic connotation. The staff in his right hand is a thrysus, with a shaft of fennel topped with a pine cone, a symbol classically associated with Dionysius, signifying phallic hedonism.
The Red Queen
Fettiplace-Jones’ wife was “an eager little woman with the features of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland….” [TKO 94/91]
This is the third reference to a Tenniel illustration in Dance (see The Frog Footman and The Mad Hatter). Powell, or at least Jenkins, makes a common error here. The Red Queen, who appears in Through The Looking Glass, is not be confused with the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Carroll wrote: “I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion- a blind and aimless Fury. The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm – she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the 10th degree, the concentrated essence of all governesses!” Carroll conceived his Queens as Furies; in contrast, Mrs Fettiplace-Jones “possibly advised by her husband not to be controversial about Czechoslovakia — spoke sagely of public health and housing;” she does not speak again in Dance. [TKO 94/91]
If Powell were intentionally making a reference here to The Kindly Ones (The Eumenides or Furies), Mrs. Fettiplace-Jones would not be so readily acquiescent to her husband’s stricture against controversy. Furthermore, we doubt that Powell was thinking of Carroll’s conception of his Queens as Furies; otherwise, Powell would not have mistakenly placed the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Rather, he is simply drawn once again to Tenniel’s memorable illustrations, which all but supplant every reader’s memory of Carroll’s improbable characters.
Conder, Steer, John and Sickert at Stourwater
Nick returns to Stourwater with Templer, the “exuberant” jumble of the decorations impresses him more favorably than it had on his earlier visit with the Walpole-Wilsons. “Between bookshelves” in a paneled gallery “hung drawings: Conder, Steer, John, a couple of Sickerts. Barnby’s nude of Norma, the waitress from Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, was beside the fireplace, above which stood a florid china statuette of Cupid Chastised” [TKO 112/109]
Here Powell pays homage to some early twentieth century British artists of personal importance to him.When
Charles Conder (1868-1909) was an English-born Australian painter and printmaker associated with a late-19th century Australian art movement known as the Heidelberg School. Conder was also a contributor to The Yellow Book, the provocative English art and literary quarterly of the 1890’s that featured many of the top artists of the day. Since Nick mentions that Morland and Barnby had a hand in freshening up Sir Magnus’s medieval taste, perhaps they would have favored The Yellow Book’s contemporary aesthetic. Accordingly, we have chosen to show Souvenir de Paris, one of Charles Conder’s illustrations for that periodical, as a Conder drawing that might have hung at Stourwater. Conder died when Powell was quite young, but Powell was still a teen when he browsed Conder’s illustrations in his father’s copy of Balzac’s La Fille aux Yeux d’Or. [TKBR 117] We also show a drawing by Conder’s fellow Yellow Book contributor, Philllip Wilson Steer (1860-1942). Steer trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and made his reputation in Britain as an Impressionist painter of the English landscape.
The John drawing Nick sees in the paneled gallery is presumably by Augustus John, the flamboyant and immensely talented Welsh-born portraitist . [We have previously shown a portrait of John by Powell’s friend Adrian Daintrey, the reputed model for Barnby.] John was another good friend of Powell’s and drew portraits of him [TKBR 138-9]. Augustus’ sister, Gwen John, was also a distinguished portraitist, though with a less showy manner as a painter and a less sensational personal life. Eventually, Gwen’s artistic reputation came to eclipse that of her brother Augustus, whose early brilliance seemed to wane as he aged. But at the time of Nick’s visit to Stourwater, Augustus was at the peak of his career and was painting portraits of many of the luminaries of his day, including W.B. Yeats, T.E. Lawrence, and later on, Dylan Thomas. This nude figure drawing by Augustus might have appealed to Sir Magus Donners’ tastes.
Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) was, like Augustus John, a member of the Camden Town Group, a London cohort of early modernists known more for their bohemian-neighborhood lifestyle than for a unifying stylistic trait. Sickert was a German-born disciple first of Whistler, then of Degas. He is often called an Impressionist, less for his plein-air effects than for his interest in social-realist subjects, which he drew from life or photographs and then painted from his drawings. Pictured here is one of Sickert’s many drawings for his famous painted subject, L’Ennui.
Powell recalled that while he was an undergraduate at Oxford in the mid 1920s, he heard Sickert give a Slade lecture : “Tall, gray-haired, crimson in face, wearing a thick greenish loudly-checked suit, he chatted in a conversational voice, humorous and resonant, while he flourish a cigar…. delivering his direct no-nonsense art criticism…” [TKBR 80]
Lord Beaverbrook is thought to have been a model for Sir Magnus Donner. Presumably Stourwater shared some characteristics with Beaverbrook’s estate Cherkley Court. Sickert became friendly with Lord Beaverbrook, who reportedly had the largest collection of Sickert’s works, some of which are now displayed at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Beaverbrook’s native New Brunswick. Sickert’s portrait of Beaverbrook is in the National Portrait Gallery. During World War I, Beaverbrook recruited Steer to paint pictures of the Royal Navy. Beaverbrook also commisioned Augustus John to paint a large historical mural about World War I for the a war memorial art gallery in Ottawa. The gallery and the mural were never completed, but the unfinished mural is now displayed at the Canadian War Museum.
We cannot leave the room without providing a facsimile of Cupid Chatised.
Rubens, Bosch, and Picasso
At Sir Magnus’ dinner party, an entertainment is wanted.
“‘Let’s pose some tableaux,” said Matilda. ‘Donners can photograph us in groups.’” Several themes are floated and discarded. “‘What about some mythological incident?’ said Moreland. ‘Andromeda chained to her rock, or the flaying of Marsyas?’ ‘Or famous pictures?’ said Anne Umfraville. ‘A man once told me I looked like Mona Lisa. I admit he’d drunk a lot of Martinis. We want something that will bring everyone in.’ ‘Rubens’s Rape of the Sabine Women,’ said Moreland, ‘or The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. We might even be highbrows while we’re about it, and do Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. What’s against a little practical cubism?’” [TKO 126/124]
Rubens, Bosch and Picasso are likely to be familiar names to most readers of Dance, but Moreland’s particular suggestions from their oeuvres, seemingly chosen at random, are worth considering closely for the tone they set for the proceedings at Stourwater.
The Rape of the Sabine Women was a theme treated by many painters of the high Renaissance, Baroque, and neoclassical periods. It depicts an episode in the legendary founding of Rome, recounted by both Livy and Plutarch, when early Roman men abducted women from the Sabine tribe, indigenous to the Italic peninsula, in order to furnish themselves with wives and start populating their infant empire. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), painter of The Dance to the Music of Time, made two memorable depictions of the subject, of which the 1637-8 version, now in the Louvre, is reproduced here.
But Peter Paul Rubens’ (1577-1640) rendition of the Rape, approximately contemporaneous with Poussin’s and now in the National Gallery, is the one suggested by Moreland for a tableau vivant. Rubens has depicted the Sabine women wearing (or tumbling out of) Baroque garb, so that his account has itself taken on the character of a tableau vivant, and the horror of the founding legend is thus somewhat ameliorated.
The story is still a source of cultural reference. Picasso painted a version of the scene in 1963, now owned by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In 1937, Stephen Vincent Benet wrote a short-story parody of the theme entitled The Sobbin’ Women, which in turn furnished the material for the 1954 film and 1982 Broadway musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in which all trace of the original brutality and tragedy of the motif has been eliminated. Upon reflection, Powell’s depiction of this period in Nick’s early adulthood, during which Sir Magnus, Templer, Moreland, Quiggin, Umfraville and the others swap and abduct each other’s women with alarming frequency and rapacity, comes itself to seem a kind of parody of The Rape of the Sabine Women, poised somewhere between the pathos of Rubens and the romantic humor of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Heironymous Bosch (?-1516), the Netherlandish fantasist, painted the triptych now exhibited in the Prado as The Garden of Earthly Delights. What his intentions were in doing so have remained an academic controversy for the 500 years since he painted it. The left panel of the triptych shows Adam and Eve with Christ in the primal paradise. In the right panel countless souls suffer the torments of hell. In the center, Bosch envisions a panorama of human enterprise and diversion, which viewers may regard with delight and inspiration at the pleasures of our earthly home, or may view with trepidation for the fate of all who succumb to the earthly temptations on display. Either way, Bosch’s Garden is evocative of Stourwater and its guests, who find in its walls every imaginable luxury and opportunity for diversion, but also oubliettes and dark passages that lead to scenes of unspeakable practices.
Finally, Moreland’s witty nomination of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 suggests the intellectual elevation of the gathering, the licentious undercurrent notwithstanding. Moreland says the choice would be the “highbrow” one, even though the Picasso painting hasn’t a shred of literary, historical, or religious content to it. It shows only five nude women, prostitutes in a brothel it is generally agreed.
What makes Moreland’s choice interesting here, as well as funny (“a little practical cubism”), is how Moreland’s use of the term “highbrow” alerts us to the huge intellectual dislocation Picasso’s 1907 painting was still making in the 1920s. Together with Georges Braque, Picasso had managed to turn the attention of viewers from the content of the image to the question of how images are meant to work. A century later we have all learned to use the language of Cubism in images everywhere, but during the first decades after the appearance of Demoiselles d’Avignon it was still the challenge of “highbrows” to master that lexicon.
At Stourwater, Jenkins reencounters the Seven Deadly Sins tapestries, Luxuria [TKO 120/117], and proposes that they be used as the models for the tableaux vivants to be photographed by Sir Magnus. [TKO 127-134/124-130]
We have previously discussed the possibility that the tapestries of Pieter Coecke van Aelst might by a model for the Stourwater tapestries. Here we show van Aelst’s Gluttony, the role enacted by Hugh Moreland. This tapestry is currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, which fortunately happened to mount a major exhibition of the work of Pieter Coecke van Aelst in late 2014. As amateurs with a greater than average interest in van Aelst’s accounts of the Seven Deadly Sins, we took a peek.
Alas, a close-up inspection of Lust, Pride, Sloth, and Gluttony increased our doubt that Powell actually had these tapestries in mind when he wrote the tableaux vivants scenes at Stourwater. For starters, the tapestries are huge, each 20 to 30 feet in length. The dining room that would house all seven and still afford a setting for dinner party with intimate conversation is hard to envision. Then, the ravages of time, light and use have rendered these tapestries, Lust particularly, so faded that Nick’s impression of their vivid colors seems fanciful rather than observational. Finally, of course, is the fact that van Aelst’s pictorial imagination of Lust barely corresponds in any particular with the piquant narrative of sin that Nick’s description evokes.
Once again Powell’s seems mischievously to have inserted an imaginary work of art—in this case a whole body of work—into a narrative packed with references to actual works of art. Later on in Dance Powell returns to the tapestries yet again, and perhaps at that time we will attempt another approach to identify the sources of his imagination.
Jenkins’ Uncle Giles died while living at the Bellevue, run by Albert Creech, whom Nick remembered from his boyhood at Stonehurst. In Nick’s memory, Albert had mythical status like “Mr. Deacon’s paintings of the Hellenic scene. Albert, I thought was like Sisyphus or Charon, one of those beings committed eternally to undesired and burdensome labours. Charon was more appropriate, since Albert had, as it were, recently ferried Uncle Giles over the Styx.” [TKO 151/]
Once again Powell teases us to imagine a painting that a fictional artist did not paint. By invoking Mr. Deacon’s style, while he reminisces about Albert, Nick suggests that Albert deserves a big canvas, larger than life.
Charon, in Greek mythology, was the ferryman who took the dead across the river Styx to Hades. The painting of him that topped our Google search was the one above by Joachim Patinir. The Charon shown here is the focus of the picture but does not seem to have the heft that Nick is imagining.
Mr. Deacon, with his sympathy for the Pre-Raphaelites, might have emulated the work of John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908), who was associated with Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederic Watts. In the painting, Charon is taking an obol, the traditional coin fare for his services, from Psyche’s mouth; we are sure that Mr. Deacon’s painting of Charon would not have included a female form.
One of our favorite Charons was painted by Michaelangelo for the Sistine Chapel. Michaelanglo’s conception of Charon was probably influenced by Dante’s description of the ferryman whom he meets in Canto III of the Inferno (verse translation copyright 1980 by Allen Mandelbaum) :
The demon Charon, with his eyes like embers,
by signaling to them, has all embark;
his oar strikes anyone who stretches out.
Michaelangelo’s Charon has mythic proportions, but his demonic qualities do not suit Albert. We think Nick was imagining a gentler ferryman.
The Perfumed Garden
Thinking about Uncle Giles’ copy of The Perfumed Garden of the Sheik Nefzaoui or the Arab Art of Love, Nick pictures the author as “this French Staff Officer sitting at his desk. The sun was streaming into the room through green latticed windows of Moorish design, an oil sketch by Fromentin or J.F. Lewis.” [TKO 163 /160]
The Perfumed Garden of Cheikh Nefzaoui is a sex manual written in Arabic in the fifteenth century or earlier. It was translated from Arabic to French sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century by a French staff officer stationed in Algeria. A French edition of twenty-five copies was published in 1876. Uncle Giles had a copy of the first English translation. In 1886, Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) published this translation of the French edition; it was not illustrated and was “printed for the Kama Shastra Society of London and Benares, and for private circulation only.”
Eugene Fromentin (1820-1876) was a French painter and writer, influenced by Delacroix and by his visits to Algeria both in his youth and in 1852. Most of his paintings were of scenes from Arab life. The website of his “Complete Works” (accessed 2/14/15) shows no images of a French Staff Officer at his desk.
John Frederick Lewis (1804-1876) (“Lewis, John Frederick” The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists. Ed Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press 2009 Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.) lived in Cairo from 1841 to 1851 and was known for his depictions of the harem. Most of his paintings were done after his return to England in 1851 but were based on sketches that he had done in Cairo. During his lifetime, he was discouraged by his finances, but his The Arab Scribe fetched over $3.3 millions dollars at auction in 2009.
Lewis’ The Siesta (shown above) shows an interior that might have seeded Powell’s imagination, which replaced the sleeping woman with the French Staff Officer sitting at his desk: “Dressed in a light-blue frogged coatee and scarlet peg-topped trousers buttoning under the boot, he wore a pointed moustache and imperial. Beside him on the table stood his shako, high and narrowing to the plume, the white puggaree falling against the scabbard of his discarded sabre.” [TKO 163/160]
As usual, Powell is meticulous about the details that set the time and place. The scarlet trousers of the French Army in nineteenth century Algeria were modeled on their colorful native Zouave troops. The Zouave look influenced American Civil War uniforms and still reverberates in the fashion world. The shako refers the officer’s cylindrical hat. A puggaree is a band of cloth, often muslin, wrapped around the hat and often trailing onto the back of the neck for sun protection.The moustache and imperial indicate a pointed mustache extending onto the face beyond the lip. A coatee is a short tight coat. The frogging is the ornamental braiding.
Mrs. Erdleigh, if painted by Longhi
When Jenkins encounters Mrs. Erdleigh at the Bellevue, she is wearing “a black coat with a high fur collar, a tricorne hat, also black, riding on the summit of grey curls. … This new method of doing her hair, the tone and texture of which suggested a wig, together with the three-cornered hat, recalled Longhi, the Venetian ridotto. You felt Mrs. Erdleigh had just removed her mask before paying this visit to Cagliostro… [TKO 199-200/197]
Pietro Longhi (1701/2 – 1785) was a Venetian painter, most remembered for his genre scenes of daily Venetian life. Bernard Berenson (1901) wrote:
Longhi painted for the picture-loving Venetians their own lives in all their ordinary domestic and fashionable phases. In the hair-dressing scenes, we hear the gossip of the periwigged barber; in the dressmaking scenes, the chatter of the maid; in the dancing-school, the pleasant music of the violin. There is no tragic note anywhere. Everybody dresses, dances, makes bows, takes coffee, as if there were nothing else in the world that wanted doing. A tone of high courtesy, of great refinement, coupled with an all-pervading cheerfulness, distinguishes Longhi’s pictures from the works of Hogarth, at once so brutal and so full of presage of change.
A ridotto is a Venetian casino, where patrons often cavorted with masks blocking their faces and their inhibitions.
Mrs. Erdleigh had been introduced by Dr. Trelawney as “la vielle souveraine du monde” quoting from the French oculist Eliphas Levi (1810-1875). Alessandro Count Cagliostro was the pseudonym of Giuseppe Balsamo (1743-1795), a contemporary of Longhi’s; Cagliostro’s alchemy and occultism are legendary. Powell could just as well have recalled another painting by Longhi, The Charlatan.
General Conyers, if painted by Michelanglo
Jenkins visits the aging General Conyers. “His face had become ever more aquiline and ivory, the underlying structure of bone and muscle, accentuated by age, giving him an other-worldliness of expression…. At the same time there was a restless strength, a rhythm, about his movements that made one think of the Michelangelo figures in the Sistine Chapel. The Cumaean Sybil with a neat moustache attached?” [TKO 211/209]
Michelangelo (1475-1564), one of the leading masters of the Italian Renaissance, needs little introduction. Between 1508 and 1512 he painted hundreds of figures on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, figures remarkable for their dynamic portrayals of human anatomy. Powell has written that in Britain in the 1920s and 30s, Michelangelo was somewhat out of fashion; his bodies had a “disagreeable sculptural romanticism.” [SPA 177]
The sibyls were soothsayers of Greek and Roman myth. Michelangelo showed 12 portraits of those who had predicted the Coming of Christ, intermingling Old Testament Prophets and the sibyls. The sibyl at Cumae, a Greek colony near Naples, had rejected advances of Apollo; in response he gave her eternal life but not eternal beauty (Ovid, Metamorphoses XIV:101-153), which explains why her aged face might resemble General Conyers.
After watching General Conyers move, Jenkins refines the metaphor. “All at once he leant forward, turning with one arm over the back of his chair, his head slightly bent, pointing to another picture hanging on the wall. I saw he was an unbeard Jehovah inspiring life into Adam through an extended finger.” [TKO 211/209 ]
General Conyers was pointing at his picture by Troost or Van Troost, which he had previously discussed with Jenkins in ALM. Now Jenkins sees that the painting is one of Troost’s later works, showing a scene from military life.
We will let Powell end this last post of TKO with the paragraph that he wrote to conclude his autobiography (TKBR 440-441):
“But if the consolation for life is art, what may the artist expect from life? An incident mentioned quite casually in Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors always seems to me worth recalling. It teaches several lessons: that if you want something done get the best executant available to do it; that minor jobs are often worth taking on; that duration in time should not necessarily be the criterion in producing a work of art. Vasari says that on a winter day in Florence, when snow was deep on the ground, one of the Medici sent Michelangelo to build a snowman in the courtyard of the Medici palace. Notwithstanding those (like Constant Lambert) who dislike the High Renaissance one can scarcely doubt that the finest snowman on record took shape.”