Monday, November 29, 2010

Four Artists And A Wombat

I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving.

Which is my own personal secret code for "I hope everyone found time to indulge in some good reading as well as some good food recently."

It hasn't been a great reading year for me thus far, but I have managed to find the time to continue easing my way through Stefano Zuffi's Dictionary of Painters. It's a book that gives brief biographies of more than 300 famous Western artists along with beautiful, full color examples of their work.

After many weeks of savoring a few pages a day, I'm finally up to those artists whose last name starts with an R.

A tidbit about Georgia O'Keefe (an artist whose last name rather wantonly starts with an O) continues to stick with me, however. I already knew before reading the bio in this book that she spent nearly 50 years in the American southwest painting many of her most famous paintings. What I hadn't realized is that she was in her 40s when she first started spending her summers in New Mexico and in her 50s when she decided to permanently settle down out there and then live to be nearly 100. It's nice to know. Which is my own personal secret code for "Wow! Maybe I myself will find the strength to check out a new grocery store sometime before I'm 60!"

A tidbit about self-taught artist Henri Rousseau also continues to stick with me: He didn't start painting until he was in his 40s. (I can scarcely imagine what kind of country we might be living in today if the Jonas Brothers had been that patient to inflict their art on the rest of us.)

And then there's this tidbit about Rubens: When he was 53, he married his second wife - a 16-year-old girl. This raises a number of questions in my mind, including the G-rated "What in the world did they talk about?" (Does making snide little comments about Rembrandt and then giggling uncontrollably constitute talk or should it best be considered a form of aerobic chit-chat?)

The things that stick with me the most now (and I hope forever) involve the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Here's how Wikipedia sums them up:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (12 May 1828 – 9 April 1882) was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work influenced the European Symbolists, and he was also a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement....

Rossetti's wife Elizabeth Siddal died of an overdose of laudanum in 1862, shortly after giving birth to a stillborn child. Rossetti became increasingly depressed, and upon the death of his beloved Lizzie, buried the bulk of his unpublished poems with her at Highgate Cemetery, though he would later have them dug back up....

Rossetti leased Tudor House at number 16 Cheyne Walk, along the Thames in London, where he lived for the next twenty years surrounded by extravagant furnishings and a parade of exotic birds and animals. Rossetti was fascinated with wombats, frequently asking friends to meet him at the "Wombat's Lair" at the London Zoo in Regent's Park, and spending hours there himself. Finally, in September 1869, he was to acquire the first of two pet wombats. This short-lived wombat, named "Top", was often brought to the dinner table and allowed to sleep in the large centrepiece during meals. This fascination with exotic animals continued throughout Rossetti's life, finally culminating in the purchase of a llama and a Toucan which Rossetti would dress in a cowboy hat and persuade to ride the llama round the dining table for his amusement....

The passing of his beloved Top apparently inspired Rossetti to create the following:

I never reared a young Wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye,
But when he most was sweet & fat
And tail-less; he was sure to die!

Apparently Rossetti attempted to console himself by fucking Mrs. William Morris with some regularity after this.

Here's one of the drawings he made of her:

Alas, despite hours of online searching, I can find no evidence that any artist in all of human history has ever tried to capture the expression on Mrs. Morris's face the moment she first laid eyes on this....


  1. The toucan wore the cowboy hat?

    And the pOpe in the news: