16 Cheyne Walk
My dear Stephens,
I fancy these are as nearly as it is desirable to name at one go, but they might
be described (truly) as "a few" of the pictures and designs I have lately made.
Perhaps you would like to look again at the things. Would tomorrow (Wednesday)
suit, any time after 2 o'clock? About 3 is the best time for the colour since
later the sun strikes in.
D. G. R.
The notes are of course only rough material for memory.
P.S. I shall be glad if you think it practicable to speak of the
design, as it is a favorite with me and I should like attention directed
to it in hope of a chance to paint it without loss. Of course if your plans did
not suit with mine, you must elect the course suiting yourself. I thought it
better on second thoughts not to include
. We might speak of this if I see you as I hope.
The picture is a study of greys culminating in the tint of the drapery —a
warm but scarcely positive blue. Proserpine holds in her hand the
pomegranate, by partaking of which in Hades she has precluded herself from
return to earth. She is passing along a gloomy corridor of her palace, and a
sharp light (as if an upper door opening suddenly flashed down for a moment
the light of the outer world) strikes on the wall behind her, throwing her
head and massive hair into strong relief, as she turns her eyes sadly
towards the distant gleam. On the wall an ivy branch curves downward, and
forms with the swaying lines of the drapery the pictorial motive of the
- Afar away the light that brings cold cheer
- Unto this wall,—one instant and no more
- Admitted at my distant palace-door:
- Afar the flowers of Enna from this drear
- Cold fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here:
- Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey
- That chills me: and afar, how far away,
- The nights that shall be from the days that were.
- Afar from mine own self I seem, and wing
10 Strange ways in thought, and listen for a sign:
- And still some heart unto some soul doth pine,
- (Whose sounds mine inner sense is fain to bring,
- Continually together murmuring,)
- “Woe's me for thee, unhappy Proserpine!”
- Lungiè la luce che in sù questo muro
- Rifrange appena, un breve istante scorta
- Del rio palazzo alla soprana porta:
- Lungi quei fiori d'Enna, O lido oscuro,
- Dal frutto tuo fatal che omai m'è duro.
- Lungi quel cielo dal tartareo manto
- Che quì mi cuopre: e lungi ahi lungi ahi quanto
- Le notti che saràn dai dì che furo.
- Lungi da me mi sento; e ognor sognando
10 Cerco e ricerco, e resto ascoltatrice;
- E qualche cuore a qualche anima dice,—
- (Di cui mi giunge il suon da quando in quando,
- Continuamente insieme sospirando,)—
- “Oimè per te, Proserpina infelice!”
The title may remind Italian readers of the well-known Petrarchian series of
sonnets so named by Giusto de Conti. The picture is however simply a
painter's fancy and dependent on pictorial qualities almost entirely. It
belongs to the class of toilet pictures where Venus or the lady has her
attendant Loves. Here the lady is washing her hands at a cistern and basin
of metal, while two white robed and red-winged Loves are in attendance, one
holding the towel in readiness, the other bearing on a silver tray the
bracelet and rings, the adornments destined for her “bella mano.” A mirror
behind her head reflects the room and bed, deep-toned but with a fire
burning in the chimney-nook. The pictorial object of the work has been to
show the brilliancy of flesh tints and whites relieved on a ground
everywhere subdued to the eye, yet everywhere replete with varied colour and
- O lovely hand, that thy sweet self dost lave
- In what thy pure and proper element,
- Whence erst the Lady of Love's high advènt
- Was born, and endless fires sprang from the wave;—
- Even as her Loves to her their offerings gave,
- For thee the jewelled gifts they bear; while each
- Looks to those lips, of music-measured speech
- The fount, and of more bliss than man may crave.
- In royal wise ring-girt and bracelet-spann'd,
10 A flower of Venus' own virginity,
- Go shine among thy sisterly sweet band;
- In maiden-minded converse delicately
- Evermore white and soft; until thou be,
- O hand, heart-handsel'd in a lover's hand.
- O bella Mano, che ti lavi e piaci
- In quel medesmo tuo puro elemento
- Donde la Dea dell' amoroso avvento
- Nacque, (e dall' onda s'infuocar le faci
- Di mille inispegnibili fornaci):—
- Come a Venere a te l'oro e l'argento
- Offron gli Amori; e ognun riguarda attento
- Quel labbro, sponda, ahime! di voce e baci.
- Con dolce modo dove onor t'invii
10 Vattene adorna, e porta insiem fra tante
- Di Venere e di vergine sembiante;
- Umilemente in luoghi onesti e pii
- Bianca e soave ognora; infin che sii,
- O Mano, mansueta in man d'amante.
The title here suggests the subject —that of a Roman widow seated in the
funeral vault beside her husband's cinerary urn, the inscription on which is
headed with the invariable words as given above; and playing on two harps
(as seen in some classical examples) an elegy “to the Divine Manes.” She is
robed in white—the mourning of noble ladies in Rome. The antique form of the
harps is rendered in tortoiseshell chiefly with fittings of ebony or dark
horn embossed in silver. The harp on which her right hand plays is wound
with wild roses; and beneath the urn, across the wall of green marble, is a
large festoon of garden roses, repeating as it were the festoon to be almost
universally found on such urns and which this one displays round its
inscription. About the urn is wound the widow's wedding-girdle of silver,
dedicated to the dead as to the living husband. The moment chosen must be
supposed to belong to those special occasions on which the Romans solemnized
mortuary rites, and which recurred at intervals during the year.
The green-clad “Lady of the Garland” sits among the golden greens of thorn
tree and myrtle copse; her hands drawing the music from the harp beside her,
and her face absorbed in the sound. On either side, over her shoulders an
angel looks through the glowing upper leaves, as if Heaven itself waited on
her song. Round the summit of the harp is slung a garland of roses and
honeysuckles, sweetest of earthly blooms, and the sky above, where the day
of earth is dying, seems to speak of a sweetness still beyond. The evening
breeze has just risen, and begins to lift the light drapery about her
shoulders as she plays. In colour, the picture is a study of greens chiefly,
interspersed with blues of various shades - the deep blue aconite which
fills the base of the picture, the bright bird looking through the leaves,
the wing-pattern painted on the instrument, and the blue fading from the
sky. These hues are balanced by the golden browns of the hair, and
dusky-hued harp - an instrument solid and strung on both sides.
Among works in hand, for which complete designs and studies are made, may be
named the following.
The Syrian Venus is here represented in light drapery double-girt, with one
hand resting on the girdle at her bosom and the other on that at her hips.
Behind her are two ministering spirits, winged and bearing torches; and
above all the star Venus shines between the setting Sun and rising moon.
In this design, the subject represents three Greek pilgrims - a youth, a
full-grown man, and an old man, consulting the Sphinx as an Oracle. In the
distance, between sharp rocks on either side, in a difficult creek of the
sea, is seen the ship which has brought them from afar to the nearest
navigable point; and thence they have clambered over the crags to the
elevated rocky platform on which the Sphinx is enthroned in motionless
mystery, her bosom jutting out between the gaunt limbs of a rifted
laurel-tree, and her lion-claws planted against them. The youth, about to
put his question, falls in sudden swoon from the toils of the journey and an
overmastering emotion; the man leans forward over his falling body and peers
into the eyes of the Sphinx to read her answer; but those eyes are turned
upward and fixed without response on the unseen sky which is out of the
picture and only shows in the locked bay of quivering sea a cold reflection
of the moon. Meanwhile the old man is seen still labouring upwards and about
in his turn to set foot on the platform, eager to the last for that secret
which is never to be known. In the symbolism of the picture (which is clear
and gives its title founded on Shakspere's great line
To be or not to be, that is the Question
the swoon of the youth may be taken to shadow forth the mystery of early
death, one of the hardest of all impenetrable dooms.