This is the first of a series of blogs I will be doing in the coming months to introduce brand new videos for I know a little place, the first of my three albums. Songs conjure up images in the mind of writer and of listener. Here I have curated my own selection of wonderful images that have surprised me with their appropriateness for the lyrics. For me both lyrics and these artworks are depicting similar sentiments – even though I may being seeing something different in the Art from that intended by their great creators. I hope you enjoy listening to this first song, Take it as it comes, in the company of the talent of fourteen great European artists stretching across five centuries.
“All this will be ashes….”
My opening line “There will come a time when all this will be ashes” is more doom laden than I ever meant. To the rescue, Jacques Tissot’s 1868 depiction of Paris society in Le Cercle de la Rue Royale, sums up the idea that however smart we think we are, we won’t go on for ever. Then Lawrence Alma–Tadema’s 1887 Women of Amphissa couldn’t be a better vision of passion spent. Next, Henri Gustave Jossot‘s 1894 series Artistes et Bourgeois satirises intellectual pretensions, as one asks “And your next book?” and the other replies “Oh, becoming simply Shakespearian!” We are finally rescued from our musing as Brandenburgian Jacob Phillip Hackert’s fireworks explode Rome’s Castel Sant’ Angelo and allow us to celebrate, as they still do today.
Our transient life, with Tissot, Alma-Tadema, Jossot, and Hackert
“But until that time, keep an open mind….”
But we still search for knowledge. In La Tache Noire (or The Black Stain) Albert Bettannier, a French teacher tells his charges of the terrible loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia in 1871. Then Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s depiction, of the trance-like spiritual transfiguration of Beatrix Portinari at the moment of her death, uncannily matches my words “when you see beyond” – though I wasn’t thinking of death particularly, but perhaps more the moment of insight, as in Joseph Wright of Derby’s “The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers”. At this point Gabriel von Max’s book-reading simian is just the ticket to keep our feet on the ground – “but until that time, keep an open mind”.
Our search for knowledge, with Bettannier, Rossetti, Wright and von Max
“When time passes slowly….”
Verse three starts with the woman in the window spinning yarn, a good task to accompany reflection – by another artist from the Franco-German borderland of Alsace, René-Paul Schützenberger. British painter John William Waterhouse’s moody young man in red depicts the Roman Emperor Nero reflecting on matricide. In the next frame there is more family trouble: I saw this stunning painting by Évariste Vital Luminais last summer in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Quimper, Brittany – King Gradlon on the white horse is trying to save his daughter from drowning, not knowing she has become an evil woman – her death at least calms the seas. The final artwork, The Travelling Companions, by the wonderfully named Augustus Leopold Egg, now in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, allows us to relax with our favourite book on our train journey through life, or even fall asleep to the dulcet sounds of my harmonica – whatever, “take it as it comes”!
The short and the long of it, with Schutzenberger, Waterhouse, Luminais and Egg
“Breathe the air around you………….”
After the musical interlude we can drift reflectively through the successive images of my own shadow in the Dordogne sun, of another Rossetti beauty struggling to raise a smile in the sun, of Shakespeare’s Shrew Katherina, (by Edward Robert Hughes), thinking what to do when she is not being given food. Finally, staying in thespian company at table, we spy on Mr and Mrs David Garrick enjoying tea in the open air at “Garrick’s Villa” by the Thames at Hampton, by Johann Zoffany. “Breathe the air around you, take it as it comes”.
Reflect with me, Rossetti, Hughes and Zoffany
“All the contrasts…..”
For our final verse we flip from the bright noisy utopian colours of Wenzel Hablik, to the drizzle of Julius von Ehren‘s German city, the brightness of Henri Biva’s lily pond in the summer sun, to the complex 16th century Nicholas Hilliard miniature of a handsome man, possibly the Earl of Essex, leaning upon a tree amongst roses.
The contrasts of life, with Hablik, von Ehren, Biva and Hilliard
And relax with the coda: “take it as it comes”
The song finally closes as Charles Bargue‘s black dog and a white parrot play their own game of chess, the liveried footman paying no heed, as Etienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour’s Normandy shepherdess calmly “takes it as it comes” in the fading light, and as Johann Tischbein’s Goethe reflects on the Roman campagna.
Take it as it comes with Bargue, Bellecour and Tischbein
Art enhances music
For myself, this song now has many new dimensions in breadth and depth. If you had asked me to write a song to fit the paintings I’d never have got there – albeit just a hypothesis as I doubt if these nineteen images would ever have appeared together. It’s been like curating my own art exhibition around a theme, with help from the internet, Wikipedia etc, giving us access to all these public domain images from around the world. I’ve learnt more about art and have gained new insights on my own songs!