An Artist’s Eye for Detail

YBACAndrea here, musing today about art. Yes, I do that a lot, as it’s something near and dear to my heart. In case, my thoughts have to do with research and how art can be an unexpected source of wonderful details for an author of historical novels.

GoatsI recently had the opportunity to attend a special exhibition JMW Turner watercolors in the Study Room of the Yale British Art Center. They have an amazing collection in their archives, and many are rarely shown in public. What made the experience truly amazing what that they up the painting on display tables and placed a magnifying glass by each one. We were all allowed to get “up close and personal” with the art!

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Getting Up Close and Personal with History

Pistol 2Andrea here, thinking today about history. Those of you who read our blog regularly know how passionate all the Wenches are about history—not the dull, dry textbook litany of facts and dates that make most students fall asleep in school, but the myriad visceral experiences that make the past really come alive.

Recent posts here showed Christina sitting in a Viking longboat and Nicola exploring an historic castle. Seeing and touching history sparks a sense of wonder and excitement. Getting a glimpse of what people ate and wore . . . what their houses looked like . . . appreciating the details of their timepieces and personal jewelry. I find that helps me imagine what people in past were thinking; what mattered to them; what sparked a sense of wonder for them.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Benjamin_HaydonCara/Andrea here
, I have recently been doing some background research on art and science in the Regency for a book idea I’m fiddling with. Though my scientific expertise would fit inside a very tiny test tube, I have been fascinated by the fact that there was such a great bond between the luminaries in both disciplines during the Romantic era—something I discovered when I read Richard Holmes’s delightful book The Age of Wonder

Haydon-christ-enters-jerusalemWonder is a very apt word—the painters, poets, chemists and physicists of the time—to name just a few of the disciplines—shared a sense of wonder over the intricate workings of the natural world around them, and saw themselves as sharing a common creative spirit and imagination as they sought to understand and celebrate its infinite wonders. Today, it seems, the fields of art and science are worlds apart, but back then, they admired each other’s work, and kept abreast of all the latest developments—the poet John Keats studied medicine, the great chemist Sir Humphry Davy wrote lyrical poetry.

John_KeatsThey exchanged letters, they met frequently over liquid libations to discuss ideas—and I can’t help but feel that the interchange between different points of view sparked both artists and scientists to challenge their own points of view. So when I came across an intriguing mention of an “Immortal Dinner” held by the painter Benjamin Haydon, I was of course, fascinated and decided to dig a little deeper . . .

William_WordsworthIt took place one late winter evening in 1817 at the artist’s studio, the occasion being to celebrate the unveiling of his new allegorical painting, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. (Slyly depicted in the crowd were the faces of many notable artists and scientists of the day.)The guest list featured leading artists and scientists of the day, including Wordsworth, Keats, Charles Lamb, surgeon Joseph Ritchie, engraver John Landseer, and Mary Wordsworth's cousin Tom Monkhouse

Here is a quote from Haydon’s diary:

“On December 28th the immortal dinner came off in my painting-room, with Jerusalem towering up behind us as a background. Wordsworth was in fine cue, and we had a glorious set-to–on Homer, Shakespeare, Milton and Virgil. Lamb got exceedingly merry and exquisitely witty; and his fun in the midst of Wordsworth's solemn intonations of oratory was like the sarcasm and wit of the fool in the intervals of Lear's passion. He made a speech and voted me absent, and made them drink my health. "Now," said Lamb, " you old lake poet, you rascally poet, why do you call Voltaire dull? " We all defended Wordsworth, and affirmed there was a state of mind when Voltaire would be dull. . . .”

Charles_LambBy all accounts, the conversation covered a wide range of topics (Newton’s color experiments were much maligned as having taken the poetry out of a rainbow) with erudition and no some amount of impish humor. Oh, I dearly would have loved being a fly on the wall.

GuernicaWhich of course got me to thinking . . . after all, it is heading towards the end August, when a last flurry of summer parties traditionally mark the end of the season’s lazy days and nights making merry with friends. So I began musing on who, if I had my choice of any figure in past or present history, I would ask to my own immortal dinner. Should I bring together like-minded people, or like Haydon, invite a little controversy to make things really interesting? Hmmm.

Carl_von_ClausewitzHaving an art background, I like the idea of having a painting as the centerpiece of a party. I decided I could invite Pablo Picasso, and have him bring Guernica. Then include Carl von Clausewitz, Henry Kissinger and Winston Churchill (who was an avid painter) among the other guests and debate the morality of war. Okay, okay, maybe too heavy for summer dining. Keeping on the science-art theme, an amazing gathering would be Leonardo da
FeynmanVinci, Issac Newton, Mary Shelley and Richard Feynman, the brilliant and artistic theoretical physicist who helped create the atom bomb. On a lighter note, I’d probably just invite some of my favorite artists see what color splashed across the canvas—Thomas Lawrence, JMW Turner, David Hockney, Maurice Sendak and William Bailey would be on the list.

So now it’s your turn! Who would be on your “Immortal Dinner” guest list? Let’s have some fun! (I shall send a case of cyber champagne!)