Saturday 4 June 2011

The Endymion Tennyson Part Two: Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale and the Mini-Motif

Here we are again. Quick, stuff in a random, yet exquisite picture…

As I was saying yesterday, there are so many pictures in this volume (hang on, I’ll just count them….there are 68) that it’s hard to cover all of them, especially as a great number of them are these tiny images, many based on the subject of love.


The biggest surprise of the book is that Brickdale only does one small illustration for 'The Lady of Shalott', illustrating the poem at a key period for Shalott pictures (Waterhouse and Holman Hunt both were producing their oils just before this).  She shows the moment that the Lady looks out of the window, quite an unusual image for the poem, when you usually get the Lady at her embroidery, or in her boat.  I love that the frame of the picture looks like the frame of a mirror, as if we are looking into the Lady’s mirror to see her window, which she should be doing rather than looking out of the window, bringing down the curse upon herself.

While we’re feeling all Arthurian, the illustration for Sir Galahad goes down the side of the text, forming both a sword and a cross, epitomising Sir Galahad neatly in an image.

Quick, another random image…

Phew, we were getting a little short of illustration for a moment there.  Anyway, particularly charming are these two little pictures below, one of which is at the end of The May Queen and the other is in the middle of The Princess.

Both are sneakily religious images: ‘Rest’ referring to sleeping in the arms of God, and the mother looking suspiciously Madonna and child, surrounded by winged angel-heads (which sounds a bit weird when you say it like that), and I love the way the wings form the circular frame of the image.

The glorious thing about some of the illustrations is that they highlight the drama of the poems.  Take for example this image from The Sisters.   

My God, this is a dramatic poem with one sister committing suicide/dying in childbirth (it’s not clear – ‘They were together, and she fell’ then ‘She died: she went to burning flame’, so I’m going with she ‘fell’ pregnant out of wedlock and either died in childbirth or just died from being abandoned, therefore going to Hell for being so very naughty) and the other sister plotting her bloody revenge on the gorgeous Earl.  It is a fabulously short and punchy poem, which Tennyson excelled in, full of drama and girl-power (Beardy Victorian and Girl Power, there’s a combination you don’t hear very often).  Brickdale combines the final images of the poem, where the sister uses the Earl as a pincushion and combs his hair, with possibly the spirit of the sister watching behind her, or maybe the sister then leaving after dumping the Earl at his mother’s feet.  Nice.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the picture that concludes the edition of poems, a wonderful little picture of seeing the sun rise and a bird sing from inside an ivy-strewn prison.  I like to think it means that no matter how long you have to wait there will always be a dawn, a bird song and hope.

Tomorrow, in the final part of my EFB odyssey, I will show you some of the utterly beguiling full page illustration that fill the Endymion Tennyson, together with different paintings of the same poems.  See you tomorrow…

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