Friday 1 July 2011

Bejewel My Hair With Coins As I Sleep

Goodness me, it’s been a long week.  I’m exhausted and really should go to bed, but before I do I thought I’d torture myself and look at other people sleeping.

I was reading an article about the Briar Rose panels in Buscot Park in Oxfordshire.  I remember the first time I entered that saloon, it took my breath away.  You are surrounded on all sides by this endless trail of beauty.  I think if I lived there I may actually end up thin for once in my life, as I’d be too busy gazing at the wall, sighing, to actually eat anything.

The Legend of Briar Rose: The Rose Bower (1885-90) Edward Burne-Jones
Underneath The Rose Bower panel is the following quote 

Here lies the hoarded love the key
To All the treasure that shall be
Come fated heart the gift to take
And smite the sleeping world awake.’

Oh, my word. That is just lovely.

It got me thinking about sleep, and what sleep means in paintings.  Take Rossetti, for example.  He’s a man who likes a sleeping woman…

Jane Morris, Asleep
Lizzie Siddal, Asleep
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he sketched his lovers while they slept, as it is a very definite announcement that he had been involved with them.  It is a moment of intimacy, of trust and vulnerability, and harks back to his poem Jenny when the narrator places golden coins in Jenny’s hair, as if in her dreams. 

What a beautiful image, and not even a little bit creepy…

Don’t listen to me, I’m just jealous that no-one puts coins in my hair as I sleep.  Or bank notes.  Or IOUs, really I’m not proud.  Anyway, despite Rossetti making sleep about sexual intimacy, it isn’t necessarily about sex.  The narrator watches Jenny the prostitute sleep rather than buying sex from her.  It’s like the other side of the same coin, as it were.  For Burne-Jones, sleep is definitely a suspension from the real, physical world, but I don’t get the impression that he entirely disapproves or is rushing to break the spell.  After all, there is no imminent Prince about to break the spell or ‘smite the sleeping world awake.’  I feel a little sorry for the maiden in blue at the end of the bed, not only has she got to spend the next hundred years being squashed by her friend, but she also has to spend it next to the princess’ feet.

So far, so innocent.  Not even Golden Head by Golden Head can raise many eyebrows.  I think this is a lovely image and one I’ve written about many a time.  I’m on the drug-addiction not lesbianism side of the fence, in case you were wondering, although you probably weren’t as you are nice polite people.

This, however, is a different matter….

Sleep (1866) Gustave Courbet
 Oh Courbet, you little rascal. Well, yes, you can say it’s just two young ladies having a bit of a nap, but this is miles away from Burne-Jones’ slumbering princess.  Oh deary me.

Apparently, Courbet was inspired by Rossetti’s illustration, and if you're only looking at the heads, especially the lass on the right, it’s possible to see a hint of Fanny Cornforth.  However, this is England and we keep our clothes on, damn it!  We don’t tumble into bed with our gal-pals, and if we did we wouldn’t be doing it naked.  For goodness sake, quick bring on something English before we all come over all unnecessary…

Under the Patchwork Quilt William Peter Watson
 Ahhh, William Peter Watson, my hero.  This has to be my second favourite picture hanging in the Russell Cotes Art Gallery in Bournemouth (my first being Venus Verticordia, obviously).  This girl has got the right idea, a good substantial patchwork quilt and no funny business.  The pastels and the delicacy of this image are so beautiful, I want to hang it in my bedroom, next to this…

The Sleepers and the One That Watcheth (1870) Simeon Solomon
 Are they boys, are they girls?  Who cares, look how insanely dreamy everything is.  I’m not sure what the one on the left is watcheth-ing for, but it seems to be on the floor. I hope it’s not a big spider or anything.  Oh, and try and work out who’s hands are whose – I think I have the chap on the right figured out, but it gets a bit confusing…

I think the king of sleep has to be Albert ‘40 Winks’ Moore. He loves it, look at them…

The Dreamers (1879-82) Albert Moore
 All very innocent, all very straightforward.  Well, actually, if we consult our old friend Idols of Perversity, we are told it isn’t so innocent after all.  In the opinion of Bram Dijkstra, our innocent English girls in classical poses have all passed out from too much self-pleasuring, although I would argue that with all that drapery, I’m amazed they could find their way in.  He states that although Courbet’s sleepers are obviously post-coital, we can’t reject the notion that all these young ladies are in collapse of an altogether unwholesome nature.  Hence all the fanning, I suppose.

The Sleeping Princess (1895) Frances Macdonald
 Now, I’m not having any of that, I’m with the Pre-Raphaelites on this one.  I’m off to bed in a nice substantial nighty and I expect either coins in my hair or a rose bush filling my bedroom when I wake up, or there will be trouble.  Nighty night.


  1. What a lovely post - that didn't make me yawn at all.

  2. I think I almost woke Tom up with my fit of giggles over the drapery comment.

    And I don't recall your discussing Rossetti's Golden Head by Golden Head. Can you point me in the direction of some discussion of it?

  3. Saucepot. I think I rabbit on about it in Stunner - I think it looks a bit like a picture of Lizzie as Beata Beatrix (left) and Fanny (right).

  4. Ahh! I must not have gotten to that part...I shall look again! <3


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