Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Back Again?

Hello, I'm glad to see you back here again.  Things are getting back to normal at Chez Walker after the merriment and excitement of Christmas and New Year and so it's on with the novel (on the last draft) and on with the blog posts!

One of the good things about Christmas is the chance to pop back to the Baronial homeland of both the Stonell and Walker families and kill the fatted calf, so to speak (sorry, but 'the fatted carrot' or 'fatted textured vegetable protein' just doesn't have the same ring, even though that's what I did).  All this got me thinking... (queue the thinking music and fade the screen in a wobbly effect....)

The Prodigal Returns (1862) Jane Benham Hay
Yes, it's a tenuous link, but I stand by it.  The Prodigal Son is one of the most common Biblical stories appearing in art in the nineteenth century, possibly because it is the easiest to understand and covers such lovely Victorian concerns as (a) sinning, (b) feeling a bit sorry about it and (c) not sinning anymore and telling your parents they were right all along.  Now, who doesn't love that?

The Prodigal's Return John Byam Liston Shaw
I love this version of the story by Shaw as it shows the father of the wayward son, at the moment when he spies his miscreant child coming home.  Mind you, he's not one to judge as he has obviously stolen Jesus' lantern from Light of the World.  Hang on!  That might be a clue!

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life :  The Departure (1880) James Tissot
Mr Walker, who had a Catholic boarding school education tells me that the story is a simple parable of how God welcomes back sinners, and how returning to the true path is rewarded.  I have to say that I've never really thought about the whole thing, by which I mean the other brother's perspective, but we'll come to that in a minute.  First of all, the naughty, errant son...

Did you know that 'Prodigal' meant 'wasteful'?  I thought it meant someone who returned, because I did not have a proper education.  Anyway, we have two brothers, one of whom stays at home and works with his father like a good chap, and the other who asks for his share of the estate and goes off, spending it frivolously on loose women and fast donkeys.  When all the money is gone he is forced to work as a swineherder and realises he has been a fool and goes home in disgrace.  His father welcomes him home, recognising his repentence and a party commences.  Of this story, three parts are usually shown - the departure, the swineherding and the return.  Isn't it funny that you very rarely get the fun bit in the middle shown?

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life : In Foreign Climes James Tissot
Good old Tissot, he doesn't let us down.  This Prodigal Son has taken himself off to a Japanese house of dancing geisha, which he is enjoying no end, the saucy devil.  He no doubt will blow all his money on tea and tightly wrapped maidens.  Deary me!

What the Victorians really liked was the middle scene, after all the money and good time girls were gone, when that naughty son was forced to sit around in a field, suffering from what Mr Walker refers to as 'porcine despair', often semi-naked so we can really see how sorry he is...

Oh, I'm a bit sorry now... John Macellan Swan
I'm sorry with an implausible moustache (1891) Wilfred Thompson
I'm sorry, but I'm still pretty (1872) G F Watts
I'm so sorry I appear to be wearing the nappy of shame Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Look how dreamily sorry I am, ladies...(1883) Auguste Rousellin
Ahem!  Moving on swiftly...So, our repentant, semi-naked gentleman is very sorry for all the fun he has had and trundles home, where he is greeted by his father...

The Return (1857) Simeon Solomon
And another return... James Tissot
The father is overjoyed to see his youngest son, even though he has been a whoring wastrel (this is the Bible, I'm allowed to say that), but the elder brother who stayed at home and was a good chap is a bit put out, and points out that the useless whoring wastrel of a brother is getting a big party, while he, who has stayed at home and been a good son, does not get a fatted calf/goat/Quorn fake roast (really very nice, even though it looks awful before it has been cooked and sliced up).  The father replies that it is appropriate to celebrate something lost and found, that the young son has been dead but is alive again.  Now, that all works very well as a metaphor, that God rejoices in a sinner who has realised the error of his ways, but you can see the elder brother's point.  Makes you want to go and blow your money on women and donkeys.  Talking of women...

The Prodigal Daughter John Collier
Gosh, I do love Collier, and this is a corker.  I knew this painting already but was surprised to see that his was not the only 'daughter' picture, where the story has been transposed to a modern setting with female protagonists.  If you consider the message it is quite controversial: God rejoices in a sinful woman who redeems herself.  While on the face of it this seems quite straightforward, think of it this way...

The Outcast (1851) Richard Redgrave
Looking at Redgrave's returning daughter picture, the prodigal in this picture is being thrown back out again, while the other daughter begs for her sister's forgiveness.  No fatted calf for you, Love.  Ho hum, more for the rest of us...I love Collier's returning daughter as she looks quite scary, dramatically lit, with her brazen red ribbons.  The Hussy!  She's back, but she doesn't look very sorry.  Possibly this is the before picture, and she's saying 'Right, I'm off for a bit of whoring and gambling, don't wait up...'

The Prodigal's Return Ellen Clacy
Look what the milkman delivered...I asked for two pints of gold top, not a repentant daughter!  She's wearing quite a lot of jewellery so you can tell she's been up to no good.  In Clacy's picture all characters are female, it is the mother who will welcome the straying child back, while the sister looks on.  I think the lantern may symbolise the light in the darkness, the light that will lead you back home after you've wasted all your money and woken up next to a pig.

Well, I hope this is a lesson for you all.  Straying will do you no good whatsoever, even though you'll get welcomed back and given a party.  Staying home is far better, even though it doesn't seem to be appreciated and you'll miss out on all the whoring and donkey racing.  Hang on, what was my point?  Oh yes, the smell of pig is a devil to get out, so it really isn't worth it.  Honest.

I'm just popping out for a bit...


  1. "and she's saying 'Right, I'm off for a bit of whoring and gambling, don't wait up...'"

    If I'd been drinking something, it would have come out of my nose. Too hilarious!!! And great post, as always, Kirsty.

  2. When the pictures are this good, my work is easy ;) Thanks Kris!

  3. I didn't know if you knew but you know the prodical son had sunk low because he was herding pigs - something that a good Jewish person would not ever do because pigs are considered unclean and are not eaten. It meant also he was working for Gentiles which back then was also not a good thing. Loved your pictures and my favorite was the moustached fellow herding pigs. What a wonderful moustache and he looks so uncomfortable.

  4. Now clever Mr Walker said he thought it would have been extra degrading that he had to work with pigs but neither of us clocked it was because he was working with gentiles. Thanks Nancy. Yes, that is one mighty fine moustache...

  5. Holy cats, a background of BOOBIES! Pretty cool, what-what?

    As for the "dreamily sorry" boy by Rousellin... for a second there I thought it was Josh Groban! Nobody does dreamy like Josh Groban, and he's not sorry one bit.

    You had me screaming with laughter at "sorry with an implausible moustache" and it just got better from there... "nappy of shame"???? AaaahahAHAHAHAHAHAHHHHH!

  6. I aim to please, especially in these dark winter months. Plus everyone should have a background of boobies.

    1. Personally, I keep all my boobies in the foreground. They're easier to keep track of, and besides, they're sort of attached that way. Not much choice there, I'm afraid.

  7. Screeching with laughter this morning, which has made putting on the "court clothes" tolerable!

  8. Good-o. I like to think I get a good snigger out of everyone...

  9. You do have to let the Prodigal Daughter off on her fashion sense though, it's that Roundheads and Cavaliers thing again. Trying very hard to reach the moral message though somewhat distracted by the hot men. Moustache guy is pure Monty Python. Mx

  10. I liked how they became hot when they were very sorry for what they had done. Surely you'd wear more clothes to herd pigs? I'd want more protection, to be honest, but then I'm unlikely to fritter away my money on hot donkeys and fast women. Or the other way round.

  11. I thought the Rousellin looked like one for the boys, actually, and one hardly dares to think what Simeon Solomon's prodigal has been up to ...

    I like the new background, too. Isn't she Rossetti's housemaid with advanced opinions?

  12. I'm not sure the Rousellin is fussy, probably how he got into this mess in the first place.

    New background is Alexa in all her nudey glory :)

  13. No, I was right. I just went and looked it up. It's Alexa in the very similar The Sea Spell, but she's still got her kit on. Your background is Ligeia Sirena (1873), and I quote JB Bullen in his recent book about Rossetti: "The problem of finding a girl in the Kelmscott area who was prepared to model in the nude was not an easy one, but eventually a 'housemaid', as Rossetti put it, 'of advanced ideas' offered to remove her clothes for posterity".

  14. Oh my word, reading this and the captions for the paintings - cue much muffled cackling on the train this morning. Love the blog unutterably - I almost don't want to share it with anyone else and keep it all for my own titillation and amusement!

  15. Simon, I stand corrected, but come on, you have to admit the face is awfully like Alexa.

    Zoe: Glad to be of service :)

  16. We could both be right. It does look like Alexa Wilding. Maybe Rossetti just used the anonymous housemaid for the figure? I think that's really sad, though. She sounds like quite a character, a working class girl who had ideas of her own and could give as good as she got with Rossetti, who had a perfect body and didn't care who knew it. Now all that's left of her is the image of that gravity-defying bosom. I think Leyland or one of those big patrons bought her, but only after Rossetti had spared their blushes by adding the drapery.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx