Saturday, 17 December 2016

Saturday 17th December - The Angel's Message

Blimey, in a week's time it will be Christmas Eve! I have finished work for this year and am now thinking about how I will make the house Christmas-ready before the Grandparents arrive.  Time for another angel I feel...

The Angel's Message George Hillyard Swinstead
First of all I wondered if the Angel's message was anything about how to grow really tall lilies, but then I realised that the woman is kneeling down.  This is an interesting picture in the way the woman and angel are touching.  The woman touches the angel's wing; the angel has its hand in the woman's hair.  With the angel's other arm curved over the top, the pair seem to be making a circle, curving like the angel's wings and the leaves of the lilies.

White Comrade (1915-6)
It's not the only time Swinstead did angels in his work.  There are a couple of faint, cloud-like ones in the back of this propaganda piece.  Lawks.  'White Comrade' sounds really dodgy.  I think he would have preferred 'Rogue Leader'. In White Comrade it does look like the angels can't really be bothered to turn up properly. They are  like Jesus' lacklustre back-up singers.  You don't need that at the Somme.

The Wide Game (1912)
George Hillyard Swinstead was one of many Painting Swinsteads.  His father was the artist (and art teacher) Charles Swinstead, and two of his brothers, Frank and Alfred, were also artists. George's work tended towards the cute, favouring pictures of women or girls being extremely feminine as was right and proper in the latter part of Victoria's reign. His scouting painting in many ways foreshadows his First World War painting, with clean young gentlemen assisting each other in matters of daring-do. His work is very much in favour of the status quo, where ladies kneel in fields of lilies while men go off to war.

The First Step (1885)
His career took off in 1885 with his first Royal Academy picture The First Step, and he continued to work until his death in 1926, favouring landscapes and dogs in his later years.  He also wrote a book in 1910 entitled The Story of My Old World Garden which is available to buy secondhand. It appears to be a guide to creating an old fashion garden (55ft by 45ft) in a modern setting.  Well, that sounds rather interesting, although I'm not sure I have the £50 spare for a copy just now...

The reason I like George Hillyard Swinstead's angel painting is because the woman is doing exactly what I would want to do if I ever met an angel.  She is touching its wing.  Angels can be like a lot of religious stuff, a bit removed from reality (which may well be the point, I concede).  It's hard to believe in an angel when you imagine it hovering in the sky like a novelty drone, but for a moment imagine the massive wings with their long feathers rustling. I don't know how up-close you lot get to birds on a regular basis, but when the woman is touching the feathers in the painting, I imagine the strength that runs down the edge of  wing.  The feathers aren't soft, but smooth and almost sharp, layering so perfectly against each other.  They make an odd sound, somewhere between a brush and the dry rustle of paper, like stiff fabric.  That is the sound right at the moment the woman in the top picture touches that angel's wing.

The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888) Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Sometimes it would be enlightening to have sound when you see a painting.  It was interesting to smell roses when we saw The Roses of Heliogabalus at Leighton House earlier this year, so I wonder if sound would give you a different viewing experience.  Maybe the sound of a river while you look at Ophelia or a knocking at a door when you see The Awakening Conscience.  If you have any further suggestions, pop them in a comment and I'll see you tomorrow...


  1. Sound would be delightful, but I doubt a mere recording of a gurgling river would be satisfying. I think it'd be interesting to look at a famous painting while being in the very spot it was painted. The artist's studio for the contrast, or else in the place that inspired its conception.

    1. There should be an app for that, that sounds amazing...


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