Sunday, 15 December 2019

Sunday 15th December - Burial of Lady Jane Swinburne

There are certain paintings that I end up thinking 'well, that's a tad niche', and today's painting is a case in point...

Burial of Lady Jane Swinburne (c.1896) Jane Adye Ram
Well, in home decoration I always think that a nice big painting of a funeral is essential.  It's not just any funeral either but that of Lady Jane Swinburne!  Mother of Algernon Swinburne - poet, friend of Rossetti and champion of sliding down banisters nude - and daughter of the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham, she was undoubtedly an important woman, but I'm not sure some people in black and a big pile of dirt make for a charming painting.  That is a massive pile of dirt, and I respect the realism in showing the logistics of getting someone six foot under.  There are the slide-y boards of getting the spoil-heap back in again.  In fact, there is a photograph of the very same scene, if you fancied a closer look...

Burial of Lady Jane Henrietta Swinburne from the National Portrait Gallery
Here we are again and it is very much the same scene, leading me to believe that Ram used this 'official' photograph as the basis of her painting.  I really like the ivy growing around the back of the boards and up the walls on either side. Lady Jane Swinburne was a woman of accomplishment and intelligence, according to various sources, and she seems to have been concerned for the health and wellbeing of her wayward eldest son, Algernon.  According to his Dictionary of National Biography entry, Algernon's removal from society in 1879 for the sake of his health was done with his mother's approval.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1862) D G Rossetti
Hang on then, are we to infer that the importance of the painting is not that Lady Jane Swinburne was important but that her son is a bit of a celebrity?  Well that's galling, especially if you also consider all the shenanigans he got up to.  I suppose in a way, Lady Jane would have felt she had done a good job in keeping her eldest child not only alive but also that he was so well-respected that a picture of him at a funeral was of interest to the nation.  

Close up on Swinburne and his sisters at the graveside
Mind you, I wonder if that is the reason that the burial itself is not more glamorized - if the dead person is not the point, then there is no reason to make the mechanics of getting a body six foot underground look any less muddy than it is.  What we should be looking at is actually the dignified, mourning figure of Swinburne, pretty much dead centre (if you excuse the expression), without his swirl of red hair (which had dropped out by 1896).  He is the point of the painting and I suppose his celebrity is what made the burial of his mother interesting to people.  I'm sure there were people at the time saying 'I'm a massive Swinburne fan, I even got the painting of him at his Mum's funeral.' Now, is it just me that finds that a bit, well, rude?  The poor woman is dead and it's her funeral, yet we've managed to make it all about Algernon. Isn't that just typical?  It's like the fact that I am 'Lily's Mum' most of the time and people are often quite surprised when they find out I do writing too. As a mum, I absolutely love being Lily's Mum, she's ace, but there are occasions when maybe it should be all about you rather than the person you have given birth to/married/been slightly connected to. Truthfully this painting should therefore be called  Burial of Algernon's Mum, You Know, the Famous Writer Who Did Some Dodgy Stuff, Him, Well, His Mum's Died.  I Know, Very Sad.   

Mind you, that's quite a lot to fit on a painting label...

See you tomorrow.

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