Monday, 21 December 2020

Monday 21st December - Such is Life

 Today is the shortest day, and this might be the shortest post as I have quite a bit of housework and cooking to do today, not to mention walking the dog and the suchlike, so we shall crack on with today's image...

Such is Life (1907) John Byam Liston Shaw

Damn it, but I do love Byam Shaw, as I explained in this post (blimey, back in 2011, weren't we all young and innocent then?!) and often what I adore is the ambiguous message of the piece.  I mean, look at Such is Life, what is going on there?  He did enjoy his problem paintings and even in something as simple as a love picture, there are still notes of discord.  Let's start with the obvious bits...

The scene is a 'harlequinade' at a pantomime (as the Yorkshire Post called it, what an exciting new word that doesn't at all sound like a diamond-printed hand grenade...) where the Harlequin kisses Columbine...

 ...watched by a clown and (checks review in the newspaper) a 'Pantaloon' - is that the chap in the mental trousers? Nice tights, by the way...

 So far, so theatrical, like the conclusion of a comedy, filled with misunderstandings and reconciliations, and a happy ending, but hang on, why is the Policeman so lurk-y in the background...?

He's really not getting into the spirit of the piece, is he? Blending in with the shadows next to the boy on the dolphin statuette.  That statuette is really bothering me - does it have meaning?  Is it meant to be Arion or Melicertes, deified as sea-gods after escaping their troubled human existence? And what are the posters on the wall referring to...?

Scandal! One of the gentlemen laughs while the other covers his eyes, so is that the response of the public to love? Is it funny or unpleasant? Do we revel in the scandal or avert our eyes in embarrassment? Are the only people allowed to love the young and the beautiful, only to be mocked by the grotesque and foolish? Is the policeman's presence there to sober us up and remind us that life is not a pantomime? The painting is theatrical, literally placed in the context of a theatre, but will this scene have a happy ending?  Possibly the role of the little boy on the dolphin is to hint that when it comes to love, you best dive right in. Then again, his dolphin is diving straight into the top of a pillar. Love is filled with trouble, interference, surprising collisions with obstacles and pain, so on the whole, best kiss while you can, because you never know what's coming next...

I really don't know what Byam Shaw is saying here, but yet I love it.  Reading the reviews, which constantly refer to it being an allegory without explaining what it is, the one that made me laugh was The Daily Mirror in 1907 when it was shown at the Royal Academy.  In listing the paintings that they thought were the best, they listed the preference Mr Ernest Walker, who expressed an admiration for Such is Life.  Mr Walker was a 'pavement artist' with a pitch at the top of the Kingsway.  When Byam Shaw was told of how much the pavement artist loved his work, he replied merrily, 'I'm glad I'm appreciated somewhere...'

See you tomorrow...



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