Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Masterpieces from Paris - Emile Bernard again

Today I went to the funeral of Jean, an elderly friend of one of my friends. It was a very intimate ceremony with just a dozen or so mourners, at a peaceful lawn cemetery. I didn't know Jean well, but I heard many stories of her from my friend, who has visited her weekly for years. The eulogy, given by her son and only child, was beautifully written. Some time after the war, in England, when Jean found herself pregnant and 'let down' by the father, she bravely decided to have the baby and raise it herself. When her son was still small, she emigrated with him to Australia, knowing no one and with no support.

After the funeral, I went to the Gallery and popped into the Masters' exhibition to find a painting that spoke to me of Jean. I decided upon Breton Women with Umbrellas(click to view). The catalgue says that Bernard saw the Breton women as living simple, pious lives but it seems to me that four of the women in the picture are gossiping savagely about the young women seated in the foreground. She holds herself very still, refusing to rise to the bait - developing nerves of steel, maybe. Perhaps she is in the same situation as Jean, many years ago.
Back home, looking at the catalogue for a way to use this painting to make one about Jean, I noticed that the background is very reminicent of Canberra - the brown and yellow hills, blue/purple Brindabella mountains, central lake - even our (white) Parliament House. So that forms the background of my painting.
Jean loved the colour green and knitting, twice she travelled first class round the world with only carry-on baggage, and she was vigorously engaged politically. She was a forthright and determined lady. Sometimes it was difficult for her son to be her only family. At the end of the funeral, after we had scattered delicate, crimson rose petals onto the coffin and listened to meditative music, her son said there was just one more thing. He fumbled in a plastic shopping bag and drew out a net of oranges - "It's a mother and son thing", he said as he tumbled them into the grave. Australians will likely understand! For others, it is necessary to explain the reference. In the 70's there was a sharp comedy (called Mother and Son) about a confused, controlling mother and her long suffering son. On one occasion, they attend a funeral and somehow the mother drops her shopping - a sack of oranges - into the grave. It is a hilarious image which remains in the mind of many. Jean would have been heartily amused at her son's final offering. Everyone laughed and clapped. So that explains my painting for the day.
I find green a very difficult colour to work with.


Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Lovely. Yes, I understand the oranges reference. With my Dad, we threw in some merino wool.
Did I say before that I like Bernard's paintings and he is really underestimated. His paintings are more interesting than Cezanne though Cezanne was a forerunner of flattening out the shapes in a landscape or figure composition.
Are there paintings by any women of that time?

annie said...

Thanks, Alison, for sharing that story about that courageous woman. I do so enjoy your painting of that splendid moment with the oranges.

Penny said...

What a wonderful story and a wonderful woman and the painting, cant say wonderful again, but even if you dont like green this is terrific.
We went to the Musee D'Orsay in October, what a GREAT place and the paintings were out of this world. Would love to come to Canberra to see some of them again, but know we wont.

ElizT said...

How impressive, all this recent group!
Love that round tabletop particularly.