Monday, February 27, 2023

Butterflies and Beauty from your Fingertips...

Walking home last night, the fading light behind the strangely pollarded trees outlined the spidery boughs with the silhouettes of their spear-like branches and forceful buds, fighting against the cold in order to burst out for Spring. This reminded me again of the painted fairy-tale scene that my aunt had worked on about 70 years ago. While the image itself is quite intriguing, with its eerie atmosphere as the delicate dancer performs her arabesque - her features so similar to a Aubrey Beardsley drawing - the volume of her gown mesmerizes and draws you in as the lustrous crumpled satin catches the light and makes it glow.
That magical iridescence is of course from the butterfly-wing background that creates a mesmerizing effect unlike any other. Although I would not wish to endorse the trade in mounted butterflies and insects, I did recently acquire a beautiful framed Morpho 'Menelaus' at a local antique market using the flawed reasoning that as I did not buy this specimen first-hand from a shop, my act is not quite as condemnable. Its bright blue wings, bordered in black like the framed picture, catch all and any light, giving a strange metalic sheen and density to their papery substance in a almost contradictory way.
Meanwhile, my aunt recently showed me some of her other work that pre-dates the butterfly piece, when she was just 18; watercolour and oil paint miniatures set in a gold pendant and a brooch.
One is a Pompadour courtesan in her flowery finery - with features quite like those of the butterfly dancer - and then the other, based on a Gainsborough lady, dressed in her flowing dress as a dog prances at her feet in the English countryside. Even after all these years, the delicate paintings are still intact, even though the watercolour has flaked a little. These reminded me of the Elizabethan portrait miniatures, one of which can be seen on this beautiful painting that I happened to see this weekend at the Tate gallery in London.
And so what has my aunt been doing over the decades? Well, she has continued to produce beautiful art that has been exhibited in galleries in Birmingham and London, although perhaps her moment of glory was shortly before her 90th birthday... Her version of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring - Bubby the dog - led to her acceptance in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Just goes to show, there is no age for creating beauty - it is in the eyes and fingertips!

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