Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blowing the budget on books again: painting the lives of animals

Any Adelaidean will tell you that the Art Gallery Cafe is a pleasant place to meet your mates. It's convenient, and for out-of-towners it's easy to find. Unfortunately is has one massive disadvantage, which is that as you're leaving you have to walk past the bookshop, which also has high-end gifts and cards: silk wraps, Persian-rug mouse mats and drink coasters, wrapping paper in William Morris wallpaper designs and so and and so forth. It's a hard place to walk past.

And thus it was that I came home yesterday with this book.



This extravangantly gorgeous and interesting book covers only a century of British art, 1750-1850, but obviously there were massive changes in philosophical and religious thought about the nature of humanity and its separateness (or otherwise) from the animal world during that time and they were reflected in the work of visual artists. The title of Part 2 (of four) is '"The psychology of beasthood": from anthropocentrism to anthropomorphism'. Chapter 5 is titled '"Captive from mountain and forest": zoos and the imperial project'. That's the kind of book it is.

Here's a glimpse of Donald's style and approach:

Gainsborough's tender portrayal of his own two dogs, Tristram and Fox, brings them close to the eye, and the paw of one dog hangs over a stone ledge into 'our' space, in the manner of a Rembrandt portrait. In this intimate encounter, the sensory delights of soft ears, bright eyes and plumes of fur remind us of the dogs' purely physical nature and appeal. Yet the artist responds equally to the differing moods of the two animals: the sense of inner life and thought, and, with it, of transience and pathos. Installed over the mantelpiece of his London house, the painting was the memorial of an inevitably transient relationship, at the same time as it signalled Gainsborough's own sensibility and absence of pretension.


32 comments:

TimT said...

That Gainsborough picture and story is fabulous. Last night I was reading some of William Cowper's mock epic salutes to his spaniel, Beau, which were presumably composed in a similar frame of mind - affectionate, with just the slightest snub in the direction of the heroic tradition.

I've also just finished Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Lost World', a post-Victorian fantasy with dinosaurs and missing links running all over the place, though weirdly, the human characters in that story seem to spend a lot of their time killing and 'preserving' the specimens of vanished nature that they find. There's an allegory about colonialism in there that Conan Doyle probably hadn't intended, but I may do a review of it shortly.

Ampersand Duck said...

Any equally fabulous cat insights?

Anonymous said...

I'd buy it for the big cats on the cover alone. Must go looking for this; didn't know it existed. Just fantastic!

And that time period has magic in the pics to settle and soothe. A few moments is all.

Though I doubt it will have Turner's dogs hooting around (or usually in) as scratched out blobs of paint in an epic atmospheric.

Art books are treasures. Wonderful.

- Robert

genevieve said...

John Mullan (How Novels Work) says something about Tolstoy deciding that a dog could think independently of the narrator which strikes a chord with that Gainsborough note. What a nice post, and spiffing book.

fifi said...

ah, want want want.


have just been reading Ian North's visual animals. I'm having an animal moment.

flush said...

I wish I could read the text of Donald's style, but I can't; the blue print washes out completely against the pink and it's unreadable.

But what an interesting subject is this representation of animals and what it means at a particular time and place.

What's going on now? Animals standing in for children and other loved ones? Animals 'protected'/controlled. Heaps of money spent on animal pets.

In 'The Lost Dog' the animal is the teacher who shows Tom what's important.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Flush: blue print??

Surely it's pink? (A darker pink than the background.)

I have had one other person complain about the colour of the blockquote text against the background, and I'm not sure whether this is a browser issue or an eyesight issue or what. I've got both Firefox and Safari, have looked at it in both, and I can read it in both quite clearly.

Weird.

Ann O'Dyne said...

I can read it easily: "Gainsboroughs ... absence of pretension" - bwah ha ha Mr.Donald!

Yes yes, galleries and museums Gift shops are a danger zone.
Good purchase though Ms PCat.
I hope it has in it, that 17-foot painting of a horse by Stubbs? and cats, lotsa cats.
I am ultra cynical about everything but animals, and sorry Flush, I prefer furred life over humans any day.
feathers too - chickens are hilarious.

lucy tartan said...

Flush, are you named after Virginia Woolf's book?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, I wondered about Flush too.

There is very little on domestic cats in this lovely book, but there's a lot on 'big cats', Stubbs' in particular, and one utterly charming illustration from a design by Richard Bentley of Thomas Gray's Selima (from 'Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes') on her way to the underworld: '... Selima spits, arches her back and fluffs her tail as she encounters the three-headed dog Cerberus in the underworld.' The pic is too small and the books to big to make scanning worth it, but Selima is assuming this posture while balanced at the prow of a little boat being punted across (presumably) the Styx by (presumably) Charon, while Cerberus waits ominously on the bank.

TimT said...

The picture is here! Begin the poem from the beginning for more cat. Apparently Bentley published a book of illustrations to Gray's poems.

Pavlov's Cat said...

TimT, that's fantastic -- thank you!

flush said...

Flush is the title of one of Virginia Woolf's books: Flush: A Biography - of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel. VW wrote it as light relief from working on The Waves. The book was published in 1933 and sold very well.

ThirdCat said...

You don't live with two young boys, do you flush?

I know it's a totally off-topic comment, but it's Friday, so I'm forgiven.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I have been mulling over this idea of animals standing in for children, and am reminded of a conference paper I once wrote about Summer of the Seventeenth Doll -- a play by a man, however gifted, who like most men misunderstood the semiotics of dolls and thought they were substitute children. Dolls, I argued in what a fellow delegate afterwards described as a strong misreading, are about clothes. Women know this, as do children.

Likewise, animals are not substitute children. Only men, and some women who have children but no pets, assume that they are, and much of that is projection. As far as I can see, it's a view based on an unexamined assumption that all women want children, and feel bereft and incomplete if they don't have them. I can see why a certain kind of person might need to believe this, but that does not make it true.

Actually, animals are about themselves. The joy of children is to do with their sameness; the joy of animals is to do with their difference.

Many years after the violence, I re-encountered a man I had once been in love with in the food queue in the Melbourne U staff club. (To my horror he turned out to have got a job there, which meant I was going to bump into him and his gorgeous squeeze on a regular basis, but that's another story.) As we did the catchup narrative thing, and it was clear he'd been settled with the current woman for many years, I asked if there were any kids. 'Nah,' he said. 'Cat substitutes.'

fifi said...

my children are cat-substitutes.

Since they didn't measure up I got two cats anyway.

Anonymous said...

Likewise, animals are not substitute children. Only men, and some women who have children but no pets, assume that they are, and much of that is projection

PC, that's a bit broad, and may I say, rough. Some kids feel their pets are siblings, in real ways. It depends perhaps on the home. And men and women can be different from the quoted, brief, statement.

Just visiting and with that respecting what you do. A bit of this is to say also that such a quote might be torn apart elsewhere.

Why? Because it's a potent thing to unlock. How can a heart not break for a solitary elderly person having just lost their pet? Pet?

A child feeling the same? Anyone?

Is it cathexis more than projection?

Noting can substitute for a child.

But how does one measure the love for that elderly person's pet? Anyone's pet, when they, within themselves, treasure it as a measure of their own lives? To love and to hold, to nurture; to make sacrifice? To fear for. To live with, and, to them, communicate with?

It may not be like that for you, but gee whizz it is for so many people, from all ages and manners of life.

And isn't embracing that very thing something which makes animals precious (but not exclusively)? That the human being is not only no more or no less, but equal? Or an intrinsic part of?

(Does that book show any of this?)

I blame Pavlov!

Anonymous said...

Apologies - above by Robert

Pavlov's Cat said...

"... that's a bit broad, and may I say, rough."

Indeed. It's a blog, you know; one is allowed to make sweeping statements. One is not expected to weigh every word. But I am not sure what you mean by rough. On whom?

"such a quote might be torn apart elsewhere."

No doubt, as could any statement anywhere, depending on the motives of the tearers-apart. But I wonder where you are thinking of.

"How can a heart not break for a solitary elderly person having just lost their pet? Pet?"

What on earth does that have to do with substitute children? I said pets were not substitute children. I did not say that they were not loved, missed, mourned or important.

"Not[h]ing can substitute for a child."

No, of course not. That was partly my point.

And from there on it becomes very clear that you are, as you say, just visiting, or you would know how ludicrous it is to be lecturing me about loving pets and about the importance of animals. It's clear to me that you have misunderstood what I've said here, but it's quite hard to tell from your comment what it is that you think I said.

Also, I know that Blogger lets you post anonymously and I don't want to restrict commenters, but I do wish people would sign their posts. Someone it's always the ones who want to tick me off who don't say who they are.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Comments crossed there. I should have recognised your style.

Anonymous said...

PC, I wasn't ticking you off. Or didn't mean to. Far from it.

Your original post was personally inspiring.

Your follow-up comment lit up something which is potent and affecting. I do apologise if what I wrote did not properly embrace the positive side of that, for you. But how could I? I don't know about loving pets and about the importance of animals as it is for you.

What's happened here is that I've taken a quote from your motivating comment and I've failed to draw the distinction between you, personally, and the thoughts that flowed from that.

Please, I do apologise and am certainly not here to "tick you off".

And to be upfront here it wasn't so much a thought or two which flowed from what you said, but feelings. And lots of them. Just commenting, and visiting, and what happened was a brief (did I say brief?) comment you made connected with really beautiful feelings, though sad and tough. And these were to do with the points you raised - again, I apologise if I came across differently from what I felt.

I also don't like commenting to address you as PC. It's too familiar and I appreciate it would piss you off. And to comment here from rare time to time is to say I am visiting, out of respect for those who enjoy what you do.

Again, apologies if the comment failed to express an inspiration and value brought about by the point your brief (and sweeping) comment invoked.

At this end, it was emotion and feeling which moved me to contribute, and it was not done so to personally go you, PC. And it was about the things I mentioned there - again, these were not about you personally, but given with thanks for the inspiration to move in those directions and say those things.

About being 'torn apart elsewhere' - well that was meant to say all of the above (briefly and sweepingly), and for the thanks and respect for this place to take the thoughts and feelings further.

Cheers, and thanks again.

Anonymous said...

- by Robert above.

TimT said...

Sometimes I think my blog commenting is a substitute activity, too.

ThirdCat said...

I just think in the light of the above conversation I should clarify (or perhaps explain) that I just meant that if 'flush' lived with two young boys their name would represent the sound of an almost-disappearing toothbrush not a Virginia Woolf book.

And now I feel badly that I have been making flippant remarks about people's names.

I'm going back to lurking.

lucy tartan said...

this is a really weird comments thread, but oh well I liked the post and TimT's link. And I figured out what Flush was saying about the hard-to-read text - the pale pink background takes longer to load and until it does the background is solid cerise, that's probably it.

Pavlov's Cat said...

"this is a really weird comments thread".

You're telling me.

Tx for insight re pink, blue etc -- I'm sure you're right. I had forgotten the pains of slow loading. Broadband rules.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Since this thread is already officially weird I shall enhance its weirdness further by observing that I live in what we in SA call a maisonette and what Victorians would call a terrace house, with a party wall through to the dudes next door, but there's only one waste water and sewage line out to the street and it's on my side, ie all of theirs joins up with mine out the back before it all gets slooshed away. (No, don't think about this too closely.)

And I'd just like to say that wonderful as Thirdcat is, if she gets toothbrushes and socks (see her blog) flushed down her bog on a regular basis (and I believe I also once heard talk of ping-pong balls) then I'm very glad she's not living in the house next door. Because it would be me who had to get the plumbers in to disentangle the toothbrushes and socks from the tree roots and other unspeakable contents of the way-underground pipes.

ThirdCat said...

Weird you should say that. Me and my neighbours do have plumber conversations regularly.

Also, we went to my Dad's house to lose the sock. Spread the love.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, I noticed that you said the sock incident took place at someone else's house. I have plumbing on the brain at the moment because next door is have Iss-yews that we fear may be their-side-of-the-wall Iss-yews. If this turns out to be the case, they will have to have their floors dug up. The moral of this story is that one should get the plan of one's plumbing from United Water before one buys the house.

lucy tartan said...

yep, we have that - the little bungalow over the back fence drains into our drain, which runs under our enormous and invasive silky oak.

The diagnosing plumber had a super expensive camera to show us how much it is all going to cost.

Anonymous said...

I still regret the passing of the old Art Gallery coffee shop a decade or more ago. It had an intimate ambience that can't be found anywhere in the city nowadays.

Damn good value coffee & cake too.

the feral abacus

flush said...

Finally worked out I can read the original post against a clear white background on the comments page. LT probably right about the download of the coloured text box. It's slow upcountry.

I never took the idea of pets as child substitutes seriously until I blundered into a conversation about dogs and was pulled up by a bloke protesting 'But they're our kids!' I knew then I'd have to be careful where I was treading with my muddy little paws.

Animals are a mystery;big cat on the bed purring to me when I was sick, giving me comfort and confidence. Outside this morning bunches of rosellas,galahs and cockatoos hanging from the trees and squawking their heads off; very 'other', but our companions in the wild.

No young boys, Third Cat; but so many lost socks gone to the great sock box in the sky.