If you looking for something to do in Dublin in the coming weeks I recommend a visit to an exhibition currently running in the National Galley. The title of the exhibition is Fables and Fairy Tales - Illustrations from the Collection and it is on display from December 19th 2011 to March 25th 2012. The collection showcases some twenty artworks, including illustrations from fairy tales, poems and stories by Harry Clarke, John Butler Yeats, Paul Henry, and Richard and Charles Doyle. The images date from the 1870s to the 1920s and range from preliminary sketches to finished pieces. Also currently exhibiting is Frederic William Burton's The Meeting on the Turret Stairs. Due to the delicate nature of the watercolour, this piece is only available to view at selected times (see the Gallery website for details).
I've been a Harry Clarke (1889-1931)fan for years so this was an obvious highlight for me. The ink and watercolour piece on the left takes Hans Christian Andersen's story The Nightingale as its subject. In the story the Emperor of China declares that he prefers the music of his beautiful bejewelled music box to the sweet song of the nightingale. However, when he is near death, he must depend on the curative powers of the real bird's song to restore him. The ornate patterning of the Emperor's costume and luxuriant furnishings are skilfully captured in Clarke's artistic interpretation. Here is an extract from Andersen's tale:
Harry Clarke The Nightingale
Indeed, everything in the emperor’s garden was remarkable, and it extended so far that the gardener himself did not know where it ended. Those who travelled beyond its limits knew that there was a noble forest, with lofty trees, sloping down to the deep blue sea, and the great ships sailed under the shadow of its branches. In one of these trees lived a nightingale, who sang so beautifully that even the poor fishermen, who had so many other things to do, would stop and listen. Sometimes, when they went at night to spread their nets, they would hear her sing, and say, “Oh, is not that beautiful?” But when they returned to their fishing, they forgot the bird until the next night. Then they would hear it again, and exclaim “Oh, how beautiful is the nightingale’s song!”
The tale is a parable of sorts, highlighting the value of the natural world over material possessions. In learning to love the song of the nightingale over the wealth and riches of his kingdom, the emperor is cured of his malady.
Another piece I enjoyed was Paul Henry's "Isabella seeking Lorenzo’s body in the forest" from John Keats’ poem, "Isabella" or as it is alternatively known, "The Pot of Basil." Isabella was adapted by Keats from a tale in Boccaccio's Decameron and tells of the ill-fated love affair between Isabella and her lover Lorenzo. Her brothers, anxious that she marry a wealthy noble, murder Lorenzo and hide the body. But Lorenzo comes to Isabella in a vision and instructs her as to where she can find his corpse. Unbeknownst to her brothers she locates him and buries his head in a pot of basil, which she tends obsessively as she pines away in her grief.
Paul Henry "Isabella seeking Lorenzo's body in the forest"
Here are the lines from the poem that inspired Henry:
When the full morning came, she had devised
How she might secret to the forest hie;
How she might find the clay, so dearly prized,
And sing to it one latest lullaby;
How her short absence might be unsurmised,
While she the inmost of the dream would try.
Resolv'd, she took with her an aged nurse,
And went into that dismal forest-hearse.
Fans of Fables and Fairy Tales might also be interested in the Study Morning that is being organised by the Gallery to discuss the importance of this collection. The talks are academic in nature and will probe the significance of fairy tales in Victorian literature and in Irish Art. It will conclude with a tour of the collection. The full line up is listed below:
9.50Welcome with Dr Marie Bourke, National Gallery of Ireland
10.00 Images Associated with Fables and Fairy Tales in Irish ArtDr Nicola Gordon Bowe, Associate Fellow, National College of Art & Design, Visiting Fellow, University of Ulster
10.30Folk Tales in Victorian Literature Dr. Jarlath Killeen, Lecturer in Victorian English, School of English, Trinity College Dublin
11.00 Morning Coffee
11.30Fables and Fairy Tales in Irish Art Dr. Roisin Kennedy
12.00Illustrating the Fantastic in Life and in Art PJ Lynch, Artist and Children’s Book Illustrator
12.30Panel Discussion Chair: Professor Nicholas Allen,Moore Institute Professor at National University of Ireland Galway
1.30Conclusion Dr Paula Murphy, Lecturer
University College Dublin
3.00 Tour of the display 'Fables & Fairy Tales' - meeting point outside Room 1