Sunday, March 4, 2018

Portraits of Artists at Work (Three Centuries)

Anonymous German printmaker
Adam Elsheimer
British Museum

Willem Drost
ca. 1650
etching, drypoint
British Museum

Pier Leone Ghezzi
Caricature of Charles-Louis Clérisseau at the French Academy, Rome
British Museum


If on your grandmother's birthday you burn a candle
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,
A man who may have come to the town she lived in
Looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
After a month of grief with the want ads,
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards
Of a  green glass bottle that your grandmother,
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic
If he doesn't stoop down and scoop the mess up
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.

For you to burn a candle for him
You needn't suppose the cut would be a deep one,
Just deep enough to keep her at home
The night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,
Who is soon to become her dearest friend,
Whose brother George, thirty years later,
Helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store
Doesn't go under in the Great Depression
And his son, your father, is able to stay in school
Where his love of learning is fanned into flames,
A love he labors, later, to kindle in you.

How grateful you are for your father's efforts
Is shown by the candle you've burned for him.
But today, for a change, why not a candle
For the man whose name is unknown to you?
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home
With friends and family or alone on the road,
On the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside
And hold his hand, the very hand
It's time for you to imagine holding.

– Carl Dennis (2002)

Gervase Spencer
Self-portrait based on his own painted portrait by Joshua Reynolds
British Museum

William Hogarth
William Hogarth, Serjeant-Painter to His Majesty, painting The Comic Muse
1758 (caption reads 1764, the year of Hogarth's death)
etching, engraving
British Museum

Nathaniel Hone
British Museum

Thomas Worlidge
Portrait of Sofonisba Anguissola, based on her painted self-portrait
before 1766
etching, drypoint
British Museum

Benjamin West
Gilbert Stuart painting the portrait of Benjamin West
British Museum

Adam Bartsch after a drawing by Filippo Minei
Portrait of Correggio in his studio
British Museum

Pierre Nolasque Bergeret
The Young Poussin drawing figure of Christ on the wall of a humble room
British Museum

Francis Seymour Haden
Portrait of Duval Le Camus, painting in Rome
drawing, watercolor
British Museum

Still Life

Now's a good time, before the night comes on,
To praise the loyalty of the vase of flowers
Gracing the parlor table, and the bowl of oranges,
And the book with freckled pages resting on the table cloth
Starched and white, its folds still visible.
To remark how these items aren't waiting
To pack their bags and move off to look for a setting
Where their stillness may appear to more advantage,
A heaven above, beyond, or within,
Whose unseen blooming bushes are rustling
In a sea breeze at this very moment.
These items are focusing all their attention
On holding fast as time washes around them.
The flowers in the vase won't come again.
The page of the book beside it, the edge turned down,
Will never be read again for the first time.
The light from the window is angled.
The sun's moving on. For them it's no mystery
Why the people who live in the house are missing.
They're all outside enjoying the light that's left them.
Lucky for them to find when they return
These silent things just as they were.
Night's coming on and they haven't been frightened off.
They haven't once dreamed of going anywhere.

– Carl Dennis (1994)

Étienne Carjat
Caricature of Honoré Daumier with painter's tools
lithograph from Le Boulevard
British Museum

George James Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle
Alphonse Legros at work in his studio
ca. 1868
British Museum

Félix Bracquemond
Portrait of Charles Keene, drawing on a woodblock
British Museum

Félix Bracquemond
Portrait of Edwin Edwards
British Museum

Poems from the archives of Poetry (Chicago)