Saturday, March 13, 2010
Fine Arts Friday: Girls and Their Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers
Elinor, Jean, and Anna by George Wesley Bellows, 1920.
The great baritone William Warfield (1920-2002) was born to a family of sharecroppers and gave his first recital in New York's Town Hall in 1950. He performed in concert tours throughout Europe and was married to the great contralto, Leontyne Price. Once Warfield was asked why he bothered to study other languages, poetry, and history, and his answer went something like this: The more that I am able to take into myself of humanity and great art, the richer I become and the more I have to give. It is the whole person not just the voice that goes into the song.
I have never forgotten this and have since believed that we are not merely what we remember, as Jan Struthers' Mrs. Miniver says, but the totality of all that has gone into us and our interaction with it.
I am reminded of this idea when I see this painting by George Bellows (1882-1925). Don't we pour our hearts and souls into our children and are they are not filled with us, as we are filled with the hearts and souls of our parents and grandparents? Our role models have a special place in our hearts--we carry them with us throughout our lives. "See what we have wrought and offer to the world?" the great-grandmother seems to say with her gesture toward her descendant.
Although the painting is all in one particular time, and the subjects are alive and sitting together in one place, the depiction of three generations seems to capture the very passage of time and humanity in one image. All the past time is in the present moment and is in the child. This compression of generational time into a single moment reminds me of this fascinating painting, which the great Venetian artist Titian painted at the age of 77.
Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence, 1565.
Returning to Bellows' trans-generational portrait, I never go through a day that I do not see before my inner eye an image of my grandmother or my mother. Sometimes it's as if my mother is merely obscured by my own body as I feel her presence in my own actions and thoughts -- as I pour a cup of tea, wipe the sink, talk to my daughter, or think of how I should emulate her generosity -- just below the surface of my own being.
We are never alone but are bound by love and learning to the continuity of generations, which our heart remembers, even if our mind might sometimes forget.
See more of the art of George Wesley Bellows, a man who was clearly in love with life.
Listen to William Warfield here, here, and here.