Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Which Cecilia Paints Dorothea and Francesca - and Doesn't Complain

Dorothea and Francesca

If you've ever been unhappy about your studio - or lack thereof - be encouraged by Cecilia Beaux' account of the creation of this lovely painting, Dorothea and Francesca:

"Tyringham Valley is a realized version of the Twenty-Third Psalm. It is a valley one may enter and behold, lying between its hillsides and modelled by its river..."Four Brooks", the Gilders' Farm, lies upon one of the enclosing hillsides, near the upper end of the vale. The Mountain Hill hangs like a tapestry behind it, and it was upon this hill, among laurel, pine, rock, and sugar maple, that I spent most of the mornings of my summer-long visits at the farm.

They gave me the unused tobacco barn for a studio. It was a huge enclosed shed on the edge of the orchard. Its walls were single upright boards, one inch apart. The ground itself was its floor, and when I took possession there was only one window at the farther end, a square opening with a heavy wooden shutter, through whose frame one could see the near surroundings of the farm, and beyond. When I entered it, the barn was more than half filled with winter and other farm-furnishings, sledges, broken farm tools, ploughs, old wagons, etc., a veritable heaven for the summer hours of children. They (my benefactors this time) put in a long large window on the orchard side, at the farther end, and cleared the space there. I had already had a clear view of the painting I would do there. I saw straight through the ploughs and wagons, and when three glazed windows went into the long opening in the wall, light actually fell upon a canvas (the ghost of one) which would stand in perfect view from a deep ample corner.

The big and little sisters, Dorothea and Francesca, used to execute a dance of the simplest and all too circumscribed design, invented by themselves, and adorned by their unconscious beauty alone.
This was the subject. I built a platform with my own hands, as the girls could not move easily on the bare earth. When it rained hard, in September, the orchard let its surplus water run down the hill and under the barn-sill, so that, as my corner was rather low, I put on rubber boots and splashed in and out of my puddle, four inches deep. October was difficult, for it grew bitterly cold. But valiant posing went on, though the scenic effect of the group was changed by wraps. Summer, indeed, was over, when on a dark autumnal night, in the freezing bard, the picture was packed by the light of one or two candles and a lantern."
from Cecilia Beaux' autobiography Background with Figures

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