Magic Broom

Sydney Long, Spirit of the Plains,1897, Art Gallery of Queensland, Sydney Austrailia

Sydney Long, Spirit of the Plains,1897, Art Gallery of Queensland, Sydney Austrailia

This sublime painting reminds me of spring cleaning. Arggh. Really? you say. You see, this beautiful lady has no idea what she’s getting herself into. These graceful birds will need some maintenance when she gets to where she is going. And they will not leave her will they? Lured by that youthful body and the lilt of that seductive lute, I think not.

This idyllic scene will take hard work. Digging grit out of  baseboard corners and scrubbing the doors at the exact point where the kids fingers always hit.  It will demand multiple grocery store runs each week, to pick up the strawberries that will hopefully avoid ugly bird tantrums. Because this week they all decided they would eat only strawberries at every meal. If I were this woman, I’d ditch the magic lute and ask Mr. Long for a magic broom instead. The sweeping kind.

Yes, this is Australian Symbolist painting. And I could speak of its debt to Japanese ukiyo-e print making. I could point out the curves of the crane’s dancing necks echo the curves of the woman’s body. That this cadence of curves contrasts with marching vertical tree trunks and the horizon line of the plain. How the lovely coral color of the grass calls out the delicate blues of the birds feathers to imply their brilliant whiteness. A woodland parade at Evensong or the greyblue slip of dawn.

This painting plays ode to the Belle Époque era, when every woman was beautiful, with come-hither hair that would pull the moon right out of orbit. And that’s how many of us wish our lives would look – beautifully graceful.  We fall in line behind the tastemakers or anyone else who entrances us with images of effortless beauty. But I hear the squawks and honks of ugly maintenance in the background. Ruffles my feathers.


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