Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Grim Specter of Death (a Birthday Post from Drew!)

Yesterday, I turned thirty-one, and I treated this birthday as a non-event, since the big three-oh didn’t mean the end of the world any more than 2012 meant the end of the world. I had the day off work, and I tried to spend my time doing the things I always want to do — happy-making, me-centric stuff, with less of a focus on what I have and haven’t accomplished one year further into my life. Please keep that in mind when I show you the painting I can’t stop looking at, and understand that no, this is not a plea for help in my battle against the grinding passage of time.

“the white peacock,” via wikipedia, via the vienna academy of fine arts
I find this beautiful. You may find it horrifying — it’s five dead birds and a dead rabbit, after all — but I think it helps to look at how lovingly and carefully these animals were painted. Click on the photo for the bigger version, and you’ll see individual feathers and hairs. But they’re not realistic depictions of hunted prey. As this sporting journal article notes, they’re idealized: You can’t see any puncture wounds, and they simply seem to have died in an immaculate state. (Spencer notes that the painter’s name was Jan Weenix, and maybe the animals just heard his name and died laughing.) The article goes on to say that such game pieces “weren’t commemorating a specific hunt, or morality tales on blood sports, or demonstrations of putting food on the table,” but instead were “status symbols for the bourgeois painting-purchasing class to hang in their country estates,” which makes me think of them as the seventeenth-century equivalent of those knock-off vintage booze posters you see in every home wanting to suggest some vague notion of old-timey class. That doesn’t bother me. I’m just looking at the painting in 2013 — in my thirty-first year, apparently — and appreciating it as a depiction of ordinary objects, rendered with a level of care that makes them seem like more than what they were, if they ever existed in the first place. (Do white peacocks exist?)

I suppose there are worse ways to begin a new year than appreciating something for what it is.


  1. Hey I'm Alex. You may remember me from creating the Clio-"Eyes" video. I just wanted to comment that I saw Weenix's paintings a few months ago at the art museum, and was also moved by them, big time. Particularly a large painting, that had the dead animals on a table paired with fruit. I felt like I was walking right into the painting, or maybe a dream. It's like it made me hear dark, classical music in my head, plus a physical sensation. It was unexpected and intense.

    So it's real cool to stumble upon a concurrent account of the enrapturing effect of Dutch Golden Age paintings. It's not exactly trending on Twitter. One more reason why I love your blog! Stay cool, and happy birthday!

    1. Hey man! Long time, no talk.

      I have to admit, I'm surprised I'm as moved by these as I am. They're not really the type of art that makes me feel much, and even reading about why they were painted -- fairly mundane reasons -- can't make me stop looking.

      So, been working on anything cool lately?

  2. Happy birthday!

    In one of the Oz books, there's a creature called a weenix, which has the body of a bear and the head of a walrus.

    1. I'd like to think he also had the ween of a phoenix.