Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sunset and sorrow

Long have I been intrigued by the near-ethereal quality of the paintings of Joseph Mallord William Turner, especially in his later, more abstract and experimental work. And in The Stowaway, when Captain Jas. Hook indulges Vivian Drew's wish to experience theater and art in London, they find their own fascinations with Turner's work at the National Gallery.

The piece that most draws their attention is The "Fighting Temeraire" Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken Up. Painted by Turner in 1839, it's his depiction of a ship from the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar being taken to be destroyed as the age of sail draws to an end to be replaced by the era of industry.

Vivian is captivated by the colors and evocation of light in the painting, while James responds to the emotion contained within it. I recall an anecdote about an old sea captain in Port Townsend, WA, who lamented the loss of the grand ships and complained about the presence in the harbor of the steamers and "greasy little tugs." This is akin to James's yearning for the Age of Sail, the only milieu in which he feels he still has a place, as a changing economy forces him ever more completely from the shores of his native land to the perilous environs of Never Neverland.

Daniel Craig as James Bond and Ben Wishaw as Q
 discuss the Fighting Tremeraire in Skyfall

The Fighting Temeraire is prominently featured in the 2012 movie Skyfall, making me hesitant to include it in The Stowaway--although I had written the scene before the film was released. (If you think that means I've been working on this book for a long time, you are correct.)

But I've since learned more about the continuing popularity of the Fighting Temeraire. In 2005 (the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar), it was voted "England's favorite painting" in a BBC Radio 4 poll. It's so popular, in fact, as to have inspired the cultivation of a Fighting Temeraire rose.

In 2014, the Tate Britain held a popular exhibition of Turner's paintings from the later years of his life, when this successful painter dared to take his vision in a direction that received ire from critics and the populace.

And now that the Mr. Turner movie continues to meet with critical and popular acclaim, surely I can be excused for including The Fighting Temeraire in the tale of James and Vivian in London.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Mystery of the Red Coat

A year and a half ago, I thought I had found the first instance of Captain Hook in a red coat--illustrations by American Roy Best from 1931. Before then, Hook was depicted in coats of blue and gray. Of course, since the 1957 Disney film (which went into development in 1935), he's generally depicted wearing red.

But now I've learned that British painter Gwynedd M. Hudson had the same idea as Best at around the same time. As Hudson is one of my favorite Peter Pan illustrators, I'm glad now that I decided Jas. should have not only his original blue and gray coats, but red. (Although in The Stowaway, they are reserved for battle and other important occasions.)

 James, splendid in his red coat.

I'm amused how well my characterizations of the crew align with Hudson's.

My visit to the Marchpane children's bookshop at Charing Cross in London turned out to be edifying in this regard. Not only did I get to hold a 1904 first edition Peter and Wendy (with appropriate whimpers and hopes of "someday"), the seller also had a 1931 Hudson first edition with dust jacket (those don't usually survive) which now lives at my house. That was a fantastic surprise.

I have several versions of Peter Pan that include Hudson's illustrations, reprinted in a single color. I knew from pictures I'd seen online that some of the originals were in two or three colors--but in the first edition Hudson, there are many full-color illustrations as well.

It turns out to be almost impossible to find information about Hudson online. However, Antiques Atlas has a profile that gives me far more information than I've been able to find before:

Gwynedd May Hudson, 1882-1932, was a Sussex artist, who studied at Brighton College of Art. She exhibited a painting at the Royal Academy in 1912, but is best know for her much loved illustrations of Alice in Wonderland in 1922 for Hodder & Stoughton and Peter Pan and Wendy in 1931, also for Hodder and Stoughton.

She also did a series of posters for the London Underground 1926-1929, copies of which are in the London Transport Museum. One of these lithographic posters of 'The Zoo' for the Underground achieved a price of £2,750 at Christie's in 2012.

Most sources give Hudson's date of birth as 1909. She might have been a prodigy who published Alice in Wonderland illustrations when she was thirteen,but it's unlikely she exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of three. I'm also glad to know she didn't die at the age of 33.

Hudson seems to be best known for her Alice paintings.These are easily found reproduced online and for sale from auction houses, and even on mugs and t-shirts.