A Painting is Not Just a Painting.

A painting is not just a painting.

What stories are held in the background?

Girl in a Red Dress, Seated by a Swimming Pool, 1936 Oil on board, Private collection, Christie’s Images/Superstock


And with that question,  I find myself heading down Alice’s rabbit hole.

My week began with Sir John Lavery (1856-1941), an Irish painter renowned for his portraits and wartime illustrations.  On January 27, 2020, my daily art calendar offered up his delightful, “Girl in a Red Dress, Seated by a Swimming Pool,” precisely when the thought of sunshine was on my mind.  It is January and the time when Vancouver enters the rainy season in earnest, preparing for the burst of spring growth. The sun has been missing for several days and this painting generated warmth, bright colours and a hint of mystery.

A girl sitting on a chair wearing a glorious red dress and a matching hat stands out against the background of bathers in a swimming pool filled with translucent water.  She appears to be fully engaged in reading a book. There are two chairs. Did she have a companion?  Is she waiting for someone? Why has the artist chosen to hide her face? What are her thoughts?

Sir John Lavery had a remarkable life.  Here are some tidbits to whet your appetite to learn more.

  • In 1889, John married his first wife, Kathleen MacDermott. It was only two years later that she died of the dreaded tuberculosis. They had one daughter, Eileen, who became Lady Simpill when she married William Francis Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill.  Alas, beginning in the 1920’s, Lord Sempill began passing military secrets to the Japanese. There is a story here….
  • In 1909, Hazel Martyn, known for her extraordinary beauty, became John’s second wife. They had one daughter, Alice.  Hazel was captured in more than 400 of her husband’s paintings. One of John’s paintings portrayed her as the allegorical figure of Ireland, created on commission from the Irish government.  This depiction ended up on Irish banknotes from 1928 until 1975 and then as a watermark until the introduction of the Euro in 2002.  There is another story here…

My dear blogger friend, Liz from Leaping Life encouraged me to add poetry to accompany my daily art painting.  So, it is with her in mind that I share the poem that my sister, Sarah sent me a few days ago, by poet Myra Viola Wilds entitled “Thoughts.”

Poetry Reading: Thoughts by Myra Viola Wilds, Painting by Sir John Lavery from Rebecca Budd aka Clanmother on Vimeo.

What kind of thoughts now, do you carry
In your travels day by day
Are they bright and lofty visions,
Or neglected, gone astray?

Matters not how great in fancy,
Or what deeds of skill you’ve wrought;
Man, though high may be his station,
Is no better than his thoughts.

Catch your thoughts and hold them tightly,
Let each one an honor be;
Purge them, scourge them, burnish brightly,
Then in love set each one free.


Girl in a Red Dress, Seated by a Swimming Pool, 1936 Oil on board, Private collection, Christie’s Images/Superstock

14 Replies to “A Painting is Not Just a Painting.”

  1. Body English can often be easy to interpret – and the viewer can sometimes be polar opposite in guessing what’s going on in the person’s psyche. My creative mind first thought, ‘I am bored silly,’ and then ‘thank goodness my love for reading can help me pass this afternoon while i watch over the others..’ or even, ‘i am so disgusted (or overwhelmed or disenchanted) and i’ll try to allow this book to distract me’ or ‘i cannot believe that i allowed this artist to convince me to sit here day after day in the same garb…’ etc etc etc… One could write short story after short story and each one could be totally different – all prompted by a brilliant piece of art!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How wonderfully said. Yes, I was imagining all sorts of possibilities. Was she waiting for someone? What book would keep her so occupied that she would rather read than swim? Where was the location? And then to the material – cotton? Silk? And the pigment of orange? Where did they find a natural orange. Then to the age. We don’t know the woman’s age. Married? There are no children. And so on and so on… just as you say “prompted by a brilliant piece of art.” Hugs!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I adore this beautiful painting, and I adore your voice’s recital. The 2 go hand in hand.
    Rebecca, your gift is to recite as much poetry, as you can.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh Resa, how very very kind of you to say. I believe that poetry allows us to embrace a greater journey, seek a creative perspective, leave angst behind. Angry feelings leave us without the resilience or courage to forge new pathways. I am so glad that we have connected. The path goes every on….

      Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s also why Warhol started painting Campbell’s soup cans and boxes of Brillo pads. He loved his mother and reminders of home. Another mystery solved! 🙂 Thank you for bringing art to our daily lives. Hugs!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I did not know that his Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo pads were his identification of home. Thank you – yes another mystery solved. I feel like we are in a Nancy Drew story. Hugs coming back.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. How do you get your face on a currency note, you ask? It’s easy. Just marry an artist. We live complex, indeed exciting lives, but it seems that artists have added drama and mystery. So glad you enjoyed the post. I love my daily chats with paintings. Here is a quote about painting and money that I love to bring out from time to time: “I’d asked around 10 or 15 people for suggestions. Finally one lady friend asked the right question, ‘Well, what do you love most?’ That’s how I started painting money.” Andy Warhol

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Vielen Dank für Ihren Besuch und Ihre Kommentare. Kunst hat so viele Geschichten, die uns verloren gehen. Es macht Spaß, sich vorzustellen, wie der Künstler an einem Gemälde arbeitet. Was sind seine oder ihre Gedanken? Hab ein wundervolles Wochenende. Regen Regen Regen in Vancouver.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree wholeheartedly! It was Liz from Leaping Life blog that suggested it. I have found it to be a wonderful meditative moment. Sarah, my sister, sends me emails of poetry. She has signed up to a poem a day. Ah, the power for technology to bring creativity to our inbox.

      Liked by 3 people

You're welcome to join the dialogue!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.