On my morning walks to the Underground this week I have passed front gardens strewn with delicate dewy cobwebs, as you can see from the photograph above. I realise there is a beer bottle in this particular bush too, but this, after all, is London, not a remote forest glade (as the great Charles Reznikoff once said, 'this smoky winter morning - / do not despise the green jewel shining among the twigs / because it is a traffic light.') It must have been on some such autumn morning that John Everett Millais set out to paint Dew-Drenched Furze (1881), a work recently acquired by the Tate. Millais got his title from In Memoriam, where Tennyson wrote ‘Calm and deep peace on this high wold, / And on the dews that drench the furze, / And all the silvery gossamers / That twinkle into green and gold...’ According to his son, Millais aimed 'to capture the morning sun streaming through a clearing of gorse illuminated by droplets of dew, a subject ‘probably never painted before’, and one that as he begun he feared ‘might be unpaintable.’' This son, the ornithological artist J.G. Millais, added a cock pheasant in the right foreground of the painting, but this was subsequently removed (no doubt as distracting as a stray beer bottle). The result is a beautiful and surprisingly abstract landscape painting, which draws the eye over sunlit spider's webs and feathery gorse towards a veil of distant golden mist.
John Everett Millais, Dew-Drenched Furze, 1881