Friday, September 28, 2007

Like a wet pebble

The thought of a Millais retrospective hardly sets the pulse racing, but as I was in Tate Britain on Wednesday I had a look around. The last room covers ‘The Late Landscapes’: ‘Millais’s affection for the Highlands of Perthshire was most brilliantly expressed in a series of twenty-one large-scale landscapes that he painted outdoors from 1870 to 1892’. He said: “Scotland is like a wet pebble, with the colours brought out by the rain. In the opinion of the curators these paintings ‘represent new approaches to landscape: through poetic references, novel compositions, celebrations of autumnal scenery and light, and unresolved narratives’. They are indeed interesting, although perhaps not quite as interesting as this description implies; the exhibition is rather marked by hyperbole and I note that an article in the Telegraph earlier this year was headlined ‘Tate plans retrospective to rehabilitate Millais’.

Wordsworth, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Donne and Cardinal Newman are all quoted in the titles or subtitles of these late landscapes; The Sound of Many Waters, for example, is a reference to The Dream of Gerontius. One of the paintings that struck me particularly was Dew-Drenched Furze (1890), which reminded me of a morning walk I once took in the Cairngorms (see photograph below). The title comes from Tennyson’s In Memoriam:

And on these dews that drench the furze, 
And all the silvery gossamers
That twinkle into green and gold 

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