Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Romantic heroes...

... a painter, an architect, and a prisoner.

The painter, Rex Whistler, remains one of my themes and will continue to be for a while. Above is a detail of his mural in the Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain and is entitled The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats which Whistler painted when he was 22 years old. The mural tells the tale of seven people who leave the ducal palace in Epicurania on bicycles, horses and chariots to travel through distant lands where they encounter unicorns, gluttons and truffle dogs, all in pursuit of good food. The expedition is eventually successful when the intrepid explorers return with the "rare meats" to the almighty relief of the ducal subjects who hitherto had dined only on dry cookies.  

The palace above reminded me so much of Portmeirion, a village on the coast of Wales designed and worked on by the architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis in a romanticized Italianate style, from the 1920s onwards. 

That's the painter and the architect - so who is the prisoner? 

Well, in the 1960s, Portmeirion was the surreal setting for a British television series The Prisoner in which the hero Number Six was imprisoned together with what appeared to be other spies. Each episode was an attempt to escape on the part of Number Six. Number Six was played by Patrick McGoohan

The fictional hero played by Mr. McGoohan appeared in the uber-romantic years of the 1960s - a late flowering of the romantic streak that had run deep in many architects and painters in the years between the First World War and the Second World War. He inhabited a prison that looked like a theatre stage set - a setting so out of time and place - and for seventeen episodes he was one of the most romantic heroes to hit black and white television. 

The romantic streak so strong in the years between the wars and the 1960s is not gone. We see it still in our notions of evoking in our homes places and times other than where we are now. 

On a certain level we do recognize an American style in decoration, design and architecture, yet we continue to try and recreate what we perceive to be the style of the French southern provinces, the English countryside, and Belgian farmhouses, etcetera - it doesn't matter whether we live north, south, east or west, anywhere is better than where we are. How can it be that Provence is more romantic than Connecticut or Georgia?  

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article. There always seems to be a lot of stereotyping of cultures, and areas of the world are imbued with these stereotypes. North America is brash, Australia is uncultured, Britain is frayed and dowdy, France is romantic, all are too black and white to be credible.

    The world is made up of a nearly infinite and diverse patchwork of individuals. You may find yourself in what is regarded as the most romantic corner of the world and find everything brash and unfeeling, while visiting an area traditionally associated for vulgarity and shallowness you may find depth and even romance. Having said that you may well find romance where it is supposed to be, with the ringing of church bells in Florence etc.

    I suppose we should all be aware that it is individual perception that matters and not blanket stereotypes.

    Thast means that I may well find a romantic spot in the UK in 2009, but I'm not holding my breath!