Monday, August 30, 2010

At least no one guessed a platypus

Continuing with the same topic of Millais's Ophelia, there was, at one point, a water vole in the upper corner of the painting. Herein is a brief history of this mysterious aquatic mammal:

October 28th. My man, Young, brought me a rat after breakfast. Began painting it swimming when the governor [his father] made his appearance, bringing money, and sat with me whilst at work. After four hours rat looked exactly like a drowned kitten.

October 29th. Cleaned out the rat, which looked like a lion, and enlarged picture.

November 6th. Beautiful morning; much warmer than yesterday. Was advised by Hunt to paint the rat, but felt disinclined. After much inward argument took the large box containing Ophelia's background out beside Hunt, who again was to paint the sheep. By lunch time had nearly finished rat most successfully.

November 7th. After breakfast examined the rat. From some doubtful feeling as to its perfect portraiture determined to retouch it. Young made his appearance, with another rat, and (for Hunt) a new canvas from the carrier at Kingston. Worked very carefully at the rat, and finally succeeded to my own and everyone's taste.

December 4th. Hunt's uncle and aunt came, both of whom understood most gratifyingly every object except my water-rat, which the male relation (when invited to guess at it) eagerly pronounced to be a hare. Perceiving by our smile that he had made a mistake, a rabbit was next hazarded, after which I have a faint recollection of a dog or cat being mentioned by the spouse, who had brought with her a sponge-cake and bottle of sherry, of which we partook at luncheon. Mutual success and unblemished happiness was whispered over the wine, soon after which they departed in a pony-chaise. Laughed greatly over the day, H. and self.

Deciding that he did not like the particular ambiguity of his water rat, Millais eventually erased it entirely.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Feed the Birds

Though it is more usually said that to feed the birds, one can pay tuppance a bag, the French musician Berlioz had a more unusual practice.

Berlioz first arrived in Paris as a medical student, a profession he rather famously detested, to the point of defenestration, the first time he had a dissection lab. However, he was forced back into the lab and, though he worked with the windows open, he did not jump out any of them. Instead, he watched the sparrows that flew through and fed them bits of dissected lung.