Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sugar Magnolia

Oppressively hot & humid at the moment, my mind's in a jumble. The radio on isn't helping, but I hate to miss a song I love. So I endure some that get on my nerves. It's that kind of day. Finished Christopher Benfey's Summer of Hummingbirds yesterday - which says a lot for it right there - it is very rare these days for me to actually read a book start to finish (though I did read the Joseph Cornell epilogue first). I enjoyed and admired the deft connections he tracked and pinned (what's "lepidopterist" for hummingbirder?) I gasped when I read the description (and glimpsed the photo) of happily newlywed (in late life) Mr. and Mrs. Martin Heade - Mrs. H. feeding a hummingbird from her hand. Just perfect! I wish the book had had many more accompanying illustrations - Benfey's tour and descriptions were painterly, and often referred to paintings - for example, to a particularly voluptuous description of a series of Martin Johnson Heade studies of magnolias - and no image! From pages 238-239:
.... What strikes one most forcefully in the photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Heade that have survived is the unmistakable note of privacy in their Florida arrangements, of a shared intimate life kept to themselves. Nowhere is the private note more poignantly sounded than in Heade's late, great series of paintings of magnolias. Magnolias too had been enlisted in the public image of Florida and its hotel-world... But Heade was after something entirely different in his paintings of magnolia blossoms arrayed on blue and red velvet cloth. The paintings are unmistakably erotic, as John Baur noted in his pioneering article of 1954: "the fleshy whiteness of magnolia blossoms startlingly arrayed on sumptuous red velvet like odalisques on a couch." Robert Smith took the idea further, finding "an aura of post-coital dishabille" in the reclining blossoms. These paintings hint of a private realm, velvet-enshrouded, and one that is temporary and transient, evanescent like the magnolia itself.
Absent an image of the Heade my mind supplies its own association:


Sealed with a kiss, darling. Hope all is well with you. Hitting send.

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