Musée des Beaux Arts


Matthew Greenburgh: Musee De Beaux Arts

Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 'Laciniata'

150x160cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof
84x90cm - edition of 5

Any Musée des Beaux Arts will of course have at least a few Dutch still lives. But I am thinking in particular of Brussels and W.H. Auden’s wonderful poem about Pieter Breughel the Elder’s wonderful painting of Icarus. In my picture, leaves like feathers and a sun shape suggest this subject: an inglorious death of the most spectacular kind which has little impact on the rest of the world. The Auden-Breughel ‘pairing’ is a deeply thought-provoking view of death and its depiction and adds an extra dimension to the motif of fatal vanity (see "Narcissus").

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Musée des Beaux Arts, W.H. Auden, 1940 ©Estate of W.H. Auden




Next Leaf



The Fall of Icarus, attr. Pieter Breughel the Elder, c1560

Copyright Matthew Greenburgh © 2015. All Rights Reserved.