It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Fine Art and Deep Concepts

This is my favourite painting in the National Gallery. (“Hope 1”, by Gustav Klimt. The picture itself is a link to the Gallery, if you wish to check it out.) Every time I go, I find my way to the gallery in which this sits, and soak her up. It’s not a pretty picture, exactly; it’s not a nice picture, exactly, but there is so much about it I love. The luminescence of the woman, her expression of defiance, the immensity of the belly which defies the spectres behind her. I just love this painting.

Thus I have a postcard of this painting on my fridge. It’s been there for years, periodically replaced by a new, clean version, carefully posted high above the childrens’ heads.

This morning, Darcy noticed it.

“Mary, why is that lady naked?”

“Well, this is a picture of a painting. Sometimes painters like to paint people with no clothes on, because…” Hmmm… This is no cartoon print, nor a photograph of something familiar and straightforward. This painting is difficult, layers upon layers of complex adult concepts. How does one explain nudity as a symbol of vulnerability? How does one explain danger, defiance, threat, and the ascendancy of the human spirit? How does one explain “hope, the concept”, never mind “Hope, the painting” to a three-year-old?

I take the picture down and hand it to him, pulling him onto my lap. He holds it carefully in both hands, head curled down over the photograph.

“Who are those bad guys?”

“They sure look like bad guys, don’t they?”

“Yes. Mean bad guys.”

“Are they a little scarey, maybe?”

“Yes, they are scarey. And they’re standing too close to that lady.”

“You don’t like them to be so close to that lady? Why not?”

“Because they are bad guys. She isn’t smiling. She doesn’t like those bad guys to be so close to her. She is mad at them. And why is she so fat?”

“Do you think she’s fat? Why else might her belly be so big?” Darcy has a younger sister; this should be familiar ground to him.

“Does she got a baby in there?”

“Yes, she does. And is a baby a good thing, or a bad thing?” (With another child, this might be a risky thing to ask, but I’m sure of myself with Darcy.)

“Good thing!” My confidence is vindicated. Darcy is happily clear on this one.

“So that lady is doing a good thing, right? She’s having a baby, and that’s a good, happy thing.” Darcy nods a decisive affirmation. I guess he’s enjoying his little sister!

“Sometimes when a painter paints a picture, he’s trying to make you think of things. He’s trying to paint ideas. He painted those bad guys and he painted that pregnant lady together, so that we could see that even when there are bad things happening, good things can happen, too.”

“She is happy about her baby. I think those bad guys won’t get her baby.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“That’s good, that the bad guys won’t get her baby. I like that.”

There are bad guys out there, there are even bad guys standing close, but they won’t get the baby. Not bad. I think Darcy has come to his own understanding of “hope”.

April 14, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 15 Comments