These stories are developed from the novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] and are designed to entice you to read them. Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter and visionary artist, is the star. Think of them as delightful appetizers. Enjoy and respond!
Last week I promised to tell you much more about Alexander Wainwright and his search for the light. Of course, at the time, I did not know [and perhaps neither did he] that he was setting out the fundamental goal of his art. Remember that Alexander was young at this time–only about thirty. The events in The Trilogy of Remembrance occurred almost twenty years later.
He had invited me to the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square in London. There was a special exhibition of Vermeer’s paintings, which are always delightful to visit.
It was a late Friday afternoon and so the gallery was quiet. We would have time to really look at the paintings and I would be able to concentrate on what he had to say. I was extremely impressed with this young artist and wanted to learn everything I could about him and his art. After our last meeting in Bloomsbury, I could not stop thinking about his hallucinations or visions during a serious childhood illness. The illness was aptly yet absurdly named—Alice in Wonderland Syndrome which you can read about here.
We walked through several exhibition halls until we came to the Vermeer paintings, three of which had been grouped together. Girl with the Red Hat, Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Lace Maker.
Half way across the hall, Alex sank to a bench and sat as if transfixed. I saw that a blissful smile had spread across his face.
He tugged on my sleeve. “James? Just look! I brought you here because I want to show you what I am trying to achieve in my art.”
“Vermeer is always an excellent place to start!”
With a grave and attentive look, he asked, “Tell me. When you look at the Earring and the Red Hat paintings, what do you see?”
I sighed happily. “They give such a lovely sense of peace. At the same time, their expressions say that they have a story
to tell us. Definitely, we’ve surprised these girls–perhaps caught them in private moments of reflection.”
Snapping his fingers, Alex jumped up. “That’s absolutely right, Jamie, but I’m thinking more about the light in the picture. What about the Red Hat?”
I stopped to consider my next words more carefully. “I’m more intrigued with this girl. Much more of a mystery to me.” I could see he was not very satisfied with my words. “But you’re right. The light is truly splendid in both works. His chiaroscuro effect is very well done. I believe Vermeer worked with a camera obscura— a box with a holeith a lens in it. The inside of the box is painted white and, using a series of lenses and mirrors, it reflects the outside image within”.
I was pleased with my recollection of the use of such a device but I knew I was sounding too professorial. I felt odd, as a man primarily of commerce, lecturing such a supremely talented artist about technical matters. When he began to pace in front of the paintings, I could tell he felt I was not getting his meaning.
“Mr. Helmsworth? Do you see it in The Lace Maker?” he asked.
I admit I was confused. “But I just spoke about the light. It’s lovely…”
The man looked near tears. “It’s the light in The Lace Maker that I am trying to create and surpass. Vermeer nearly achieved what I am seeking.”
Suddenly understanding, I sank to the bench. “Alex? Does this have something to do with what we spoke of the last time? The visions you experienced?”
His face brightened as he gave a delighted laugh. “Yes! I’m so glad you see. A very special light permeates, suffuses these canvases. To me it speaks of another place or dimension. Don’t you see, Jamie? Vermeer’s getting closer to my visions…the ones I saw when I was so sick as a child.”
He sat down close beside me. Almost breathless, he said, “At times there were so many visions above my bed that I felt like I was in a butterfly sanctuary. You know- where those beautiful creatures flutter about and land on a flower or a finger….they filled the room and they made me think that I was in another place…not there in my room…nor any other place on this earth.”
I stared at him for a long moment. “Alex! I think you see the world in a very special way…differently from other people who do not have your creative genius. Your ability to envision is your real gift.”
“You don’t think me mad, do you?”
I shook my head slowly. “No! Of course not! But not everyone has your gifts. Not everyone can see as you do.”
“You know Jamie! I’m convinced something lies beyond or behind or underneath all the things in this world…I can almost see it in that light.” He hunched his into his collar and whispered, “I want to paint and to capture that light and bring it into this world for everyone to see. But I need to be able to express it coming through the physical objects and people in this world.”
I smiled broadly. “You have my word, Alex. I’ll help you any way I can.”
Alex looked relieved.“That’s my task Jamie and I want you to help me. I need you to understand what I’m trying to accomplish.”
Both of us turned toward the sound of footsteps coming through the doorway of the hall. The guard said, “Closing time at the gallery, gentlemen.” We both got up and left.
I tell you this story so that you will understand what drove Alexander throughout his magnificent, entire artistic career. Alex found his share of dead ends, mind you. But rarely did he lose his vision of what he called the beyond. I wrote The Trilogy of Remembrance in homage to that vision. Alex’s story encompasss much moe than the development of his art. There are many dark and dangerous episodes in Alex’s life story. But you will be amazed at the power of his passionate and hungry spirit for life.
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