The Thinking 

Winter Scenes

February 10, 2013



I  have gotten great pleasure from the many landscapes and still lifes you have posted. I have copied virtually all of them to my photo album.

Here is one you may find attractive as I do. It’s by the American artist George Henry Durrie (1820-1863) and is titled Winter in the Country: A Cold Morning. It was recently posted at the website Laudator Temporis Acti, accompanied by the following poem by Charles d’Orléans, the French duke held in captivity in England during the Hundred Years War.

Nothing But a Lout

Charles d’Orléans (1394-1465), Rondel 333 (tr. R.N. Currey):

Winter, you’re nothing but a lout.
Summer is polite and gentle;
Only look how May and April
Accompany him day in, day out.
See how fields and woods and flowers
Wear his livery of verdure
And of many other colours
According to the rule of Nature;
But, Winter, you are all filled out
With snow and sleet and wind and drizzle;
It’s time we sent you into exile;
I never flatter, but speak out;
Winter, you’re nothing but a lout.

Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain,
Esté est plaisant et gentil,
En tesmoing de May et d’Avril,
Qui l’acompaignent soir et main.
Esté revest champs, bois et fleurs,
De sa livrée de verdure
Et de maintes autres couleurs,
Par l’ordonnance de Nature.
Mais vous, Yver, trop estes plain
De neige, vent, pluye et grezil;
On vous deüst banir en exil.
Sans point flatter, je parle plain,
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain.

Laura writes:

Thank you. That is a lovely scene by Durrie, whose paintings were reproduced as lithographs by Currier and Ives.

But the painting contradicts the view of winter expressed by d’Orléans, don’t you think? The painting depicts the austere beauty of a winter day and the obliterating quality of snow, not the villainous season described by the French duke.

I pity people who live in places like Florida without a cold winter. They never look out on the world hung with white drapery. Snow obliterates ugly details and gives the eye a rest. All the mud and dreariness of spring in northern climates is worth a single fresh snowfall, in my opinion. I also like dreary winter days when the sky is gray, when the bare branches have architectural grandeur and normal lamplight seems golden and miraculous. I would never send winter in exile.

Here is another scene by Durrie, of a sunnier winter day. It’s titled Going to Church.

Mr. Ebbecke writes:

I think that what makes the painting jibe with Orleans’ anti- winter poem is simply the lowering gray sky. I imagine the Duke wryly pointing to the scurrying human figure who can hardly wait to get indoors to mulled ale or hot cider.

That sky looks more than a tad loutish.

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