“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” –T.S. Eliot
Every April, as winter and spring fight it out, and a Lenten-like mood she calls “Melancholy April” hangs on too long, LW thinks of this line from Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. And every April she packs her camera and hits the streets in search of an image she feels captures this mood: delicate spring blossoms juxtaposed against walls of stone or brick. As with the flower-against-stone imagery typical of cemeteries (see her recent Bonaventure Cemetery photographs), she finds these vignettes evoke both pathos and hope, as well as memory and desire.
Melancholy April usually crests around the anniversary of the Good Friday when Lincoln was shot (April 14), which she marked this year by reading another poem that mixes memory and desire, Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. (Yes, I know this photograph shows wisteria, not lilacs, neither of which is yet in bloom here, but I think it captures a similar feeling.) LW was in the grips of this mood when she spotted a new book last week called The Melancholy Art by Michael Ann Holly*, a short, scholarly work about the writing of art history. A photograph of the painting Christ Carrying the Cross by Giovanni Bellini in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston displayed with “a delicate bouquet of violets to the memory of her [Gardner’s] husband” [Holly, p. 125] graces the cover of the book. The violets, a vivid contrast to the somber umbers of the painting, struck her in the same way as her flowers-against-stone photographs.
LW has some interest in art history, but has never given much thought to the writing of art history. Nevertheless, she bought the book and she—and therefore, I (yes, I’m the invisible reader over the shoulder)–read it in a night. We learned that Isabella Gardner had acquired Bellini’s painting in the month that led up to her husband’s death. It is but one of numerous artworks and objects that she began to collect in the years following the earlier death of her beloved two year old son, Jackie. Her first acquisitions were paintings of the Madonna and child, but her interests became more eclectic over the years. Gardner eventually arranged for her private collection to be made into the museum that is now one of Boston’s beloved institutions.
We had just finished The Melancholy Art this past Monday, when Boston was hit by a terrorist attack that left other parents bereaving their children. The next day, the director of another of Boston’s museums, The Museum of Fine Arts, said in a statement, “We hope by opening the museum’s doors and offering free admission we will be a place of comfort, refuge, and peace.”