Proud of the Peacock
Entry 33 August 23, 2015
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a new entry, all the way back to February. I started something for the blog back in June, but then I got sidetracked. Since then, I’ve been doing pretty well with looking at paintings in my Louvre book, The Louvre: All the Paintings. I’ve done 27 in August, and I did 35 in July, but I’ve only thought about some possible blog entries, not actually started one.
When I got the book as a present in 2012, I decided to go one by one through all its 3,022 paintings. This project led me to start the blog the following year. This is the beginning of the second week of the project’s fourth year. I’m currently at 1,028 paintings, which means that at this rate I’ll be done in another six years or so. Although simple multiplication suggests that I’m right on track, my numbers are actually a little discouraging because I have often adjusted my daily practice in hopes of speeding up the process. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it; I do. It’s just that things keep working against what I thought of as a modest hope of spending half an hour a day learning a little more about art and also staying connected to the Louvre.
My job is the biggest obstacle–I was on sabbatical in 2012 when I got the book and the idea for my big project, followed by the blog. But the blog has certainly also slowed me down. Whenever I’ve decided to write something, it’s always gotten in the way of my plan to check out a new painting every day.
But yesterday’s painting, Peacock and Farmyard Birds (ca. 1650) by Adrien van Utrecht (1599-1652), interested me so much that I decided to risk my recent painting statistics in favor of writing something for the blog.
What usually slows me down when I’m writing an entry is that I wish to know more than either my book or the Louvre website has to say about a painting; this is especially true for a painting that is the only one in the collection from the work of a lesser known painter. The search for additional information has taken me all sorts of place. This time, what I wanted to know was something more about peacocks.
I don’t have lots of peacock experience, but I have looked them in the eye, outside the animal enclosures, several times at the Metro Toronto Zoo, and Van Utrecht’s peacock didn’t look right to me. Although the other birds, especially the ones with white feathers, were striking, the peacock was hard to see, almost lost in a shadow occupying the center of the painting. I knew it might not be Van Utrecht’s fault, of course; I’m working with reproductions, and I’ve occasionally found that the museum website reproduction of a painting is much clearer, and brighter, than the book version, especially the small ones of large canvases. Still, even the better view on the website, which I’m including a copy of here, suggests that the peacock Van Utrecht painted didn’t look much like the one I photographed at the zoo. The eyes on the tail are dark spots, rather than royal blue, and the bird’s torso is too slender and too navy-colored.
It’s been four centuries, of course; peacocks may have changed. If anyone has some information on how breeding has transformed the species, send it along. If you’ve seen the painting in person, and perhaps reproduced it with truer renderings of its colors, send your photo along. In the meantime, here are the two peacocks, Van Utrecht’s and mine. My photo comes from 2012, near the large refreshment stand in the Africa area, which this peacock seemed to have a special fondness for. A screeching voice and a rather imperious stare, but still quite lovely.