Wednesday, 18 February 2015

George Herbert in his garden

George Herbert at Bemerton,  William Dyce 1860
© Guildhall Art Gallery, Corporation of London

Here Dyce presents the 17th century religious poet as a parson in his garden at Bemerton, Wilts., communing with God through Nature, as the trees are painted with all the accurate observation of the Pre-Raphaelites; for Herbert is not looking towards the distant spire of Salisbury Cathedral, but at something we do not see as he does.

Although Dyce is probably best known for his painting of Pegwell Bay, in the Tate Gallery, he also painted many religious subjects, often putting Biblical figures in a British landscape.  Here the carefully detailed lute and the fishing creel may refer to earthly pleasures left aside, (Herbert was reputed to have 'a very good hand on the lute') but the scene seems more in accord with the character of Herbert's biographer,  that 'compleat angler', Izaak Walton, who could take the poet's place in the composition with a change of costume.
An odd way of portraying George Herbert,  for the composition could almost stand without him,  but Dyce was a High Churchman, and does capture that sense of stillness in the landscape which accords with Herbert's metaphysical poetry.

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