Saturday, 5 November 2016

Music of the Thames

Symphony in Yellow

"An omnibus across the bridge
Crawls like a yellow butterfly,
And, here and there, a passer-by
Shows like a little restless midge.
Big barges full of yellow hay
Are moored against the shadowy wharf,
And like a yellow silken scarf,
The thick fog hangs along the quay.
The yellow leaves begin to fade
And flutter from the Temple elms,
And at my feet the pale green Thames
Lies like a rod of rippled jade."

Poems, 1881  Oscar Wilde

Claude Monet must have seen similar views across the Thames when he was staying at the Savoy Hotel in the autumn of 1899 and the winters of 1900 and 1901, but this view upriver towards the Houses of Parliament was seen from his fifth floor balcony, not from the Embankment.

"… the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry…" J.M. Whistler

 Charing Cross Bridge  Claude Monet, 1899, completed 1902
© National Museum of Cardiff, Wales

Monet and Whistler had met in Paris, where both exhibited impressionist paintings in the Salon des Refuses of 1863.  The much younger Wilde, just down from Oxford, met Whistler in London in 1881,  and fell under the influence of this artistic circle.  It was fashionable to give paintings musical names, hence his poem title "Symphony". 

Wilde's 'yellow butterfly' too is a reminder of Whistler's monogram on his Thames "Nocturne" series,   painted further upstream at Chelsea between 1866 and 1877.  Whistler called them his 'moonlights', until his patron Frederick Leyland suggested the poetical name 'Nocturne'.

Thames Nocturne, James McNeill Whistler, c. 1875
© Indianapolis Museum of Art

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