Where Prose and Paint Meet
Inspired by the work of R. B. Kitaj (American, 1932–2007) and the special exhibition R. B. Kitaj: Don’t Listen to the Fools—which opens tomorrow—we are beginning a series of posts that highlights artworks derived from or inspired by the written word. Throughout his career, Kitaj explored the relationships between prose, poetry, and art, often featuring literary subjects or settings in his paintings. He took a more straightforward approach with “In Our Time: Covers for a Small Library After the Life for the Most Part,” a portfolio of fifty screen prints based on enlarged photographs of the covers of books in his personal library.
William Holbrook Beard (American, 1824–1900) is best known for his allegorical and satirical paintings featuring animals such as cats, dogs, bears, horses, and monkeys in humorous situations. His paintings—which were intended to represent man’s foibles and follies—were highly popular due to nineteenth-century America’s taste for amusing anecdotal scenes, but they were also criticized for their blatantly critical analysis of society. For inspiration, Beard often turned to both high and low forms of literature. The March of Silenus, ca. 1862 (pictured), is like a page from Greek mythology come to life. Aimed to expose a more vulgar side of human nature, the painting features a procession of animals accompanying a rotund bear, Silenus, who, in Greek mythology, is the companion of Dionysis, the god of wine and merriment. Here, Silenus saunters through the forest surrounded by a troupe of bacchanalian bears and goat-satyrs.