One of my favourite paintings, Vermeer’s Girl Reading A Letter at an Open Window, has been revealed to be something other than what we have all grown to know.
Recent restoration has shown that the blank white wall in the background originally contained a large picture of Cupid, probably indicating that the letter in question was a love missive.
“Behind [the girl] there was an empty white wall. But in 2017, we started with a big restoration and research project to do the restoration of the painting,” Uta Neidhardt, senior curator at Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, Germany.
Laboratory tests indicate the overpainting was done about 70 years after the painting was completed, and after Vermeer’s death in 1675. One theory is that the picture had been attributed to Rembrandt and the cupid was removed as it was not a detail usually associated with Rembrandt; the alteration thus added to the valuable — but wrong — attribution when the painting was presented to a Saxon prince in the 1740s.
Today would have been the 107th birthday of Dylan Thomas, one of the finest writers (for me, perhaps, the finest) of the generation before mine.
Thomas was very popular when I was a boy and I was lucky enough to be in two different productions of “Under Milk Wood“, as well as doing a solo turn reciting large sections of “A Child’s Christmas“. For decades, at least into my 40s, much of my own work was highly derivative of Thomas’ style, with aggregations of melodious adjectives cascading through the sing-song lilt of a Welshman speaking English.
He was a master poet, able to craft the most exquisite sonnets and villanelles, difficult forms to manage, concerning both the ordinary and extraordinary things of life and death. “The Force That Through The Green Fuse“, “Fern Hill“, and his paean to his father’s death, “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night“, are sublime beyond measure..
His mastery of prose was equally fine, shown best in “A Child’s Christmas In Wales” which needs to be heard as read by the poet himself.
And then there is the extraordinary masterpiece, the radio play “Under Milk Wood“.in which Thomas’ talent, both as a writer and as an observer of rambunctious village life, are shown to the full. If you can get a chance to listen to the Richard Burton version, then that is an experience not soon forgotten.
Thomas didn’t think much of being Welsh, let’s be frank about it. And in just a couple of weeks we will celebrate the 68th anniversary of his sorry and inebriated death at the early age of 39. But he was an original, a genius, and I suspect he got more out of his 39 years than most of us do with three-score-and-ten.