from “THE IRISH IMPRESSIONISTS”
ALOYSIUS O’KELLY, THE CHRISTENING PARTY (1908)
Family and friends have gathered in the pubto wet the baby’s head. Judging by their demeanourthey have been here for some time. The sound levelin the painting is as close as silence comesto shattering the barrier of the inaudible.The plump woman with her back to us is pacing herself,glass, three-quarters full, propped on her kneeunder the table, within sipping distance.Her companion has flung his arms wideto embrace the company. They are all of one mind.The child’s mother is wording the toastand the glasses are raised in the right direction.Soon Aunt Françoise will be as full as a tickand the pipe-smoker at the back is conjuring cloudsthat will fill the room and possibly empty the room.As for the baby, she may remember all thisas the Night of the Crazies in their crazy hats,and the clinking of glasses and the incomprehensible dinand the little barred window and her vantage pointin the crook of her mother’s arm.I wish I knew what they are drinking and whatname the child was given that day in 1908and how she fared in the next decade of a bloody century,much of the blood local. Set hindsight aside,accept that the moment shows her loved and protected.The chance to flourish may be the luck of her dear life,whatever we might imagine, whatever fear. [End Page 55]
STANHOPE FORBES, MISS ORMSBY, LATER MRS HOMAN (1879)
I met Miss Ormsby on her way to the studioto sit for Stanhope Forbes. She stopped to talk—the kind of talk that goes with an open face,intelligent eyes and—I flatter myself—a trust in the listener.She had toured the galleries, studying the portraits of women.‘Dulled and unsmiling’ was the phrase she used,whether society wives, or working girls, or Breton peasants,or dancers, or mothers with their children.They hardly ever looked directly at the painter.Were they really so passive? And were these mattersshe might broach with Mr Forbes? She is to marryyoung Homan and joked about losing her name.I agreed that Ormsby was a melodious name,a mellifluous name, a name you could set to music,but assured her that Homan was solid and promised much:the weight of the dependable, for example,and a domesticated husband. Warmed and stimulatedby this agreeable nonsense, we said our farewells.Months later, when I saw the portrait, she was not smilingbut a smile was in the offing. She was directand lively in her way and lovely. Something ascetic there also.The painter, lifted by his subject, had missed nothing—the hair, the eye-brows, the white, three-flowered brooch,worn as though she might be a memberof a confident new order. Young Mr Homanwill have his work cut out. Lucky, lucky Mr Homan. [End Page 56]
WALTER OSBORNE, APPLE GATHERING, QUIMPERLE (1883)
Tears for the green orchards of northern Francebefore the two world wars, their apple-rich largessebound ripely to the sap and to the sunin fertile villages. At Quimperle,two girls are harvesting a tree bent sidewaysby the weight of apples, one wielding a long stickto bring them to earth, the other in her wake,bending to gather. Just now their backs are turnedto the blockish bell-tower on the hill.They seem composed in their rough working clothes,‘traditional costume’ put to practical use,and are aiming to fill that barrow with a freshcargo of apples. The promise of baking and brewingis a scent in the air, and the prospect of rest,after, say, one more tree, is partly what keeps them going.Each of them will wipe an apple on her dressand close her eyes and eat it slowlyuntil the ringing of the angelus bellsets them moving to the next tree. Now their work has a taste,now they can taste the work of the orchardand will soon, for all we know, begin...