Apparently, nothing says 'Happy Christmas' like bricking in a stranger's car window. We woke up to that delight this morning and so for Christmas I'm getting a new rear passenger window. Lucky me. Let's turn our minds to angels...
|Winged Figure (1889) Abbot Henderson Thayer|
Abbot Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) was an American artist with a passion for birds. Instead of specialising in our feathered friends, he is now best known for his paintings of angels with the most amazingly realistic wings. Eccentric, unorthodox and a bit experimental, his idealised feminine figures belie the strange ways in which he worked. He mixed dirt into the paint and used different things to apply the paint, resulting in works that are both ethereal and very human.
His first angel painting was of his daughter, Mary, stood in front of a board with wings nailed to it. There is an unmistakable rigidity to the image which is startling. Possibly because the image was known to be of his daughter, many critics found the work to be sentimental and saccharine, but I find it a strange mix of strength and ruffle-y softness.
|A Winged Figure (1904-13)|
Each of Thayer's angels are different, some soft, some more majestic and some a little frightening. The wings are very impressive and give the impression of actual, working appendages capable of carrying these figures. Thayer's interest in wildlife and close study of natural life resulted in a book on animal coloration which influenced the development of military camouflage, although his work was mocked by some.
|Thayer as a child, with an owl|
Thayer is one of those artists who is probably virtually unknown outside their own country and not as well known within it as they used to be. The very fulsome page on Wikipedia shows an impressive and varied career, but it could be that those criticisms of sentiment still put people off. The nonsense of opinion can often be taken as fact and can stop artists finding their footing, even postmortem.
|A Study for the Stevenson Memorial (1903)|
I had never really considered how the wings of angels were painted, but great swan wings are wide enough and look the part. It is interesting to think of a painter of nature expanding into figures, winged figures, because you tend to think it would be the other way round. For Thayer, wings on a figure spoke of the soul, of the spirit, the piece of us that can take flight and be unrestrained. It has also been suggested that the wings might refer to grief, as in the above study for a memorial for Robert Louis Stevenson. Thayer knew about grief, and he suffered from mental illness and severe panic attacks that could be argued to have hampered his career. Possibly he was attracted to the notion of soaring free, away from the physical restraints and pains of an earthly life. Maybe for Thayer, angels are just people who have discovered the key to a peaceful life and become one with their spirit. Maybe that's why he called a good number of his works 'winged figure' rather than 'angel'. It is a mental aspiration rather than a mythical creature, a state of mind to be reached, but possibly for Thayer, never attained.
|Sharon Stone as Abbott Handerson Thayer's Winged Figure|