Aubrey Beardsley – Under the Hill. Chapter VII. 1894

How Tannhäuser awakened and took his morning ablutions in the Venusberg

Chapter VII. The Third Tableau of Das Rheingold

It is always delightful to wake up in a new bedroom. The fresh wall-paper, the strange pictures, the positions of doors and windows—imperfectly grasped the night before—are revealed with all the charm of surprise when we open our eyes the next morning.

It was about eight o’clock when Tannhäuser awoke, stretched himself deliciously in his great plumed four-post bed, murmured “What a pretty room!” and freshened the frilled silk pillows behind him. He lay back in his bed and nursed his waking thoughts, and stared at the curious patterned canopy above him. He was very pleased with the room, which certainly was chic and fascinating, and recalled the voluptuous interiors of the elegant amorous Baudouin.

He thought of the Romaunt de la Rose, beautiful, but all too brief.

Of the Claude in Lady Delaware’s collection.

Of a wonderful pair of blonde trousers he would get Madame Belleville to make for him.

Of Saint Rose, the well known Peruvian virgin; how she vowed herself to perpetual virginity when she was four years old; how she was beloved by Mary, who, from the pale fresco in the Church of Saint Dominic, would stretch out her arms to embrace her; how she built a little oratory at the end of the garden and prayed and sang hymns in it till all the beetles, spiders, snails and creeping things came round to listen; how she promised to marry Ferdinand de Flores, and on the bridal morning perfumed herself and painted her lips, and put on her wedding frock, and decked her hair with roses, and went up to a little hill not far without the walls of Lima; how she knelt there some moments calling tenderly upon Our Lady’s name, and how Saint Mary descended and kissed Rose upon the forehead and carried her swiftly into heaven.

He thought of the splendid opening of Racine’s Britannicus.

Of a strange pamphlet he had found in Venus’s library, called A Plea for the Domestication of the Unicorn.

Of the Bacchanals of Sporion.

Of love, and of a hundred other things.

Through the slim parting of the long flowered window curtains, he caught a peep of the sun-lit lawns outside, the silver fountains, the bright flowers, the gardeners at work, and beneath the shady trees some early breakfasters, dressed for a day’s hunting in the distant wooded valleys.

“How sweet it all is,” exclaimed the Chevalier, yawning with infinite content; “and what delightful pictures,” he continued, wandering with his eyes from print to print that hung upon the rose-striped walls. Within the delicate curved frames lived the corrupt and gracious creatures of Dorat and his school; slim children in masque and domino smiling horribly, exquisite letchers leaning over the shoulders of smooth doll-like girls and doing nothing in particular, terrible little Pierrots posing as mulierasts or pointing at something outside the picture, and unearthly fops and huge birdlike women mingling in some rococo room lighted mysteriously by the flicker of a dying fire that throws great shadows upon wall and ceiling. One of the prints showing how an old marquis practised the five-finger exercise, while in front of him his mistress offered her warm fesses to a panting poodle, made the Chevalier stroke himself a little.

  • The chef d’œuvre, it seems to me, of an adorable and impeccable master, who more than any other landscape-painter puts us out of conceit with our cities, and makes us forget the country can be graceless and dull and tiresome. That he should ever have been compared unfavourably with Turner—the Wiertz of landscape-painting—seems almost incredible. Corot is Claude’s only worthy rival, but he does not eclipse or supplant the earlier master. A painting of Corot’s is like an exquisite lyric poem, full of love and truth; whilst one of Claude’s recalls some noble eclogue glowing with rich concentrated thought.

Aubrey Beardsley, 1872 – 1898

Under the Hill, 1894

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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