Print of the month: Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997) Homage to Verlaine (Chanson d’automne)

Autumn is upon London, the daylight is cool, leaves are falling and the chilly breezes have drifted in. Homage to Verlaine (Chanson d’automne) perfectly captures this seasonal change. Chanson d’automne translates as Autumnal Song – and as part of the poet Paul Verlaine’s Sad Landscapes compilation it captures the nostalgia and melancholy of the Autumn season.

The poem which is included in the print’s foreground in the grey book translates as:

 

With long sobs

the violin-throbs

of autumn wound

my heart with languorous

and monotonous sound.

Choking and pale

when I mind the tale

the hours keep,

my memory strays

down other days

and I weep;

and I let me go

where ill winds blow,

now here, now there,

harried and sped,

even as a dead

leaf, anywhere.

The words of the poem immediately make the otherwise odd assortment of images readable as a direct visual representation of the poem. Homage to Verlaine shows to the left and right violins framing the composition, the violin on the left in reddish brown appears as if a tree trunk. The leaves fluttering downwards across the print appear as music notes throbbing in a steady monotonous flow from the violin, the movement of the leaves is also illustrative of the autumn wind. The threatening cloud and rain in the top right corner may represent tears. The flat perspective and abstract style of the objects makes the unusual still life composition appear aloof yet, the unseen movement, sounds and feelings of the subject matter reveal a startling contrast of lusty feeling.

This semi-abstract style or neatness is partly due to the medium of print as well as being characteristic of the artist Kenneth Rowntree’s style in the 1980’s. Kenneth Rowntree lived in Northumberland where he met George Stephenson the director of the Mid Northumberland Arts Group (MIDNAG). In 1984 Stephenson commissioned several artists to create prints using literature they admired to promote the group’s educational work. Whilst other artists such as Hugh MacDiarmid and Edward Thomas choose English poems, Kenneth Rowntree chose one of his favourite poems.

It is one of the best-known poems in the French language. On 1 June 1944, the BBC broadcast the opening lines of the poem “Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l’automne” as a signal to the French Resistance that the D-Day invasions were to begin with a fortnight. On 5 June the next lines “Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor” were broadcast to indicate that the invasion was to begin within forty-eight hours and that sabotage operations were to begin.

The screenprint is framed in a hand-finished limed-oak frame, and is available at £650. If you are interested please email info@manningfineart.co.uk or call 07929 749056.

2017-03-30T19:45:50+00:00 Categories: Uncategorised|