Wednesday, 16 December 2015

in the Company of Wolves

A mystical version of Santa Claus
from Arthur Rackham's Book of Pictures published in 1913.
This painting was done in 1907, pen, ink & watercolour on paper, and is in a Private Collection.
Photo © Chris Beetles Ltd, London / The Bridgeman Art Library

I've long been fascinated by the symbolism of the colour red in folklore and how this permeates into our daily life, often without us realising.  At this time of year if we think of red, it will be Santa Claus whose red costume springs to the mind of a lot of people.

Stag hook with red stone and red + blue wool blanket.
From Plumo.
There is something comforting about red in the dark winter months. The glow of a fiery hearth warming our homes and soft wool blankets and throws. And who does not love a red winter coat? Bright red ribbons tied around lovingly given Christmas presents. Shiny red glass ornaments hung on a tree, and the lush red berries of holy in wreaths, and dropped in the snow. If we are lucky enough to live where they do we may even see the Red Cardinal. Here in England we are charmed by the tiny but fierce Robin with it's red breast and he adorns many a Christmas card as well as being England's national bird.

Robin and holly
Red is a complex colour and has another, more dangerous side and many associations with myth and magic. As Autumn turns to Winter and the trees shake their colourful leaf cloaks to the ground my thoughts always turn to the woods. I love the architectural shape of bare trees and the idea that you may just glimpse something magical there in the woods which at other times of the year would be hidden to your view. We may dream of Unicorns, but If we are very lucky we might really see a White Hart. I often see the Deer who live in our local woods and I have seen the White Hart in the New Forest and in the royal hunting park near Hampton Court, Bushy Park. 

The Mystic Wood by John William Waterhouse
 But it is the Wolves which I secretly long for. Or at least a ribbon of red cloth, caught on a tree as if someone who had strayed from the path hurried past.

All colours have meanings and the power to change our moods. Red is not a colour for wall flowers, it is primal, capable of elicting extreme reactions. How we feel about red today began in the distant past when red was known as the color of fire and blood, associated with Mars the God of war,  and confusingly, both mahesty and liberty, therefore revolutions. It also symbolised passion as the colour of love, and of sin.

Tudor Rose, Elizabethan lady in red velvet,
Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester.
Both majesty and revolutions
Immortal passion. Gary Oldman in the red cloak of Dracula. Terrifying.

Even when used in small amounts it has a potent effect and a deep poignancy. Few colours can evoke such emotion.

This is a celebration of the colour red in a few of it's guises. The history and folklore of red has been academically covered by many and for those who wish to read more serious considerations I have included some links at the bottom of the page and am happy to add more should you know of good sources which I have left out.

I've collected lore about the colour red all of my life and am always delighted when another story appears where red is used. I do love them all.

Alas we have no snow this winter, it is just grey and very wet here in the English countryside. I long for that burst of red against a blanket of white, and this greyness inspired me to share some of my favourite reds.

Little Red Riding Hood
Sir John Everett Millais P.R.A.
The model is his daughter
oil on panel, 1864
35.5 by 25cm., 14 by 9¾in.
see bottom of page for details about this painting

Sarah Moon's rendition.
An urban black and white tale of dread.
The model is her daughter
Superb in it's simplicity.

Tribute to Red
from Surface View

The Red Hat, Charles A Buchel, 1910
Imagine winter nights in this

The lore of Apples.

Bette Davis wears a red ball gown in 1938 and ruins her reputation
as ladies should wear white

Scarlett O'Hara on the red stairs
Gone With The Wind 1939

Modern Folklore. David Hemmings drives past the red buildings in Blow Up, 1967.
Sammy Hagar pays tribute with his 'Red' album of the same street scene in 1977.

Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber, 1979
 new stories from the base of old ones
including In the Company of Wolves which became the Neil Jorden 1984 film

Red Shoes  & Ruby Slippers
The Red Shoes (film 1948), The Wizard Of Oz (film 1939)
Vianne from Chocolat (2000) & The Lollipop Shoes (2007) by Joanne Harris

For sheer poignancy, a real life story
The girl in the red coat
Schindler's List 1993

For some it may be difficult to chose a favourite tale which has red at it's heart, but not for me. Thankfully the legacy lives on as new storytellers weave tales of dread and delight around bright red tendrils.

Modern Red, in the Cotswolds
Have you guessed which tale of red might be my favourite? Yes, it is Little Red Riding Hood. I think the reasons that I like it so much are tied to the Arthur Rackham illustrations which I have had since I was a child. And I love the dual nature of red. I always wonder if this is one of the reasons that the French version with it's sad ending, and the Grimm's version with it's happy ending. both work.

Arthur Rackham
detail from She Met a Wolf
And, in a twist and colour deviation from the red hood there is another lesser known tale which insists that in fact the hood or cape was golden, and enchanted. Andrew Lang included it in his Red Fairy Book, 1890, and called it 'The True History of Little Goldenhood'. His tale was derived from the earlier work of Charles Marelles. This version claims that before now the story has been incorrectly told. Goldenhood is the girl's name as well as her cloak and she is saved not by the huntsman but by the hood which burns the mouth o the wolf as he tries to eat her. You can read this tale in full, follow the links below.

One version of Andrew Lang's Red Fairy Book
bought from Abe's Books Here:

The only known illustration from Golden Hood
you can see clearly she is wearing a hood
and not cloak with a hood.

I tried to photograph a few of my Red Riding Hood pieces which I have collected for years, but Puff the half kitten rather got in the way. She likes to lay amongst them and because she is a magic cat the camera always focusses correctly upon her and not other subjects.

Puff with my Red Riding Hood figures.

This is a detail of the small Staffordshire figure. The Wolf seems rather shy as he is hiding under Red's skirt. This figurine is quite old and has a crack running through the bottom. 

Small Staffordshire 'Red' detail
I like to display a Parrish Relic on the large Parian figure of Red. Jen Parrish uses antique images in her beautiful creations. This one has nothing to do with the tale of Red Riding Hood but I like to combine pieces of Wolf lore with that of Red Riding Hood. Parian is a soft clay and delicate. This piece is missing a paw and a handle of Red's basket. I still love her.

Parian Ware 'Red' adorned by a Parrish Relic of Wolves

My little Red
And a favourite of mine. Tortoiseshell and Calico cats are brave and fierce and like to play in the  woods, real or metaphoric. This little painting was a tribute of the artist to her own Calico who she lost, and to mine. It is very precious to me.

Further reading and sources:

Obviously any self respecting fan of Red, and of Wolves needs to read the tale as recorded firstly Charles Perrault, and later told and retold in different versions by the Brothers Grimm.  The earliest known printed version was called Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, by Charles Perrault and may have had its origins in 17th-century French folklore.  It is believed that it was he who introduced the red hood or cap, but it is not known whether this idea was his own, or came from folklore.

For the alternative tale, The True History of Little Golden Hood from The Red Fairy Book, read more on Tales Of Faerie  Here:and the complete tale on Sur La lune Fairytales Here:

I love the writing of author Joanne Harris and have read, and re-read all of her work. She weaves an intoxicating tale with subtle under and overtures. Her own website is Here:

Being a city girl originally I was immediately struck dumb (and captivated and frightened in equal parts) by the urban depiction of Sarah Moon's Red, Here:

Terri Windling who does not just write about the land of Faerie but embodies it has written so many informative and wondrous pieces on her blog, her article about Red, Here:

Kristin's wonderful site Tales of Faerie and her piece about Red. Here:

Article about Sammy Hagar's Red album and the Blow Up connection,

The Girl in the red coat, the real story, Here:

Parrish Relics own website, Here:

Surface View who offer wonderful art for your walls and home in all kinds of mediums,

Red Riding Hood by Sir John Everett Millais P.R.A.

This was sold at Sotheby's in a sale of British and Irish Art, 19 November 2013,for the amount of 98,500 GBP  including the hammer price with the buyer's premium.  
This note is from their catalogue of that sale.

"Painted in 1864, Red Riding Hood depicts the artist's eldest daughter Effie (later Mrs James), aged six, carrying a basket of vegetables and wild flowers, at the door of Grannie's house. It is one of a series of charming portraits of Effie, dressed in various costumes, including My First Sermon and My Second Sermon painted in 1863 and The Minuet of 1866 (private collection). He often used his daughters as models and Effie's sisters Mary and Carrie appear in Waking (Perth Art Gallery) and Sleeping (private collection) of 1865. As has been pointed out, 'With child models readily available Millais was able to give free expression to feelings of parental pride and joy, as well as offer comment on the growth of his offspring, with an eye on the market for endearing images of children.' (Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith, Millais, 2007, p.172) Millais was probably inspired to paint Red Riding Hood following the success of James Sant's Little Red Riding Hood of 1860 which had been printed in 1863 in the Illustrated London News as a large chromotype which resulted in the sale of vast numbers of the magazine. The subject was also painted by Watts and Landseer. The moment depicted by Millais captures the tension as Red Riding Hood is about to enter the house to find the wolf dressed in her grand-mother's clothes. However the horror and danger of the story that had been first told by Charles Perrault and retold by the Brothers Grimm, is only implied."
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