Skip to content

Sister Wendy – B – Part 1

Hello there.

It has been awhile since I regaled you with my findings from the A surnames that Sister Wendy features in her wonderfully massive book 1000 Masterpieces. Okay okay, so it’s actually been 4 months, sue me! But I can’t exactly sit at my desk at work and discreetly flip through this GIGANTIC hardback textbook. I actually prefer to embarrass B by lugging it around when we go to the pub… which is obviously a very productive atmosphere. (Sadly, it is a productive atmosphere during Dry January where everything is sad and cold and productive and dry.)

I digress! Now, there are about a gagillion Bs featured (not to be confused with the ‘B’ that is my husband), so I’m just going to hit you up with my highlights from the first half of this section. Ready, set, art!

Section B, Section B, I’m Gonna Tell Ya ‘Bout Section B

New to Me:


Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas, 1954

Ahhhhhhhhh what the hell is this?! It’s Francis Bacon, baby! This painting is so disturbing, and it reminds me of something out of Utopia (which I highly recommend, btw). Of Bacon, Sister Wendy says, ‘He professed to see no hope, and yet his very life is a denial of such despair, because creativity can never really come without some belief in the meaning of what is created.’ How wise and very true is that? Interestingly, Sister W points out that this painting was inspired by two other masterpieces (oddly both from the 17th century). Apparently, the ‘screaming pope’ is a reoccurring image in many of Bacon’s paintings, and the idea is drawn from his memory of Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X. The sides of beef encaging the papal chair are rendered from Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef. If you check out both of these works (featured below) I think you will find the connections are clear — clear in a murky, dark, terrifying, and maniacal sort of a way. Awesome!

Good to Me:

The Ancient of Days by William Blake, etching with watercolour, pen, and ink on paper, 1824

How marvellous is this? This image was actually the wallpaper on my phone lockscreen for much of 2016 and it reminds me quite a bit of the work my cousin does in watercolour. I’ve always loved Blake’s poetry, and I find his visual contributions to be intriguing–fevered, unique, and very strange for the late 18th/early 19th century. Sister Wendy explains that Blake ‘lived on the cusp of sanity but he did so with such intensity that that cusp has fascinated us ever since.’ O would that my cusp fascinated! She also interestingly notes, ‘Only the flying locks of hair and beard suggest that God, too, need not stay within his self-imposed prison, but could fly out from that sinister red that shuts him in and move into the mystery of the dark — that world of the spirit, of the unimprisoned imagination, which Blake regarded as the truest happiness.’

Bad to Me:

The Motif: Giraffe by Georg Baselitz, oil on canvas, 1989

Well, this tiny thumbnail was unfortunately THE ONLY image I could find of this atrocity to show you. Sister Wendy, what you thinkin, girl?! The more I look at this painting, the more I dislike it. It looks like a 4th grade art project — but worse! I mean, I guess it is stirring up strong emotions (of hate) in me so … that’s… something? That’s… its… purpose? It’s just hard for me to step back and not compare this shite to Jacopo Bassano on the adjoining page.

Apples and oranges, maybe — if the apples are real and the oranges are made of plastic and mangled in a blender and are just terrible. Sure, I’m being closed-minded, but it’s only my opinion after all!

Surprise to Me:

Journey on the Fish by Max Beckmann, oil on canvas, 1934

This one unexpectedly struck me. It’s one of the those paintings where the more you look at it, the more you see it. For me, the painting is chiefly about intimacy and vulnerability. If you can make sense of it, the image reveals two lovers strapped to the back of a pair of fish, getting ready to take the plunge into lovemaking. Each lover holds the mask of the other, the masks having been removed in preparation for the intimacy about to be shared. Sister Wendy points out that the female’s private face is far more beautiful than the profile of the mask she presents for public consumption. Conversely, the man hides his face almost in pre-coital shame. I think it’s quite beautiful.

Mockable to Me:

The Three Ages of Man and Death by Hans Baldung, oil on wood, c. 1510

YOU’RE WELCOME FOR THE NIGHTMARES. Jiminy crickets everything is horrible in the world. Is that a dead baby? And why is everyone grotesquely deformed and terrifying and naked? And what does that owl want? Let’s see what Sister Wendy has to say about it…

Oh interesting–it seems that ol’ Balshit was a woman-hater. Sis W explains, ‘Baldung had a neurotic fear of women, and in depicting them he would often invoke the form of a witch, a creature with an evil and uncanny power over men.’ Apparently, ‘it pleased Baldung to explore the passage of life and death using the form of woman. His point seems to be not so much that the child grows to a young woman and then to an old woman and then death comes with the hourglass and all is over, but that women in themselves are deceitful and will not accept the mortality of the body. […] The owl, a symbol of wisdom but also of the witch, rolls its eyes at us as if to implore our patience with the folly of such creatures.’

Don’t roll your eyes at me, misogynistic owl! Jeez! In short, I guess Balshit needed to get laid and see what a naked woman actually looked like.

Phewfffff! Thus ends Part 1 of my overview of artists with B surnames as revered by Sister Wendy. Hopefully Part 2 will come before another 4 months hath passed! In the meantime, stay tuned for more intriguing medieval herstory next week.

I didn’t really have any remarkable ‘B’ words on my list of potential Weekes Words to mark the occasion, so we’re going look at word that makes good use of that aforementioned letter.

Nabob: from the Hindi navāb and Urdu nawāb, from Arabic nuwwāb, plural of nā’ib (governor) and came into English usage as nawab -> nawbob -> nabob. Meaning (historically) a provincial governor of the Mogul empire in India. And more generally a person of conspicuous wealth or high status. Ex: A nabob in nature but pauper in practice, Weekes doggedly took her place in the valley of the shadow of books and set to work on Grub Street.

4 thoughts on “Sister Wendy – B – Part 1 Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: