(The Sword, Alfred-Pierre Agache, 1896, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto)
"The Sword" by French painter Alfred-Pierre Agache is one of my favorite paintings of all time
May I say at the outset, this painting may not ring your personal bells.
It's dark and stark.
Some might even say that it's just this side of menacing.
Those thoughts and feelings are valid.
But stay with me for a few minutes and let's see where today's discussion takes us.
The woman in this artwork represents "justice."
How do we know?
The first clue is this:
She's wearing the "robe of justice" over her no-nonsense back gown.
This figure represents justice because she is wearing judge-like attire.
That's easy enough.
Do you know what I love about her regal-like costume?
It's that wide, waist-cinching leather belt.
And let's not forget those finely gloved hands.
The fingers of both hands are clenched tightly inside the worn leather.
These are more clues that tell us this woman means exactly what she says.
"Justice" stares directly at her viewers.
With a calm and steady assurance.
Agache wants us to look at those deep set, piercing eyes.
And that full-on, frontal gaze.
How do we know?
Check out that magnificent sateen ribbon encircling our lady's head and neck.
Acting as a halo, it draws our attention to her face.
You'll have to trust me on this but that golden ribbon stands out like nothing else in Agache's painting.
The artist wants us to notice this woman's haunting face.
Make no mistake.
It is the sword bearer who is speaking to us in this painting.
That being true, the sword is an unmistakable presence.
It's metallic gleam slices horizontally across the painting.
It rests upon the sturdy lap of "Justice" who grips it tightly with her right hand.
The sword's hilt (handle) lies at the far left of the painting.
It's highlighted by the scarlet fabric which covers the seat where "Justice" sits.
There's nothing quite like a shot of blood red color to bring us to attention, is there?
That dark, mottled green is the perfect backdrop for our subject.
As is the veined marble pedestal our lady's food rests upon
All of these painterly devices tell us that this is a serious painting.
Not one to be taken lightly.
I don't know what "Justice" says to you.
But to me she is saying:
"I WILL DISPENSE PUNISHMENT IF I HAVE TO. LET THIS SWORD BE A REMINDER THAT JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL."
The model for "Justice" is Evelyn Beatrice Hall.
Ms. Hall wrote under the male pseudonym Stephen G. Tallentyre.
Of course she did!
For the most part, women writers were not taken seriously in her day.
Hall was an English writer best known for her biography of French philosopher Voltaire.
She finished writing "The Friends of Voltaire" in 1906.
It was Hall who created the phrase: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
This statement is often misattributed to Voltaire himself.
Of course it is!
Anyone with two brain cells knows that only men possess the ability to think and write about serious subjects.
She used this phrase as an illustration of Voltaire's beliefs in her biography of him.
Today, Hall's quote is often used to describe the principle of freedom of speech.
I simply can't leave "Justice" without giving you more reasons why I love her.
The day Bob and I toured the Art Gallery of Ontario we were "museum pooped."
That means we were tired of walking through art museums.
One should not take this to mean, however, that we were tired of looking at art.
Let the record be known: I AM NEVER TOO TIRED TO LOOK AT ART!
On the above mentioned day, we walked into a large, brightly lit gallery and discovered "Justice" for the first time.
Up until that point, I had not known that "The Sword" existed.
I was immediately drawn to this work of art.
I stood in front of the painting and studied it for several minutes.
Why did "Justice" steal my mind and my heart?
In my opinion, this is one of the most majestic paintings ever created depicting a woman
This lady is not beautiful in the traditionally feminine sense of that word.
Her hair is - I'll be kind - unkempt.
Her classic Roman nose is a tad too large.
And her eyes are a little too close together.
She's not dressed in a frothy pastel frock dripping in jewels and flowers.
Her posture and clothing are - let's face it - masculine in nature.
I certainly don't.
When I went back to visit "Justice" for the fourth time on that fateful day, I stood in front of her and wept.
For me, "Justice" evokes the power, the intelligence and the inward strength of women.
This woman is not afraid to stand a part from the crowd and use her God-given skills and talents.
"Justice" knows who she is and she is secure in that knowledge.
She is unique among women and she knows it.
In fact, she feels honored by that fact.
I have struggled all my life to get exactly where she is in my own personal growth.
At the tender age of 65, I can finally say that I've made it.
And so when I gaze teary- eyed at "Justice" I see, at last, a kindred spirit.
May it ever be so.
And for all you kindred sisters in spirit.
(The following information on the life of Evelyn Beatrice Hall is taken from Wikipedia.)
"It appears that Evelyn Hall influenced the life of Hugh Stowell Scott who died in 1903. Upon his death, Scott willed 5,000 pounds to Hall. He wrote: "In token of my gratitude for her continued assistance and literary advice, without which I should never have been able to have made a living by my pen." Adjusting for inflation, this amounts to somewhere between 399,000 and 710,000 pounds in the year 2010."
"The Sword" is one of the most popular paintings in the Art Gallery of Ontario When it is taken off view and put in storage for brief periods of time, the AGO receives requests to bring it back to the gallery.
Evelyn, you rock!