Friday, August 7, 2020

The joys of wealth and privilege

The other day the weather was so beautiful it put me in mind of one of the most charming paintings in all of Western art: "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," by John Singer Sargent. It depicts two little girls in white dresses lighting Japanese lanterns. They're in a beautiful garden, surrounded by lilies and roses. It evokes all the loveliness of a summer evening.  

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent, 1886. Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), Photo © Tate Gallery, UK Tate Gallery Website

Some years ago I had a memorable experience wherein 4 of the 5 senses were delighted by a soft summer night. I'd gone outdoors to retrieve the cat for the night. The frogs in a nearby pond were performing their nightly chorale; the Western sky at the horizon was that soft, tender blue of the last rays of the sun; fragance of flowers and grasses were wafting by on a gentle breeze. I picked up the cat and buried my face in his soft, thick fur.

I was in that perfect state of bliss when all the environmental conditions unite to nourish and support homo sapiens sapiens. I'm sure the little girls who modeled for Sargent's painting felt it too.

But looking at the painting now, after all that's gone down recently, I realized how privileged one must be to have a garden, Japanese lanterns, and little girls who are healthy and well-fed. Hell, it's a privilege to have a cat. There are those who, if they ever got their hands on a Japanese lantern, would sell it to buy food. Their kids don't wear crisp white dresses, they make do with ratty T-shirts and jeans. They don't have a pot to piss in, let alone a garden.

Sargent worked during the Gilded Age, when the heiresses he painted went to England and bought themselves husbands from the impoverished nobility. Wealth can afford beauty. Perhaps someday everybody can.

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