There’s a painting that lies at the heart of That Summer, a painting hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe in a house in the suburbs of London.
(And, just because life does imitate art sometimes, a month or so after I handed in the final version of this book, an article appeared in The Guardian— about a lost Pre-Raphaelite painting found hidden behind an old wardrobe in a house in the suburbs of London.)
The painting in That Summer is a rendition of the Tristan and Iseult story, one of the many Arthurian legends painted by the Preraphaelites.
To show you just a few, here’s Waterhouse:
And Blair Leighton:
The painting my heroine finds borrows from these, but it’s rather different. Here’s what Julia, my modern heroine, sees when she discovers the painting:
It wasn’t a portrait, or a landscape, or someone’s beloved pug dogs. It was a story scene, knights and maidens and feasting. At the center, the king dined at the high table. Julia cleverly deduced his position both from his seat at the center of the table and the rather conspicuous circlet on his brow. He was surrounded by fawning courtiers, all leaning towards him.
In the foreground, however, a man and a woman stood in a window embrasure, the only ones not paying attention to their monarch. Their focus was fixed on each other, their eyes yearning, while their hands were locked around a golden goblet they held between them. Although they were off to the side and the king’s trestle table in the center, the artist had worked it cleverly so that the attention was immediately drawn to the clandestine couple—including the King’s. His goblet was raised in a toast but his eyes had slid sideways. He was watching the man and woman and he didn’t like what he saw.
It was all pure Preraphaelite, the stained glass windows, the pennants flaring from the beams, the colorful doublets of the courtiers. The lady wore a long gown with a dropped waist in a rich, sapphire blue. Her hair wasn’t the usual Preraphaelite red, but a dark, dark brown, nearly black. It fell unbound to her waist, held only by the golden circlet at her brow.
Why this particular composition? Why had it been hidden away like that? And– even more intriguing for Julia– why did the Iseult in the painting bear such a striking resemblance to the portrait of the prim Victorian lady in the drawing room?
To learn more, you’ll just have to read the book!
Which is your favorite of these Tristan and Iseult paintings?