Wednesday, 25 June 2014


The fashion these days seems to be for taking selfies on one's phone.   My mobile is an ancient one - one of the first to come out I think - and has no sophisticated things like taking photographs.  I leave that to my digital camera.   But folk speak about selfies as though they are a modern invention.

But of course they are not.   Artists have been doing self-portraits of themselves for generations.  Those of Rembrandt and Van Gogh stand out  as being particularly memorable.  I always feel that Rembrandt tended to flatter himself (although he didn't do wonders for his skin tone) whereas Van Gogh either emphasised his haunted looks or really was at death's door.

But there is one in particular that I absolutely love.   I found it on the internet a couple of weeks ago and I have searched and searched for it again but I can't find it.   But what I have found is a poem about it by Billy Collins the American poet (born 1942 and twice Poet Laureate).

This afternoon is our monthly Poetry afternoon and I intend to read the poem 'Candle Hat' by Billy Collins.

Goya always wanted to keep painting well into the night but, of course, with such limited light in those days, he couldn't do it.   So he invented a hat with candles round the brim.  Collins's poem is so amusing - do try to read it.

So come on Tom (Tom Stephenson on my side bar), with your collection of candlesticks I am sure you could fashion something which would cut down greatly on electricity bills this coming winter!


Heather said...

I don't have a mobile phone at all, not even an old one. I am happy being a dinosaur! I don't like having my photograph taken and certainly wouldn't take selfies, even if I could.
I love the idea of a candle hat, but would one be safe for use by a textile artist?!

Tom Stephenson said...

When I bought my latest phone, it came up with instructions on how to take a selfie.

"Look into the lens and follow the instructions on the screen" it said.

Trouble is, there is only one lens - on the front - so you can't do both at the same time.

Cro Magnon said...

Have you seen Stanley Spencer's wonderful self portrait; it's in The Tate, but you will find it on-line too.

Elizabeth said...

I hope this will reproduce.
Billy Collins is wonderful!

Candle Hat

In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrant looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
"Come in, " he would say, "I was just painting myself,"
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

billy collins

angryparsnip said...

Tom, I don't know what phone you have but look on top of the screen and tap the camera symbol with the arrows around it.
Unless you were making a funny then don't do it.

cheers, parsnip

Gwil W said...

Lots of great Billy Collins poetry videos about.

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm not sure I agree with you about Rembrandt — but post a selfie, Pat! You have to now :)

MorningAJ said...

My phone isn't ancient but it's not modern either. I don't do selfies. I don't really understand the point.

Terry and Linda said...

I don't do selfies...ever. The camera would break, the phone would break...then I would be so sad!


thousandflower said...

I found it by googling Goya Candle Hat and clicking on images. What a wonderful picture.

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