Midsummer – a celebration in painting and verse

20th June 2017
How do you celebrate midsummer and the solstice? In parts of northern Europe it is marked by parties and bonfires - the feast day of St. John - which is bound up with all kinds of earlier pagan festivities to mark the longest days that occur at this time.
nocturnal scene at midsummer with people celebrating around bonfire - Midsummer's Eve
Bonfire on Skagen's Beach, Peder Severin Krøyer (1851–1909).
In England, a lively assortment of modern-day druids, pagans and various others descend upon the circle of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, since on midsummer's day the sun rises in alignment with the stones - an ancient observatory of the seasons.
old painting of stonehenge - large standing circle of stones
Stonehenge by John Constable (1776-1837).
But it's not just old ideas and traditions. In recent years, in the unlikely location of New York's Times Square, people gather for a dawn-to-dusk session of yoga. Meanwhile, in alpine regions such as Austria, yet more bonfires and social get-togethers of various sorts take place on mountain tops with panoramic views. Lots of people love the bright and vibrant colours of summer, particularly artists. It seems to have been a permanent fixture in some of the most beloved paintings of the Impressionist era.
painting of woman in white dress with parasol in sunshine
Claude Monet - Study of a figure Outdoors.

The al-fresco life

Personally, I have always failed to appreciate the attractions of excessively hot dry weather. But admittedly it is a rare opportunity (especially in the English climate) to get together with family and friends outdoors, for Al fresco dining and generally merriment.
group seated at table outdoors in celebratory moodPeder Severin Krøyer
Kunstnerfest in Skagen, 1888.
Cheers! What a delightful painting! The title means something like 'the artists' party.' Everyone seems so wonderfully happy and yet civil at the same time. What a fine fellow Mr Krøyer must have been and to have had so many lovely friends!

Alternatively, long summer days can be a time for contemplation and quiet (ah, now you're talking my language!). A time for chilling out and sitting quietly with a good book. Like this chap:
painting of man in bow tie seated outdoors at table reading book
The painter Alfred James Mullings, by Harold Knight.
What a superb painting this is. But I wonder what is happening - that outstretched hand? Either the gentleman wants you to listen to a startling revelation he has discovered in his book, or else someone's just made off with his glass of Pinot Grigio.
linking banner with red text on black background
Ah Summer! In many ways, we do most of us wish it could last forever, all these hot lazy days - but we know, too, that nothing would ever get done that way. Just like us humans, the seasons must alter and transform, one into the other. Whatever your preferences, wishing you all a lovely time on this the summer Solstice. Here is a little piece of Shakespeare at his summer-best.
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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