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Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague

Still Life by Pieter Claesz appears simply to depict a feast. But by including the watch, Claesz reminds us of the concept of time; we notice the fine meal has been interrupted, and perhaps the dinner left unwillingly, and in a hurry.
Pieter Claesz, Still Life, 1643, oil on panel, The Eldridge C. Cooke Fund

Maria Sibylla Merian studied insects in the 18th century. She magnified the size of the insects and flower, so viewers can see all the details and experience the insects' world.
Maria Sibylla Merian, Caterpillars, Butterflies and Flower, 1705–71, hand-colored etching and engraving, The Minnich Collection, The Ethel Morrison Van DerLip Fund

The insects in this French still-life painting invite the viewer to look closer to see that things are not as they first appear. The butterflies and caterpillars allude to the impermanence of earthly things.
Abraham Mignon, Still Life with Fruits, Foliage and Insects, 1669, oil on canvas, Gift of Bruce B. Dayton

key idea
Microcosm & Macrocosm

Carrington was obsessed with details and precision in her work. She painted everything carefully, down to the feathery hair of the human characters and the translucent wings of the insects. But she is also concerned with big ideas. In Down Below, a personal account, she wrote: "The egg is the macrocosm and the microcosm, the dividing line between Big and the Small, which makes it impossible to see the whole. To possess a telescope without its other essential half—the microscope—seems to me a symbol of the darkest incomprehension. The task of the right eye is to peer into the telescope, while the left eye peers into the microscope." (The House of Fear: Notes from Down Below, Leonora Carrington, E.P. Dutton, 1988, page 163)

In Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague, Carrington juxtaposes small details with big ideas such as fate or chance, and metamorphosis or change. The detail of the egg on the table leg perhaps refers to the idea of macrocosm and microcosm. Instead of a telescope or microscope, Carrington has given the woman on the right a lorgnette (a handheld viewing glass; in French, "to peer at, or to look in a sidelong glance"). Did she just come from the opera? Is she simply getting ready to look at something more closely? Maybe has she removed it, to avoid seeing?

The human (or Sidhe?) characters are strange enough, but scattered around the room are insect characters in various stages of metamorphosis, seemingly observing, helping, or affecting the outcome of the scene. The insects' scale is huge when juxtaposed with the other characters. While many people view insects as pests, these giant insects seem to go about their business largely unobserved. There is an adult moth on the column at right. On the left is a precariously balanced contraption that looks like a loom. Moths are well known for destroying wool, so is the moth a threat? Are the insects on the loom attacking the fabric, or are they weaving? The insects on the ceiling appear to be adult mayflies, known for their abundance and short lifespan. What Big ideas might Carrington be referring to with these Small details?

May 2012