Fun in the Sun

What’s on your summer wish-list? Swimming in the sea? A tan to top all others? Late-night, still-light dinners? Traveling? Tenting? Whatever your idea of the ideal summer time-spend, let me let you in on one thing that got me day-dreaming about the season recently. Martin Dorey is a writer, surfer, serial Volkswagen camper van owner and keen shrimper from North Devon, whose new book, The Camper Van Cookbook, is already on my birthday list.

Dorey is in the habit of dragging his (willing) wife and two daughters off on camper van adventures around the UK. The book charts life on the road and is interspersed with delicious ‘two-ring’ recipes (suited to a camper van cook’s equipment) by Sarah Randell. Here’s one lunch done camper cuisine: find and forage mussels fixed to rocks by the sea; scrub them clean; chop chili and garlic, fresh coriander and basil and steam the lot in a tin of coconut milk. That’s Thai-style mussels in just a few ticks (and tasting the better for being al fresco and the fruit of some light, leisurely labor). OK so such camper van antics won’t tickle all reader’s taste buds, since downshifting is not uplifting to everyone’s mind. But I do think Dorey’s essence of escaping the humdrum and his pull towards a please-yourself, mellow and simple escape is just what the doctor ordered for summer, for all.

In the spirit of these things, today’s pick is Ceres, Summer (c. 1718) by the Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721). The greatest French painter of his time, Watteau played a major part in shaping the Rococo style in the 18th century. He was much-inspired by theatrical scenes and among his most distinctive creations was the fete galante (courtship party), in which be-costumed beauties stroll in idyllic settings flirting, and serenading one another.

Ours is not such a scene but still relays the fragile beauty of Watteau’s work. Ceres is the Roman goddess of the harvest and here she’s surrounded by the signs of the summer zodiac: Gemini (twins twiddling to the right), Cancer (crab-like creature crawling underfoot) and Leo (burly beast on left). This painting was one of four showing all the seasons, ordered for the home of a rich banker, Pierre Crozat. She’s the only one to survive.

Summer has a shimmering charm. Central sits the elegantly-dressed figure, whose flesh is more pudgy and palpable than in other Watteau works: he studied Crozat’s art collection while painting this and here I sense the presence of Paolo Veronese (16th-century, Venetian). The way the pink fabric pulls pliable over her legs, enlivened by light and shade, veers back to Veronese, as does the surprise punch of the pastel colors. The solidity of the scene (formal pose and bulk of body) is loosed into softness by the fronds of flopping corn, the fluff of the clouds and the fuzzy heads of all the figures. This summer mirage is making me want to abandon my desk for a stroll in the sun, preferably slurping an ice tea.

Head for Art is starting summer with a bang this year at our Hump Party!

Please join us to celebrate the half-way point of the Art 2010 blog project:

Thursday, June 24th

6.30 to 8.30

Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U Street, NW)

There’ll be wine, an exclusive artist’s performance and fantastic art giveaways!

RSVP today on the Head for Art site (follow signs for the Hump Party).