René Lelong, Joys of Spring
What are the joys of spring? For most of us, the promise of the approaching summer’s warmth and sun and fruitfulness. Trees blossom again, flowers bloom. We shed our winter clothes and spend time outside, enjoying the sunlight and the fresh air. It is a beautiful time; it is a changeable time.
Sun encourages, rain waters, wind tosses, cold pinches. We hope that the new buds will grow, become leaves, that blossoms will become fruit, that courting birds and animals will find safe shelter to raise their young. But the buds and flowers are still fragile, and a change of weather, a change of temper, can destroy the promise that spring brings.
We see that sense of eagerness and that fragility in this painting. The two slim young women and the eager girl enjoy and embody the joys of a windy spring day. Skirts and scarf are blowing in the wind; the sea behind them is kissed with the whiteness of wind-driven breaking waves; the grasses bend before the gusts.
Each has their own look, their own character, but they are all moving forward together, against the wind. The red-haired young woman is leaning and moving forward and yet turns, attentive, toward the other two. The dark-haired woman is poised, erect, looking down smilingly at the young girl beside her, one hand raised to her windblown hair. The young girl looks as if she is laughing, leaping (springing?) forward between the two women, her movement supported by their hands. They hold her safe between them; she unites them.
Whites and pale colors light up the painting – the whites in blossoms, dresses, shoes, flowers in the grass, all touched gently with pinks and blues. Spring green touches the land behind them and hides among the darker greens of the patch they are passing through. It is warm enough for them to wear only short sleeved jackets or a scarf over their dresses. The young girl’s legs are bare, she wears a white flower in her hair, her short sleeved red jacket adds a touch of bright color. The dark haired woman’s jacket adds a subtler touch.
Even the sky is touched with white, full of clouds. Sky and sea hint at turbulence, a changeability like the changeable weather of Spring. In contrast, the rock behind the three looks both immovable and worn, dark in the shadow, sunlit where it frames the sea. Its shadows give us a quieter space to rest our eyes on.
At first glance it looks simple, like an illustration. And the artist, René Lelong, was well-known and highly respected for his work as an illustrator and his knowledge of that art. But he was also known for his work as a painter, and was a member of the Salon des Artistes Francais.
So it’s not surprising that a second glance tells us there is more to see. We look again because those figures moving forward are intriguing. They seem to be coming toward us, calling for our attention, inviting us to look around them.
We see in them the joys, the eagerness and the fragility that are a part of spring.