Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Skater

I have been watching the Olympics, and they have been exciting, like the bobsleds, or beautiful, like the ice dancing. Monday evening's performance of ice dance finals were so beautiful, they made me cry. Especially the Russians, dancing to Swan Lake. They make it look effortless, and that's really something, if you've ever tried to skate.

I have, and it's not easy, at best. Once you get going, you set up a rhythm, but it's hard to let yourself go, and get away from the rink's wall, if you are skating indoors. I have skated on a frozen lake in Vail, Colorado, and there is no security-blanket wall to cling to.

So in watching the Olympians, I was prompted to look into skating in the 18th Century, and then remembered a wonderful painting I saw in Edinburgh last September in their National Art Museum. The painting is by Gilbert Stuart, produced in 1782. The portrait is of William Grant, a high-born Scotsman from Congalton, not far from Edinburgh.

At the time, Stuart had not painted a full-length portrait, in fact he did not like to paint "below the fifth button" of one's waistcoat, as he commented, so this was new territory for him. It was Grant who commissioned Stuart to do the painting, and when Grant arrived to begin sitting for the work, he stated that "the day was better suited for skating than sitting". It was a very cold day, and so the two men took to the ice. They were both good skaters, but when the ice began to crack, they returned to the studio, and Stuart started sketching from memory, the day's events.

It's a life-size painting, and very impressive. Unfortunately, I am still having computer issues, so I suggest you go on line and see a larger view. It's quite beautiful, and Grant seems very relaxed and content. No Olympic gold for him, but I don't think he cares!

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