Friday, 14 December 2012

Ida Rentoul-Outhwaite and the Glory of Solitude

I love solitude. There is a supremely powerful and elemental feeling that attends me only when I am alone in nature. Nowhere else, and at no other time do I feel my thoughts attune themselves so much with the infinite - do I become so convinced of the vital connections between myself and everything earthly and unearthly - do I hear and feel the rhythm of the wild.

Often I feel the urge to forsake society for a shadowed space of trees - therein to wander, slipping in between the boles; softly to tread the mulch of fallen leaves and touch the silk and shiny new-growth budding at the tips of twigs... I am ever drawn to the places of beautiful desolation, beyond the signs of human influence - such as a deserted shoreline lit by lonely stars, or an airy pinnacle overlooking a valley-basin  filled with trees and ebbing clouds.

This is not to say that I am antisocial - that I misanthropically detest the company of others and find no enjoyment in human society. On the contrary - I love the company of friends, and rejoice in the discovery of kindred-souls, delighting in our mutual sympathy and inspiration. Despite all that however, I have a wildness in my soul that feels most fulfilled when alone among the things of nature. There I can dance within the wind and walk beside the creatures of the wild. There I feel myself a part of something vast, eternal and powerful, and paradoxically (when I am so awed by the majesty of nature) I am at the same time so aware of the grandness of my identity.

I cannot adequately describe the word-transcending freedom and glory of this kind of solitude - the kind of exultant isolation that the Romantic poets understood. To "wander lonely as a cloud" comes close - but does not express the whole...

Perhaps the art of Ida Rentoul-Outhwaite, Australian artist of the early twentieth century, can help me to convey the glory in the solitude my pen can only falteringly express. As you will see from her paintings and ink-drawings - she was a sister-wildheart of mine.

"The Little Witch" is probably Outhwaite's most famous painting - an illustration for the book Elves and Fairies, published in 1916. I love this picture for Outhwaite's ability to convey the tempestuousness of the young witch's spirit through her stormy hair, while the tree is deliciously Rackham-esque. This witch wears a dainty muslin gown - proper for a young lady of the town (outlined below the hill) - yet no demure maiden is the girl standing ready to take off into the unlimited freedom of the air, wearing her dramatic green cloak and peacock-feather hat and surrounded by her familiars the frogs and the cat - while the bats call to her to join them in jagged flight.

While this image for The Enchanted Forest has some similarities to the previous painting (with both using bats as a motif) this bat-rider is even more at home in nature than the witch. I love this painting for its evocative depiction of the beauties of an Australian marsh, with glass-like water; the transient yet constant presence of the reeds, and their silhouette against the sky. I can almost smell the water, hear the high squeaks of the bats on the edge of hearing, and feel the cooling breeze of twilight ripple the water and lift the rider's gauzy wings.

"Echo" is still more ethereal, with an overwhelming impression of wind and loneliness and longing. I am awestruck by Outhwaite's ability to depict a reflective surface - the surface of a shallow lake - using only black ink and white paper.

"The Last Fairy" has a mournful title - but the image itself does not strike me with a sorrowful feeling, rather one of wonder - the kind of wonder I feel when I am sometimes struck by something marvelous and strange in nature. This fairy stands beside a glowing pool - but lit from what radiance? Surely not the moon? I am also excited by the ultimate blackness of the forest behind her.

"Fairy of the Snow" is a picture full of elemental power. This comes closest to expressing my sense of the grandeur of the isolated self - a snow-spirit standing on a lonely rock, delicate beside the massive mountains behind her, but stronger than they, for she can cover their stern blackness in flurrying, terrible and glorious whiteness...

"Moonrise" - probably my second-favourite of all Outhwaite's artworks. It expresses my feelings sometimes when I, like the girl in the picture - leave the warmth of my house for the brighter moonrise.

My absolute favourite of Ida Rentoul-Outhwaite's pictures - "Ti-Tree". I don't know exactly why this one speaks so strongly to me - perhaps because I love to climb trees so much, and find such beauty in a windswept tree. Perhaps it is because I know there is an exhilaration to facing the the elements - riding and swaying on a whipping tree, feeling danger and delight in equal measure. Perhaps it is because the girl seems part of that illusion by which the moon appears to race in the sky through speeding clouds. Who can tell? Nevertheless, such is the wonder of solitude, and the power of nature.


  1. This post makes me really anxious to get back to my parents place. They live in the country and there's nothing I miss more than taking a solitary wander up the river. Nothing but me and nature. It's only now that I've moved away to the city that I realise how much I miss it.

    1. I know absolutely what you mean- there's a place in the mountains where I visit occasionally with a swamp and bushland at the back where I LOVE to wander..

  2. Laura, your blog is unbearably pretty. I think of Jane Eyre and the wild but Romantic moors. I think a lot of people lose touch with this "adventurous" side of themselves as they grow up and it's amazing to see that you have managed to retain that sense of self, and to depict it in such pretty, flowing prose. The pictures are amazing. I especially favour the third one and "Echo" and "The Last Fairy" -> although on deeper contemplation of the title the last fairy kind of makes me sad.
    I might not always comment, but you will always have an avid reader in me! :)

    1. Awww thank you Ellen! I definitely resonate with Jane and her long solitary walks - and adore Bronte's depiction of the moors. Speaking of Bronte - I've discovered a lesser known book she wrote AFTER "Jane Eyre" (but it was less popular, probably because it was overtly feminist and criticised the patriarchal religion). It's called "Shirley". I know you'd love it! I picked it out of a rubbish collection box, along with Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse".

      Hmmm... perhaps those people who lose their adventurous side need to spend more time in nature! Any time you want to go rockwalking with me - I'd be delighted to go on the adventure!

      Yes, the "Last Fairy" makes me sad only because of the title. What a horrible concept - I hate the idea of "the last fairy". Perhaps that's because I still (and ever will) believe in fairies...

  3. A marvelously written article. :D I find an almost therapeutic need for solitude. Part is my wiring (Asperger's Syndrome) which does make me anti-social. But not totally shunning of contact with others, as a matter of fact, I do other people. Just is limited quantity. But finding places of solitude and quite is more relaxing and personal that anything I can get from other sensations. The art you posted speaks of my reoccurring dreams to; so places so vast and wild, and I feel at once small and finite in them, but also journeying as part of something through them. :D
    I adore the layout you have chosen!! :D

    1. Thank you Inki! I too feel it therapeutic and invigorating to be alone. I think that's the introverted aspect of me - feel refreshed by the aloneness and centered in my self. I'm glad the artworks spoke to you :D Ida Rentoul-Outhwaite is little-known nowadays, and in truth a great deal of her pictures were generic though pretty illustrations. She had true genius though, and it shines in some of her pictures... I picked my favourites - but there are many others worth looking up.

      I'm glad you like the layout! I actually created it - I wanted one completely personal. So I have lots of Burne-Jones - Nimue from "The Beguiling of Merlin", Perseus, the worlds from "The Angels of Creation", a tree from "The Hunt in the Forest" by Uccello, a border from an illuminated medieval manuscript and a section of map showing "Here be Dragons". While the background is a Romantic painting showing a ruined tower and a stretch of sea...

  4. Just discovered this artist & thus your blog. Really enjoyed reading about your enjoyment of solitude. Peace to you.