“the language of a lady.”

inspired by bernard shaw’s pygmalion and alan jay lerner & frederick loewe’s my fair lady, my faerie tale feet pice “the language of a lady” just happens to be my new favorite.

shaw’s dialogue is quick and witty, and full of language puns and jokes and just all-around classic interactions between his characters.  he wrote the play in just three months back in 1912, the first english production of the play was in april of 1914, and not until march 15, 1956 did the musical version appear on broadway starring none other than a 21 year-old julie andrews and the indefatigable rex harrison.

HIGGINS     Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech:  that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.

i’ll show you a few pictures of my research and painting process, and then below i’ll share what all of the background icons allude to from the text!  enJOY!

my-fair-lady-1
so i do a lot of my research at my husband’s studio at taylor’s mill. here’s a view from where i sit at his reading desk reading, taking notes, and doodling ideas in my sketchbook. (he’s a realistic oil painter and portrait draftsman as you can tell from some of the work on the walls. check him out at nathanbertling.com!)
my-fair-lady-sketches
after i take lots of notes from the original text, i seek out reference materials to inspire posture, poses, and costume choices. early on, i knew the bow was going to be spectacular. and the shoes i used, instead of slippers as they appear in the film and stage versions, are inspired by a fancy pair of ballenciaga pumps i found in vogue last year or so…
my-fair-lady-pattern
here’s the pattern drawing created from icon sketches in my sketchbook!
my-fair-lady-2
i went with a beautiful subtle pink wash for the background of this piece. the first step is transferring down the drawing, and then painting around all of the shapes with the same background colour…
my-fair-lady-3
i used a heavier watercolour paper than usual for this piece, and it was super*absorbant… so needless to say, it took lots and lots and lots of layers of colour to build up any contrast and vibrancy…
my-fair-lady-4
i paint at home, surrounded by my books. so here’s my little corner of the world, you can see my paper paint palettes (great for re-using spots of color), my tins full of gouache, and the original pattern drawing on tracing paper.
my-fair-lady-5
i always save the feet and shoes for last when working on a piece. it just seems fitting for the whole “faerie tale feet” concept. so here’s a mostly finished background painting while about to nervously begin the leg and fancy shoe of miss eliza doolittle….
my-fair-lady-6
ta*da! the magnifying lamp i use to paint gives me seemingly endless potential for painting tiny tiny spaces. so the jewels on her shoe turned out rawther well, i dare say… but the bow is still my favourite part of this piece, i think! 🙂

so here are what the shapes in the background represent…

  • the sailor hat of black straw (eliza doolittle as a flower girl selling violets in covent garden, where our story begins)
  • her flower basket
  • violets spewing out of the phonograph (she was selling violets, and as she tells henry higgins later in act V, “…the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.”)
  • the birdcage (one of two possessions she sent for from her own flat once she moved in as the grand experiment of henry higgins to make good on his bet to “make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe.”)
  • the phonograph (in henry higgins’ study, for listening to records of dialect, and for eliza to practice repeating sounds as she developed proper english speech patterns)
  • the tuning fork (again, another instrument found in the stage and set directions for higgins’ study)
  • the 3 ostrich feathers of orange, sky blue, & red (what eliza doolittle had on her hat when she came to ask for lessons from professor higgins; her best attire, which he had burned.)
  • the bathtub (poor flower girl eliza thought she would drown if she ever washed more than her face.)
  • the tan men’s hat (for professor higgins, a “confirmed old bachelor”)
  • the red slippers (what eliza threw at professor higgins after he refused to give her credit for all her hard work passing as a lady out in society, but also the last line of the 1964 film where he says merely at eliza’s return “where the devil are my slippers?”)
  • the piece of sanskrit (to represent colonel pickering, returned from india to meet henry higgins, author of ‘higgins’ universal alphabet’; as higgins claimed he was going to india to meet pickering, the author of ‘spoken sanskrit.’)
  • the mustache (nepommuck, a former pupil of higgins’ who at the ball claimed eliza was a fraud, believing her to be of hungarian royal blood as her english was too good.)
  • the tophat (for alfred doolittle, eliza’s father, who sings both “with a little bit of luck,” and once higgins has turned him into an unfortunate member of the middle class for his philosophical ramblings on morality, in his tux sings “get me to the church on time” on his nite out before his wedding.)
  • the racehorse, dover, for eliza nearly giving herself away with everyone’s favorite movie line, “come on, dover!!!  move your bloomin’ arse!!!”(the race wasn’t in the stage version, they merely had tea; i think the “ascot gavotte” number is just delightful and i’m glad they added it to the film.)
  • on the front of the phonograph, i painted eliza’s opera fan she carried to the ball
  • the suitcase (another favorite number of an empowered woman, eliza sings “show me” to her pining suitor freddy eynsford-hill as she storms out of higgins’ flat after the ball.  shaw was adamant that higgins and eliza do NOT end up together romantically, but that she does indeed marry freddy and open a flower shop and they are content to be poor and lead a simple life.  hollywood changed the ending to an implied relationship between higgins & eliza, which i think could have worked on a friendship level, but he was too boorish to deserve her is what i say.)
  • and last, but not least, i put a penguin in there.  why?  well, a favorite piece of trivia i discovered while researching these works was that rex harrison (who played henry higgins in both the stage & film versions) would cry out “where’s my penguin?!” during rehearsals when he wanted to compare his broadway lines and lyrics to shaw’s original text.  as a true englishman, someone would have to bring him his penguin classic edition of the 1912 text to ensure lerner was remaining faithful to the artistic truth of shaw’s words.  well, rex did this all the time, so the producers finally got him a taxidermied penguin!  he got the joke, never asked for his book again, and kept the penguin in his dressing room for the run of the show.  (three years on broadway before the cast took it to london!)

 

another piece of trivia you may be wondering about is why if the broadway and london stage production was such a hit, why julie andrews wasn’t used in the film.  well, the hollywood producers didn’t think her name had enough marquee punch to it, so they cast a well-known actress instead, a miss audrey hepburn (whose singing voice was dubbed).  which, i will forgive them, because in 1964 (the same year), a mr. walt disney made a super star out of julie andrews with a little film called “mary poppins.”  i’m glad we have both even if i do wish there was a recording of julie andrews in this role outside of just the cast album.

(a great book i thoroughly enjoyed if you’re a fan of the film was loverly:  the life and times of my fair lady by dominic mchugh, oxford university press, (c) 2012.  i am fascinated by the creative process and recommend it for a further look behind the scenes of stage & film versions!)

okay, if you’ve made it this far, you may be interested to know that you CAN indeed purchase prints and cards of this piece on the halthetal etsy shoppe.  (coming soon!)

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cards available here:  http://etsy.me/2kVnlFY

and the original painting is available framed for $585.  email me!

 

 

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