by Ralph Thompson
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ART OF ROOM 237
BABY LEOPARD ON A ROCK ⎔ DOG, BOY & ST. JOHN RIVER ⎔ FOUR JOHN GOULD BIRDS ⎔ FOX RESTING ⎔ MANDARIN DUCKS ⎔ MYSTERIES ⎔ MYSTERY VESUVIUS ⎔ PORTRAIT OF A FOX: ALERT ⎔ STILL LIFE OF FLOWERS IN A JUG
Appears in one shot, from 72:01-72:14 and from 72:17-72:27 (23 seconds total). When the ghost is chasing Jack out later, her corpse blocks this piece from view.
Ralph Thompson, whose works appear at least three times in room 237 (I doubt he’s behind either of the two unidentified pieces that remain), was a British artist and book illustrator, who most notably worked for naturalist, television presenter, and author Gerald Durrell, a personal friend of Sir David Attenborough.
Incidentally, this was the first piece of art that was brought to my attention by a fan of the site, a gifted 3D modeller who is using my research to build an accurate replica of the Overlook Hotel. Check it out. This revelation lead to my discovery of the two other Thompson pieces and the Basil Ede piece, so I’m truly grateful.
Durrell published four books with the word “Ark” in the title, (The Overloaded Ark (1953) and The Stationary Ark (1975) were published by the time of The Shining), and one with a reference to the same bible story, The New Noah (1955). In 1981, Durrell was awarded the Order of the Golden Ark by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, an award signifying a contribution to nature conservation. Durrell might be best known in his field for his ideas about how zoos should function, which he outlined in The Stationary Ark. Thompson visited Durrell’s Jersey Zoo (located on the island of Jersey in the English Channel), in order to accomplish his sketches for the younger man, but I’m not sure the watercolours in 237 reflect that work. I would say the strong association to Durrell would be enough to highlight the Book of Genesis theme going on in this room, which was already going on thanks to The Dream/Awakening of Jacob playing atop the soundtrack.
Thompson’s collections bore names like A Brush with Animals, An Artist’s Safari, and Animals Through the Eyes of an Artist. So I think this idea of safaris and zoos might be what’s at contrast here—the idea of how humans interact with the wilderness and with the wild in captivity. Also, there’s a second Thompson piece across from this one, as we’ll see over Jack’s shoulder in a second, whenever we see him reacting to the 237 ghost (in mild fear, in burgeoning lust, and finally in mortal terror). And this follows closely on the two “foxy ladies” hanging over Hallorann’s Miami apartment, which were published by the Old School Inc. So I wonder if this means that zoos and schools are also being contrasted here. Jack is, after all, “formerly a school teacher”. Did he trade a school for a zoo? Is a zoo like a school for animals? Do people hate schools and zoos for the same reason? Perhaps because of their attempts to civilize their respective species?
THE AARNE-THOMPSON CONNECTION
The other interesting thing these Thompson pieces do is echo the work of Tom Thomson that hangs in the hotel lobby, and what that piece does is appear beside one (very likely) by Alois Arnegger. This invokes something called the Aarne-Thompson Folktale Motif Index, which is a number system that appears all over the Overlook pantry. Head here for a full analysis. But also, room 237 may have its own “Arn” sounding word appearing near a Thompson, which you can read about here.
As for the mirrorform, this first piece overlays with Wendy’s interruption of the first Lloyd conversation, and stays on screen during the entire first half of her description of Danny’s 237 account. Since this piece is called Fox Resting and the other piece is called Portrait of a Fox: Alert, these pieces contrast Jack’s attitude in the two sequences. Portrait of a Fox: Alert mirrors only over his conversation with Lloyd, where Jack is decidedly unaware of the hotel’s dark intentions. Only when 237 Jack is reeling from the corpse ghost does either Jack in that sequence seem very alert. The non-mirrorform way of looking at it would be that the “fox resting” is the 237 ghost in her bathtub, while the “alert fox” is the 237 ghost with Jack around. That does seem better aligned with the drama.
Recall that there’s a postcard on the fridge in Boulder possibly of Ralph Cross in England. Since there’s a Ralph Thompson piece at the entrance, at the halfway mark, and at the bathroom end of 237, Jack, Danny, and Hallorann all do this “Ralph cross” of the room together. But that postcard first appears at 10:48 into the film, and Danny enters 237 at 12:08 from the middle of the movie (80 seconds difference). I’m not sure if these “Ralph crosses” have anything deeper going on, but consider that both the Boulder apartment and room 237 have an asian banner style picture, both reference Mt. Vesuvius, and both feature Alex Colville. It’s possible other of the unidentified works are telling on each other like spies in warring spy cells, but if so I haven’t made those connections yet.
THE MIRKO HANÁK MISTAKE
That does it for my findings about Thompson and his work, generally. But my original idea about this painting was that it could be an obscure example of the work of Mirko Hanák who, coincidentally(?), illustrated children’s books on top of a private watercolour career. So I’m going to leave my writing about that below, because I’m not unconvinced that these two artists, who painted in such a similar style, weren’t meant to be cross-referential for reasons that will become clear. But just understand that I know this further interpretation could very well be a complete reach on my part.
- From the watercolour execution, to the sumi-e-style of bold dark brushstrokes against minimalist environs, to the way the fox’s head rests on its arms, to the way the legs on so many of his animal prints have that black stockings look…Hanák’s work would be an easy contender for this piece’s identity.
- It’s possible both the fox paintings in 237 are from, or are inspired by works from, the Karel Nový novel Potulný lovec, which means, “Wandering Hunter”.
- If it is Hanák, this could have a good deal of very appropriate subtext to it. Most significantly, Hanák is best known in his native Czech Republic as the illustrator for a post-WWII reprinting of Felix Salten’s 1923 children’s book Bambi. So, on the one hand, that would be interesting for the attitude Nazis took toward Bambi (spoilers: it involved book burning), but on the other hand, Kubrick once said, in 1968, “Children’s films are an area that should not just be left to the Disney Studios, who I don’t think really make very good children’s films. I’m talking about his cartoon features, which always seemed to me to have shocking and brutal elements in them that really upset children. I could never understand why they were thought to be so suitable. When Bambi’s mother dies this has got to be one of the most traumatic experiences a five-year-old could encounter.” So perhaps he was using Hanák to suggest a link between what happened to the imaginary five-year-old of his anti-Disney example, and the real experience of five-year-old Danny Torrance in the 237 bathroom. I’ve said it a million times, I know, but Danny goes in thinking Wendy’s in there, and he encounters a strangling zombie woman. So, on top of the physical trauma, it’s like Danny’s having his first confrontation with the eventual death of his mother, and even encountering the living Wendy moments later can’t shock him back from this abyss.
- On a similar note, Hanák illustrated a fair number of other children’s fables, including Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood. So, if the print in the film is a blow-up of something Hanák did for one of those, it might help to know which fox from which fable this was. The gingerbread man, perhaps?
- Finally, I’ll just point out that Hanák painted for a book called The Kingfishers, and even did one of a red-breasted bullfinch. That will seem more significant when you get to the John Gould pieces in a second.
- (So yeah, obviously I was wrong, but this interpretation strikes me as compelling enough to perhaps be something of a meta-analysis, but I would understand anyone thinking I’ve reached too far.)
Next art reference: The Four John Gould Bird Paintings
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