Still Life of Flowers in a Jug – 1920s-1950s?

“after” Nadia Benois (Nadezhda Leontievna Ustinova)




Seen across exactly 240 seconds, first at 71:50 and last at 75:50, exclusively in room 237.

Not counting the Dog, Boy, and St. John River in the antechamber, which first and last appear 13:27 apart (58:13-71:40), this piece spans the most action of any 237 painting. And it appears behind Jack’s head in every reverse shot of him ogling the naked ghost, though it’s only fully visible once his stance shifts as he begins to move into the bathroom.

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This piece was discovered here by one of my anonymous helpers – incredibly, since it seems to have just come on the market a few days ago, and I can’t find any other version of it online.

Now, oddly, it’s attributed as “after” Nadia Benois, which is art world language for “in the style of” Nadia Benois, but it also says that it bears a signature and stamp. Perhaps that’s just from some art gallery or something. I don’t know. The title of the piece is also something of a guess from whoever’s auctioning it. Benois’s name for it might be something closer to the type of flowers in the jug, though she did seem to name several other pieces with names as banal as this. But since this doesn’t seem to be an official, verified Benois, I’m leaving open a space in my mind for it to actually be someone else’s work. For the sake of this analysis, I’ll proceed as though it is definitely her work, as I think you’ll agree it will increasingly seem to be so.


There’s almost too much to say about the significance of this piece, so I’ll try to keep it simple.

First off, my frequent suspicion that the flowers would turn out to be asters looks to be correct. Benois also painted mums and dahlias and zinnias, all asters. The name “aster” comes from the Ancient Greek for “star”, and the Minotaur’s proper name was “Asterion”. Since Jack is being pushed toward room 238 here, the room I believe to be associated to Hallorann’s murder, and since that murder is something like the last straw before Jack’s full minotaur transformation, having asters behind him in this moment seems key. There’s also a famous family, named the Astors, who are referenced in King’s novel. The famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel is named for their involvement in its existence.

Another name for an aster is a daisy, and just as there’s a painting of a Baby Leopard on a Rock near the 237 entrance, perhaps harkening to the moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey when a leopard jumps off a rock and eats an early human…this reference to a “daisy” could be harkening to the other side of 2001, when the HAL 9000 computer sings Daisy Bell as it dies. Perhaps if we ever ID what I suspect to be another John Gould piece behind Jack’s head, they’ll form a…daisy-chain…of 2001 references. Gould often worked with Henry Constantine Richter, and Daniel Richter played Moonwatcher, the ape who clubs the other ape to death, in the film’s second death scene, and first murder scene. That would just leave the death of Gary Lockwood’s character Dr. Frank Poole (if we wanted to have every death/murder referenced), although perhaps we could link to that through its role as the catalyst for HAL’s murder by Dr. Bowman.

Even if the 2001 connections are some beautiful coincidence, the piece would still have a connection to Kubrick’s past work: Nadia Benois was the mother of Peter Ustinov, who played slave-owner Cornelius Lentulus Batiatus (who lost control of the slave Spartacus in 73 BCE), in Kubrick’s disowned 1960 film Spartacus. Ustinov holds the curious distinction of being the only actor Kubrick ever directed to the gold of an Academy Award (Peter Sellers was the only other actor even nominated for Strangelove), so the connection feels rather pointed and personal. Danny enters 237 because he thinks his mom is inside it, and the first thing Jack sees is a painting (possibly of “mum” flowers) by the mother of one of Kubrick’s most honoured collaborators. But, again, on the only film he ever disowned. Does that matter? Since this is an evil room, I would guess it does, but I don’t see any evidence that Kubrick and Ustinov didn’t get along.

And I would dispense with the personal association of Ustinov, except that the larger Ustinov family seems to be of import. Mother and son actually wrote a book about his father/her husband, Jonah “Klop” Ustinov, who worked for MI5 during the Nazi regime, and provided what Peter Wright called “possibly the most important intelligence Britain received in the prewar period”. As you’ll read in that last link, he was one of those urging Chamberlain to take early action against the Nazis, to no avail, and to his own great regret. And Peter Ustinov’s great-grandfather was the famed hotelier Moritz Hall (I just mention that since we have another significant Maurice and another significant Hall – though I strongly doubt this would’ve factored in Kubrick’s decision to include this…though the St. Maurice was painted by a “Cornelius” and Peter Ustinov played Cornelius in Kubrick’s film). Generally, the Ustinovs were a very artistic family. So it’s possible there’s all kinds of significance I’m missing out on…but I think that kind of wild dynamism makes it harder to be certain which details to consider referenced here. So for the remainder I’ll simply consider the significance of Benois herself.

Oh, actually, one more thing about the Benois side of the family: Nadia’s father Leon was famous in part for owning the Leonardo da Vinci painting Madonna with Child and Flowers, which is nicknamed the “Benois Madonna” for how it was thought lost for centuries, only to be exhibited in 1909 (the same year the Overlook Hotel opened for business) to everyone’s amazement. Alex Colville (who has a piece in 237, just feet away from this one) called his own Woman and Terrier, which appears in the Torrance living room in Boulder, his “Madonna and Child”. Since we’ve got the lesson key and escape key appearing in the Boulder apartment and 237, this would be another major symbol connecting the two spaces.

Nadia Benois was a stage and costume designer, who worked for the Russian Czar’s Court before emigrating to London in 1920, and continuing that kind of work, while taking up painting. She gave birth to Peter in April 1921. Works of hers that especially caught my eye were Cap Over Mill (there’s a painting called Mill on the Cliff that may connect to pieces just outside room 237), and Lady into Fox, based on the 1922 David Garnett fantasy novel of the same name, in which a woman transforms into a vixen fox, to the chagrin of her husband who tries to suppress her wily ways until they cannot be contained. The fox woman is, spoilers, killed by dogs in a fox hunt, to the grief of her husband, who thought he could care for her and protect her in her animal form. So that would seem to connect astoundingly well to the two fox portraits in the 237 bedroom, one of which is seen on the other side of Jack’s head every time we see him seeing the untransformed 237 ghost. The hotel transforms Jack into a Big Bad Wolf, and it uses this tranforming, foxy lady to do it, and the Colville painting at the entrance is of a dog. Still, I wonder exactly how to interpret this. Is the naked ghost meant as an abstraction of Wendy? And does her death version reflect the husband of the novel’s (Jack’s) inability to protect her (Wendy) from the worst things in life? If so, these would seem to be somewhat foregone conclusions at this point in Jack’s story. But perhaps they simply serve to underscore the exact manner in which Jack’s mind is being manipulated here: he’s already committed suicide once for the hotel, in the form of his first two drinks, but he hasn’t fully given in to what the hotel wants in return, which is to become something that would rather tear his wife to splinters than grieve that same loss. It’s the choice between being the husband and being the dogs.


It pairs with Jack taking his second, final drink of ghostbooze in the film, after saying “Words of wisdom, Lloyd, words of wisdom” which was his response to Lloyd’s “Women! Can’t live with em, can’t live without em.” So far, Benois is the only woman painter in 237 that I know of, and of the two yet to be ID’d, I’ve got some good guesses going on (neither of which are women).

In terms of how it interacts with the mirrorform, there’s some interesting phenomenon to be mentioned there. As it appears, only one of Wendy’s eyes is ringed by the frame (like a cyclops?) and she’s explaining Danny’s journey through 237, saying, “The door was open, and he saw this crazy woman in the bathtub.” If the flowers are dahlias, or if some of them are, it occurs to me that the Black Dahlia was a famous murder case, where a woman’s dead body was found by the public, left in a horrific, staged sort of way. It’s considered one of the first major post-WWII crimes to have captured the popular imagination in America. Danny finds the 237 corpse in a way that throttles his mind, similarly. So if the connection is accurate and intentional, Kubrick might be using this to speak to how naive it was for anyone in the postwar era to think that ultimate atrocity, or even garden-variety atrocity, was licked for good. This might seem more intentional if we can ID the painting inside Jack’s head in this same moment. My current suspicion is that it’s of Mt. Vesuvius, which I see connecting to Hercules and therefore familicide.

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The other major mirror moment is Jack telling Lloyd that he’s “temporarily light” as 237 Jack falls backwards toward the door. Another name for asters is “sunflowers” and the name “daisy” comes from a contraction of the phrase “day’s eye” for the way that daisies open when the sun comes out, and close when it sets.


(Continuing from the last point:) So it’s perhaps fitting that these daisies are backlit in the painting, something that I must tell you is fairly rare in still life painting. So rare that I thought narrowing the identity of this piece down would be relatively easy. In reality, it’s been one of the hardest in the film to get (despite being closer than any to Kubrick’s personal life, with its origin story). But yeah, these “sunflowers” are in the shade, as it were. And this is neat, since, there’s very, very few dimly-lit scenes in the film (considering it’s a horror movie), and that back-lighting-to-the-point-of-silhouetting happens almost never. So it’s interesting that one of the most striking examples of this, occurs the moment Jack finally flees this room, seconds after the last time this painting is seen in the film.

Actually, most of the other examples of backlighting occur during the maze chase, which starts seconds after the appearance of Woman and Terrier, the other Madonna and Child piece. Coincidence?

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Oh, also, the most sustained instance of backlighting is a sequence exclusively of mother trying, and failing, to connect with her child. This sequence begins/ends exactly 10 seconds away from the 1/3 or 2/3 mark of the mirrorform, while the 237 flowers come 55 seconds before/after the exact middle of the film (or 10 seconds after the last shot of Hallorann in bed getting the shine), and while Woman and Terrier appears for the last time exactly 1 minute from the middle of The Golden Shining (11:14/12:14). So we’ve got a mother-son/backlighting thing going on near all the three major middles of the film.

As for why exactly this would be…I’m not entirely certain. King has numerous references to something being in “silhouette” throughout the novel (and the novel’s original name was to be Darkshine), so perhaps Kubrick made a connection there to the concept of “shining”, and backlit these mother-son moments to suggest the lack of neural link, the lack of “shine” between these characters. Like, one of the absurdities of King’s novel is that there could be people with this power, and they don’t all abuse it for personal gain at every turn. But what seems especially bizarre is that Danny is a powerful enough shiner to nearly blow Dick’s head off with his first transmission to the older man (pg. 82-83), and yet he never thinks to even try to use this power once to coordinate with Wendy before or after everything’s going to hell. It’s a narrative tripwire that King was smart to avoid – if Danny could connect psychically with Wendy throughout the end, why don’t they have a kind of Home Alone finale, with Danny constantly telling Wendy how to dodge Jack, and lay traps for him? – but he also doesn’t account for why Dan would think to reach out to Dick, and not anybody else. There is a moment where the hotel screams psychic profanity in his face when he tries to reach into his father’s mind (pg. 333). So, perhaps Kubrick thought that some accounting was necessary to explain his version, and for the most part I think he accomplishes this by having Danny be forever taciturn…but this backlighting was used to express the shinelessness that existed before and after between mother and son.

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Next art reference: Mystery Vesuvius