Cypress Trees

Cypress trees hex me.  The branches of other trees grab wildly at the air, doing their thing, but you don’t even see the branches of a cypress.  If they could speak, they’d say, What do you expect?  We were once fragments of gods and then we turned into trees.  We behave.

These gods … the ancient Greeks had cypress trees, which already had a sacred history before them.  These trees were  associated with Chronos.  The Romans preferred to link the trees to Saturn, the dour old task master at the outer reaches of the solar system.  But, in a lighter vein, and more accessible, cypresses were associated with Aphrodite and Athena, to mention but two.  Those who plant these trees in South African churchyards don’t consider this history.  For them, it’s probably the held formality of the trees.

Over the centuries artists made rich use of cypress trees to bring a solemn frame or background to their images.  The most somber of these is the late-19th-century artist Arnold Böcklin.  He did a series called The Isle of the Dead.

At the other end of the spectrum there is Star Night by Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) where cypress trees reach for a phantasmagorical night, probably the happiest painting of the century.  He and Böcklin were co-evals.

If you journey through Tuscany, it is probably the deep green clusters of cypress trees that give the landscape its character.  The coastal areas of the Mediterranean share this quality, something by no means only found in cemeteries.

Artist’s name lost

For me they are like a gathering of people that have morphed into quiet abstractions, beings in creaseless dress with muted ecstasy, waiting for eternity.

The other day I beheld a mechanical dinosaur next to two cypress trees and a man was rounding the velvet trees with a pair of trimmers.  I took a pic realizing that Claudie and I had morphed into these two trees.  I told you, cypress trees hex me.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2019



Encyclopédie des Symboles



Wikipedia images: « Star Night » « Isle of the Dead »

Art work unknown

My graphic and photographs


In memory of Gert Wentzel (1948 – 2016)





Posters – the South of France

The first in a series of two

Posters are a celebration.  Well, the type that advertises a town, a city, a region.  Posters, with us for at least the past three hundred years, can be many things.  It is their celebratory function that interests me here.

This poster of Cannes / Côte d’Azur was done by Picasso, probably 1950s

They emblazon the name.  The sub-text that they don’t print is Please come and see us.  Enjoy what we enjoy every day.  They hold up their townscapes, their vistas, their colours with joy and, in the case of the Belle Époque posters, with grace.  The many of the posters shown here are more than a hundred years old.

It’s with particular pleasure that I can say I’ve had the privilege of visiting each of these towns, cities and villages.  Each one is painted into my memory.  Of course, they romanticize, but in a world drenched in bad news, sorrow and darkness, that’s not a sin.

Cagne-sur-Mer. You can see Chateau Grimaldi on top of the hill

And it’s easy to romanticize the south of France, the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera.  The glamour has been under construction since the late-18th-century when British aristocracy made Nice their home from home, as Queen Victoria herself called it.  Later the Americans would put their stamp on the region.

Nice, by Matisse, probably part of the “Jazz” series, late 1940s

These places, the posters show us, are sunlit and the French have called much of the region Midi which means noon.  The English poet speaks of “the warm South” from his overcast gloom.  Many of the posters depict the sea, the azure Mediterranean, itself a historical trove beyond comprehension.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018



The posters have been drawn from internet sources.

 This is my own favourite.  She stands with her whippet under the umbrella trees with the iconic buildings Les Remparts almost indistinct on the edge of the bay below.



Posters – the South of France

The second in a series of two

This poster was designed by Raymond Peynet of “Les Amoureux” fame

My memories of Biot include the glass factory, the Fernand Leger Museum and the medieval quarter built on the foundations of a Roman temple.

A city with a military and naval history, the bastion of French security in history and the site of the battle between the Germans and the invading Allies, August, 1944.

Away from the noise, this older-than-medieval town has a 13th-century church.

Poster by Picasso, 1950s

This rather faceless town was made famous by Picasso as he explored the art of pottery in the 1950s.

Near the Italian border, this town has the Cocteau Museum which is an architectural gem.


Made famous by its annual jazz festival, this town has well-known hotels, Belles Rives being one.  The town is mentioned in the song “Where do you go to, my lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt (1969).

I walked across that bridge to see the Matisse Chapel.

© Will van der Walt

December, 2018

Les Semboules, Antibes



These posters have been drawn from internet sources.


St Paul Vence

One of my favourite places in the world.




Paul Éluard (1895 – 1952)

When I take my walk in the afternoons, I see his name, one of several poets — Breton, Jacob, Desnos, Apollonaire, Tzara and Prévert — after whom the streets in this area are named.  As with some of the others, Éluard was part of the French surrealist poets.

Paul Eluard, 1911

As a young man he realized that he had to be a poet.  His parents were not supportive of the idea, but his Russian lover by name Gala, supported him physically (he was not always well) and intellectually (she was his muse and critic).  After the Great War he met with the Surrealists and served their cause for life.

Eluard (top) and the Surrealists

After some years he and Gala parted.  She met Salvador Dali who worshipped her all his life.  From this time Éluard’s life became epic and in the Second World War he and a number of Jews hid from the Germans in an asylum.  They survived.

He and Louis Aragon are considered as the great poets of the French Resistance and his work is strongly political.  The poem Liberté was pamphlet-dropped by the RAF over areas of France.  It holds a special place in history and in the hearts of the French.  I offer one of his love poems which was probably dedicated to Gala, though he was happy in other relationships as well.


She stands on my eyelids

Her hair in mine

She takes the form of my hands

She takes the colour of my eyes

She sinks into my shadow

Like a stone from heaven


She always has open eyes

I cannot sleep

My dreams are full of light

Thus, let suns evaporate

Let me laugh and laugh again

Let me speak without saying anything


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018



Wikipedia:  Paul Éluard

Pinterest:  the poem  (my translation). 

I have a translation of Liberté in English, for those interested.  



My photograph

Wikipedia: Paul Éluard, 1911


See also, Two Poems from the French Resistance,, 27.10.2018


                                                “ A woman is more beautiful than the world

                                                         I live in …

                                                                I shut my eyes ”    –  Paul Éluard




Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man

This drawing was done circa 1485.  Leonardo was illustrating points by the Roman architect Vitruvius (active 46 – 30 bce) who asserted in his treatise on architecture that the circle and the square are the forms that create the perfect space.  This concept was resurrected by many Renaissance architects.  Leonardo is attempting, perhaps via architectural principles, to show that man’s anatomy, probably divinely ordained, was perfect.  It is known that he had to “bend” his extensive knowledge of the human anatomy, experience recorded over many years on dissections of bodies, to fit the circle-square.

This iconic image also represented the Renaissance philosophy that man is the measure of all things, an idea that came from the Greeks in the ancient world.  The image is so iconic that the European Union approved it to grace the first one-euro coin.

What interests me too, is the visage of the Vitruvian Man.  Leonardo was one of the supreme masters of producing various expressions on the faces he drew.  It could not have been by accident that the expression on the Man’s face is, in my opinion,  an unhappy one.  Thus, in this perfection, in this philosophical enlightenment, the perfect man he draws carries no inward peace.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018


Wikipedia:  Leonardo da Vinci; Vitruvian Man



Full man –

Coin –

Visage –




Cote d’Azur




Art history: some images of the woman

The first in a series of three

Art does not improve, we are told.  The media of art change. In its time, art is good, bad or indifferent.  We have never equaled what the Egyptians achieved thousands of years ago.  I have seen paintings of women from various periods in history and it is interesting to see what has changed – form, colour, intention.  I offer some images, with gut responses.

What interests me from the earliest Egyptian images is the dignity the artist affords the image of the woman.  In the second image there is even wonderment.

I am not sure of this image, but I believe it is prehistoric rock art  from the Atlas Mountains.  It might well depict a queen and her hand maiden.

For me Cycladic art almost stands above history in its timeless modernity.  Women, probably as goddesses, were especially honoured in the art of these Greek islands.  This figure, probably votive, is at least 4,000 years old.

On this Greek vase, an imitation of work from Classical period, the woman happily plays her own flute.

This is an image of a woman painted on a coffin in the first century ad.  It is part of other similar images from Fayum, Egypt.

Here is the Queen amongst the dignitaries of the time, depicted in the mosaics at Ravenna.  She is beautiful and poised.  This is about five centuries ad.

In this early medieval illustration of courtly love we see the man, probably a knight, on his knee, proffering the wound of his heart to the woman on a throne-like chair.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018



In some cases I have had images for many years and the sources have been lost.  I acknowledge what I can.

Woman on the Greek vase – my photograph

Ravenna mosaic –











Art history: some images of the woman

The second in a series of three

Mariology in the Catholic Church manifests more strongly by the 11th-century when images of the Madonna and Child became  ubiquitous.  This too, it is said, made for more dignity for women in general.  Fra Lippi’s Madonna and Child is, for me, one of the great achievements.

The late-Middle Ages ushered in the Renaissance and Botticelli was one of the artists depicting the woman with delicacy as Venus, a departure from the Madonna and Child.  The image for me, wistful and windblown, is strangely modern.

By the 17th-century there were more changes in the way artists saw women.  Here is a Jan Steen, an artist that had me laughing out loud in the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam.

It is difficult to put a time on the rock art of Southern Africa.  This is a depiction of women that is a few centuries old.  It is perhaps my all-time favourite in San rock art.  It is surreal and sensual.  It conveys to me an essence of women, elegant and elevated, with their spirit free.

In the 18th-century Watteau painted the women of his time as few had done.  In this detail of a larger painting, the woman is busy with something, a breakaway from the static portraits expected of painters like Watteau.

In the next century Renoir would shake up the photographic conventions of the academies and usher in Impressionism.  The women he portrayed have a warmth that has endeared his work to many.

The changes to come after him would be more radical.  Both the Fauves of France and the Expressionists of Germany would leave almost all the traditions behind, in colour and form, as they depicted women.  This is Matisse’s Woman with hat, probably his wife Amelie.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018



Some of these images I have had for many years and sources have been lost.  I acknowledge what I can.

Fra Lippi Madonna –

Botticelli Venus –

Watteau –

Renoir –

Matisse – Wikipedia


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