Girl chopping Onions



The current exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, is called Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the age of Vermeer. If you get a chance go along and take a look. Better still get your ticket stamped on the way out so that it turns into a free year pass with unlimited entry. Or, if you go to school in the London area, persuade your teacher to come along for a creative writing session.  They are great fun and you will come away with a writer’s notebook full of ideas.

The gallery attendants say that some people just come to the exhibition to look at one painting by the artist Vermeer and then they leave. I think they are missing out!

I am particularly fond of an artist called Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). His painting are small packages of delight and inspiration to me. They are full of details of everyday life with mundane titles like The Grocer’s Shop, A Surgeon examining a tooth or A Girl chopping Onions.

His paintings often depict people behind a stone arch with carved stone at the bottom and raised curtains that reveal the characters and the situation to you. The subjects of his paintings are everyday people going about the business of their daily lives, e.g. shopping or cooking.

But if you stare at his wonderful paintings for long enough questions spring to mind. The girl who is chopping the onions in a large wooden bowl is looking at us timidly. She is not looking at the boy with the feather in his cap. He is looking at her and holding up a peeled onion. There are four onions left to be peeled and chopped. Why is the pewter jug lying on its side? Is the dead partridge hanging in the window going to be cooked? Why is the birdcage empty?

When you are writing a scene in your writing – perhaps your characters are cooking a meal – do you find that everyday objects and action suddenly take on a greater significance? Or do you choose to describe an everyday scene to tell us something about their hidden lives?

I am off to the kitchen to chop onions.


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