Lullaby for Lions
I have been working on this painting for several months, but it has been in my mind for a long time. The first kernel of an idea happened on July 1, 2015 when I heard on the radio that Cecil the Lion had been shot after being lured from the sanctuary by an illegal party of big game hunters. I was in my car and I remember thinking thank god I wasn’t at that stage of my life when I was ferrying small children around in my minivan. One of them would certainly have heard the report, as children have finely tuned ears for things like that. And I would have had to come up with some explanation of why a man would want to shoot and kill a beautiful, magnificent, unsuspecting living creature. And I would not have had an explanation that would not destroy a child’s vision of humanity for the rest of their lives- at least not at that moment. I think I would have said something like "well as a good human being it is our responsibility to guard and protect beauty, creatures at risk, and things more vulnerable than ourselves". And then I envisioned a child’s answer, a salve to soften the horrid, nightmarish image of poor Cecil dead on the ground with a poor excuse for a human standing over him, grinning victoriously.
...So the vision was a little boy who had invited the lions into a safe place, a sanctuary where he could read them stories and sing them lullabies and let them sleep peacefully...not a worry in their lion hearts.
When I started doing sketches and research for the actual painting, I was drawn again to Rousseau. Studying his paintings over the past few years I have been attracted to them in a different way than ever before. I am in awe of his inventiveness and unencumbered capacity to create form and narrative without any responsibility to realism or naturalism. I have fallen in love with his tigers and lions and fantastic botanical forms. I borrowed his palette and landscape elements from The Sleeping Gypsy for the setting for Lullaby for Lions.
Henry Rouseaau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897
Other lions that I looked at are the beautiful sculptures outside the New York Public Library, named Patience and Fortitude.
And a tiny statue that was given to me as a gift. It sat like a muse on my painting table while I worked...and then there were my own cats who wander in and out of the studio and conveniently curl up at just the right moment.
I also fell in love with the paintings of lions by the French painter Aime Nicholas Morot (1850-1913) whose work I didn’t know until I started looking at lions. He could really paint lions.
And many thanks to the young boy next door who modeled for the little boy in the painting. At the time his hair had grown beautifully long and unruly like a lion's mane. When I told him he was to be reading to lions, he took that pose like he had read to lions everyday of his life. Perhaps he has. I know for sure he will never, ever shoot one.