I see birds everywhere I go. Even sometimes while I’m driving, which is unnerving, especially if I know it’s a hawk but couldn’t get a good enough look at the tail/plumage/shape of the wings to hazard an ID. So it should come as absolutely no surprise that when I went to see the Turner exhibit at the AGO a few days ago, I found myself face to face with a mallard. Fully expecting to ooh-and-aah at vistas of Venice and stormy seas, I hadn’t exactly prepared myself for Turner-the-quintessential-waterfowl-painter. And yet, it turns out that Turner and the Mallard have quite the connection. Here’s the painting — see if you can spot the Mallard in question.
Can you see the duck flying from right to left in the lower third of the painting? The story behind Burial at Sea is that a good friend of his, David Wilkie, died of typhus near Gibraltar and had to be buried at sea. Well it turns out that Turner’s middle name was MALLORD and that inserting a mallard into his painting was a way for him to be present at his friend’s burial at sea, perhaps as a final gesture of farewell. I had no idea that Turner had such an appetite for puns, but there you have it. Mallard/Mallord. I will never think of a mallard in the same way again.
Last night I went to hear Wagner’s SIEGFRIED for the first time. I never fought I’d say this, but by the end of the opera I could have listened to Brunnhilde and Siegfried sing for another hour beyond the five I’d already heard. I was initially disappointed that I had decided to forego a birding trip to Petroglyphs park (crossbills!) in favour of 5 hours of Wagner, but once the opera got going, I could think of nothing else but swords, helmets, gold, dragons, heroes, sleeping beauties, walkyries and more! And then, somewhere near the end of Act 2, seemingly out of nowhere, a WARBLER appears to speak wise, prophetic words to Siegfried! It turns out I hadn’t missed birding after all!
There’s no escaping birds these days, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.