Bespoke Oak

Photo by T.J. Getz

I fell in love with Avery Island, Louisiana a photograph by Lynn Geesaman, the moment that I saw it. I discovered her work thru an article in Elle Décor. For me, Geesaman’s photographs have an other-worldly aire. The romantic landscapes with their velvet like colors remind me in some ways of works by Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82). Even though the slightly unfocused photographs do contradict the sharp realism typical of Pre-Raphaelite art, I can’t help making some associations.

So, I’ve pulled together photographs and paintings by the two artists (with one addition other than Rossetti) to show what I think are interesting comparisons.

Proserpine, c 1887, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Birmingham Museum of Art

The subject of my favorite Rossetti painting is Prosperine, daughter of Ceres (Roman goddess of agriculture.) She was whisked away to Hades by Pluto, god of the underworld. Ceres pleaded with Jupiter that her daughter be allowed to return to the world of man. The only stipulation was that she could return if she had not eaten any fruit from the underworld. However, Prosperine had eaten six pomegranate seeds. Even though she had eaten the seeds Jupiter did allow her to leave Hades but commanded that she must return to Hades for six months every year, one month for each seed. The comparisons between the two works are subtle. The subject, the swirling robe and the single figure remind me of the oak with its fluid roots growing into the ground and its limbs rising upward. Like Prosperine, the oak is a part of the world below and the world above.


Avery Island, Louisiana, by Lynn Geesaman. Thomas Barry Fine Art.Another photograph by Geesaman, Crarae Glen Garden, Argyll, Scotland, reminds me of Rossetti’s La Gihirlanda. The shock of the red azalea bush against a verdant landscape of blue green creates an interesting parallel to the beautiful harpist with her glowing red hair.

Left: Crarae Glen Garden. Argyll, Scottland 1994 from Gardenscapes, photographs by Lynn Geesaman. Right: La Ghirlanda, c. 1873 Dante Gabriel Rossetti, From Essential Pre-Raphaelites by Lucinda Hawksley

Rossetti painted La Girlanda at Kelmscott manor, the home of William Morris. Both men had a profound influence on the history of interiors and are associated chiefly with the British Arts and Crafts movement.  Morris went on to found the Kelmscott press. His 1896 edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered a masterpiece of book design.

Interestingly, Rossetti and Morris shared more than just a love of the arts. Rossetti’s muse and love interest was Morris’s wife Jane. She was the model for many of Rossetti’s paintings. At the beginning of her affair with Rossetti, Jane Morris modeled for La Pia de Tolomei.


La Pia de Tolomei, c. 1868 Dante Gabriel Rossetti. From Essential Pre-Raphaelites by Lucinda Hawksly

The stillness, the shadows, the luminosity, and the soft tonal transitions are mesmerizing. Lynn Geesaman’s Bernheim Arboretum, Cleremont, Kentucky has similar qualities and a very similar palette.


Bemheim Arboretum, Cleremont, Kentucky, 1999. From Gardenscapes, Photographs by Lynn Geesaman

My visual journey with Geesaman’s photographs would not be complete without mentioning one other artist; Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, one of South Carolina’s greatest Charleston Renaissance artists.


Reserve at Fairlawn on the Wando, 1928, watercolor, Gibbs Museum of Art.

I find that several of Gessaman’s images remind me of Smith’s watercolors, particularly Westerstede, Germany. I think it’s mainly due to the lush peacock blues-greens and the way the dark shadows float in the light. The shadows seem to recede and project at the same time.

Westerstede, Germany, 1993. From Gardenscapes, Photographs by Lynn Geesaman 

When I work on creating collections I very much want the artwork within the collection to relate in some manner. The journey to find the right “next” piece sometimes has many rabbit trails. It’s all part of the creative process. Sometimes one sees more than the forest when looking at the tree.


Pride and Prejudice, Directed by Joe Wright