Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Weekends Before Christmas

As a teacher, I rarely got to go to elaborate office parties. Ours tended to be homely on-campus affairs catered by a low bid Mexican restaurant whose tamales and enchiladas were crunchy at the bottom but ominously cool in the middle. There was, of course, no alcohol served, which made the principal's long iteration of thanks to those who helped deck the cafeteria all the more insufferable. My friend, the music director, was always shamed into performing gratis, and each year it burned him when his students had to sing over loud conversations. Once they changed the celebrations from a luncheon to a pre-school breakfast, I stopped going.


Nothing like the lavish party by a dot.com company that I attended before the tech bubble burst. It was held at a yacht club, and a large cabin cruiser took us in groups of thirty for rides around Marina Del Rey. The food was sumptuous and the liquor flowed. The fun of the evening, for me, was to watch geeky engineers get tipsy and apply their considerable intellects to making merry. Unfortunately, within a year, nearly all of them had lost their jobs.


Christmas parties haven't always enjoyed a good reputation. We recall their raucity when we sing about winter wassailing:

Wassail, wassail, all over the town.

The cup, it is white and the ale, it is brown.

The cup, it is made of the good ashen tree

And so is the malt of the finest barley.

There was often brawling and mischief, and by Christmas morning, the jails were filled. It was not commercialism that first profaned the season's sanctity.


What to make of this antic 18th Century painting? Thirteen women, the same number as attended the Last Supper, are seen in various states of inebriation. Two are fighting, several are toasting and guzzling, and one appears to have descended into lascivious reverie. The woman with the crucifix around her neck vomits on the one who has passed out on the floor. The two in the center have a more serious mien, perhaps engaging in earnest character assassination while they continue to dip into the bowl. Like Christmas wassails, there is something ironic in the revelers' depravity. After all, they're well dressed, the setting is luxurious, with a male servant peeking in at the door, and whatever the holiday or occasion it might be, we doubt they intended for it to get this way.

A Midnight Modern Conversation, an anonymous 18th Century oil painting in the style of William Hogarth. Click on the picture for a closer look.

4 comments:

onebeanrow.com said...

What an extraordinary picture. I wonder what the story is behind it!

Jane

Ben Hardy said...

When I saw the picture in its smaller size, I assumed it was a modern pastiche of an old picture, but see that it is not. It is fascinating. Do you think the mirror and the clock are symbols of vanity and death, or just there as furniture? And what a strange party. Like onebeanrow, I wonder about its purpose and story.

TallTchr said...

I wish I knew more about this painting, too. Ben, I was wondering about the large black object that seems to be leaning against the wall. Can it be a coffin? It reminds me of Il Commendatore who drags Don Giovanni into Hades at the end of the opera. Then again, it could just be a cabinet.

Paula Slade said...

I agree with Jane - that is an extraordinary picture!

I've been to many office holiday parties over the years and fortunately none degraded to the level of that painting. Maybe I didn't stay long enough?

Your comment about the black object in the corner resembling a coffin might be the artist's statement that it was time to end the party. :)