Entry - MAG Poetry Prize 2009

Painting History

by Barbara Smith

The Hall of Mirrors prepared for signature of the Versailles Peace Treaty on 28 June 1919 by Leopold Delbeke

I never imagined that painting to be a footnote
underscoring history – it was an afterthought.
I meant to make a study in rendering precise
perspective: to sight a central point out
through the middle door, along the Water Parterre
towards the Grand Canal. The parquet floor
laid out in carpet (imagine the scuffs!),
baroque inkwells laid along the length
of joined tables arrayed in velvet for the victors –
but only a banquet of words. I am pleased
with the cosy gold of evening daylight –
it’s hard to know how shadows will wear
in time, especially as the light was failing.

And the triple windows – the left one, sinestre,
closed – flanked by Rance marble pilasters, a
hard surface to get right, you know, all those
fiddly feather strokes. Pleasure? It was indeed,
to paint La Galerie des Glaces, to depict
the view outwards from that room, since so
many others chose to look within, at the mirrors
waiting for the thousand odd attending to see
seventy two signing in a book, like condolences
at a funeral. And when Germany had signed,
the fountains were turned on and fifty thousand
applauded in the grounds. No. Better I think,
my way, to leave the figures out and focus on
the view away to the south-west, left
prepared for the signing of the Treaty that day.

Added: 27.04.2009