[CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE]
In The Studio (Dragon’s Dream, 1979), on pages 103 and 104, Barry Windsor-Smith provides a brief account of the genesis of Whithering:
“In the spring of 1975 I was working on a pen and ink drawing of trees, just trees. It was inspired, in part, by a wonderful painting of old Hampstead Heath by John Constable. At that time I didn’t think my audience was ready for — or let’s say interested in — a new work by me that was ‘just trees.’ Constable himself had a witticism about painting some of his pictures with ‘eye salve.’ What he meant was that he would make a picture as commercial as possible if he needed to sell it. As I wanted the fantasy market to see my tree drawing, I took a tip from Constable and applied a little ‘fantastic eye balm’: right in the middle of the picture I drew a shrouded figure of Death — a skull-headed man — and off in the distance a dark, foreboding mansion. This made the trees seemingly incidental. I called it Whithering (p. 110)… a deliberate non sequitur.” […]
“One night I got a frenzied call from an associate in London. He’d just shown a reproduction of the picture to a much respected fellow artist whom I’d never met, and whom my associate had only just met. Over the crackling transatlantic line I heard him say, ‘Hey! Guess what!… I just showed Whithering to so-and-so and guess what he said, — ‘Ahh, Constable; those trees. Barry just stuck that dead bloke in there so he could get away with drawing trees, didn’t he’?… He knew! There were a few cackles of laughter and then he hung up; that was the end of the call. I was suffering from insomnia at the time, I recall I slept that night and glowed the next day.”
Does Windsor-Smith’s reminiscence rule out the influence of Doré’s composition on Whithering? I don’t think so, but if you check out the comments section of this post, you’ll find a reader who disagrees with me.
Three paintings of “Hampstead Heath” by John Constable: