This painting hangs in the same spare bedroom where the hundred year old Victrola (Victor Talking Machine) resides in my home. This is even older than Victor - this is the original Gibraltar scene painted by my Great Aunt Marie in 1890. Twenty years later, she painted an exact replica of this original as a wedding gift for my paternal grandfather and grandmother. My brother Chris still has that painting at his house in Michigan. That one is slightly brighter than this one.
This haunting painting always reminds me of Dad and his family, and his many stories about that fascinating family. He had many stories about his father, the grandfather I never knew, except through his stories. His father and I apparently had a lot in common - we both loved baseball, music, and both were gregarious, "people" people. We also both had a lot of issues with my father and vice versa. Fortunately, Dad resolved a lot his issues with his father before his father died, and resolved any lingering issues he had before he died. Dad and I not only resolved our issues with each other, but became the closest of friends his last couple of years. One of the great gifts of my life, that friendship that so unexpectedly grew up between us. He also had a ton of stories about his grandfather, whose house he grew up in, and who he considered a second father. Martin really took Dad under his wing and passed along much of his hard-earned wisdom about the world to Dad.
Marie also lived on in many of Dad's stories, a patron saint to the many artists in the descending clan. She traveled to parlors all over Europe with her trunks (now our coffee tables), her paints and her canvasses. She left us the Rock (and her trunks) to remember her by.
It's a dark, industrious scene - it reminds me a lot of the way Pittsburgh was, growing up in that Steel Mill town! Lots of smoke, mostly dark, but always industrious. Kind of like me.
This painting hung above Dad's death-bed, those last months as life ebbed out of him - it seemed that he died well before his time. But he was ready, as he industriously prepared himself for that journey. "1, 2, 3 - go!" He’d open his eyes, a little disappointed..."Oh…still here, huh?" Not that he was anxious to leave – but, he was looking forward to arriving on the other side! He’d look up from his death-bed and see that Rock, and he'd smile, just knowing they were waiting by the waterside, on the other side. He'd sigh…."Oh, well - maybe I'll join them tomorrow." His work here was done.
On a cruise crossing the Atlantic from Barcelona in 2007, I wandered up topside at 5:30 a.m. on the morning we were to make a port stop in Gibraltar. I'd been awoken by something in my cabin - by what? A call, perhaps? A dream? I got some coffee, and stumbled up topside, through the dense fog and the darkness, making my way to the ship's stern. Gazing out upon the salty darkness and dense fog, I couldn't see much. Then, through the fog emerged this scene...127 years later - much different - but much the same. Same Rock - same industrious scene below - less smoke - still dark. But a recognition - I'd known this scene all my life! A connection... to Marie - to Martin - to Grandpa - to Dad – to me. A timeless moment.
I love this painting, and all of the stories that it conjures.