Here is something to brighten up your day. Gerry Wadsworth is back with a striking homage to Dr. No!
The Back Story
After reading Dr. No several times, I realized that there was no way I could paint anything that would compete with the scene in the movie where a gorgeous Ursula Andress rises from the ocean like a modern day Botticelli’s Venus de Milo, wearing a bikini. Ask anyone what they remember most about the movie, and this vision springs immediately to mind. So any attempt of creating watercolour versions of female pulchritude was right out. In the novel, Fleming has Honeychile Ryder searching for Venus Elegans cowrie shells, completely naked except for “a broad leather belt around her waist with a hunting knife in a leather sheath at her right hip…She was Botticelli’s Venus, seen from behind.”
Literally on the fourth reread, I had my own eureka moment. Bond is almost always deadly serious. He is the killing machine, and unlike in the movies where they tried to inject witticisms, puns and plays on words, in the books Bond’s lot is down to a nasty job but one that someone had to do. That someone was him.
Humor doesn’t come easily for anyone with a license to kill, although Bond does make light-hearted conversation with his secretaries, banter about with old friends like Felix Leiter, and is an inveterate and scandalous rake and roué with the women. But it was the secondary characters that provided Fleming with an outlet for a lighter touch in dialogue and action.
In the chapter “Facts and Figures” Bond meets Colonial Secretary Pleydell-Smith, a “youngish shaggy-haired man…one of those nervous pipe smokers who are constantly patting their pockets for matches, shaking the box to see how many are left in it, or knocking the dottle out of their pipes. After he had gone through with this routine two or three times in his first ten minutes with Bond, Bond wondered if he ever got any smoke into his lungs at all.” Fleming continues in this vein for a several paragraphs.
Pleydell-Smith is a foil for Fleming, a humorous version of the classic British bureaucrat – in this case, an upperclassman from King’s College, Oxford, who becomes Bond’s ally in Jamaica. When Bond later retires to his hotel, he is told that a large basket of fruit had been sent up to his room by the Acting Governor’s office. He knew that this was unlikely, since the Governor had proven to be quite uncooperative. So Bond proceeds to check the fruit, and finding tell-tale signs of being tampered with, tips the contents – tangerines, grapefruit, pink bananas, soursop, star-apples and nectarines – to the floor.
He has the fruit sent to Pleydell-Smith for analysis and in the next chapter “Night Passage” he receives the following telegram: “Each object contained enough cyanide to kill a horse. Stop. Suggest you change your grocer. Stop.”
Change your grocer, indeed! I laughed out loud – here was Fleming at his self-deprecating and humorous best. This would be the visual: a sunny Jamaican version of an old Dutch masters still life of a basket of fruit, including the addition of every poisonous creature that could be found in Jamaica. It would be a nod to the inspirational visual I found by the 16th. Century Dutch Golden Age painter Balthasar von der Ast, combined with the artistic license of “what else is possible or probable” within the context of Fleming’s imagination and James Bond’s hotel room!
Pictured in the painting are two “Scolopendra Gigantea” centipedes, two poisonous “Blue Dart” frogs, an ocellated gecko, poisonous “News” bug, deadly tarantula, Bond’s suitcase with his Walther PPK in its Berns-Martin Triple Draw holster, a Sea Island blue cotton dress shirt and Sea Island white briefs, his black knitted silk tie, the Venus Elegans and other assorted cowrie shells, bowl of Hibiscus flowers that were on the Governor’s desk, and a fly on the envelope attached to the basket – in a nod to Bond artist, Richard Chopping.
In the background out the hotel window – Crab Key Island – the last resting place for Dr. No.
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