Swan songs



Swans, Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia




Leda and the Swan, c. 1880, oil on canvas. 

Paul Cézanne , 1836-1906, French.  The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia


Zeus transformed himself into a swan to seduce the mortal Leda.




Improvisation No, 29 (The Swan), 1912, oil on canvas.

Kandinsky sought a spiritual and transcendent type of painting and he thought music, the least material of the arts, could provide a model.  His art, he said, was ‘pure painting.  It was to be achieved through combinations of colour and form




The Swan, c. 1924, oil on canvas. 

Joseph Stella, 1877-1946, Italian American.  Private collection on exhibition to the Philadelphia Art Museum





Untitled, 1931, oil on canvas

Agnes Pelton, 1881-1961, German-American, MOMA, NY?




 The Mysterious Swan, 1934, oil on canvas. 

Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978, Italian.  The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia






Je T’Aime  No. VIII (Mallarme’s Swan: Homage), oil on linen, 1957.

Robert Motherwell,  , American. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington.

The artist admired the work of  Stephane Mallarme and it is to this admiration that the white swan’s wing in the center of this image refers.





The swan has just has just moved rightwards into lit waters and is outside the picture frame.  You can see this on the right-hand side of the painting:

there are two tracks across the water, V-shaped.  Where the V comes to a point, there is the swan swimming in the sunshine.


The artist was born in East Germany when it was under Nazi control.   He was raised in (present day) Poland and in east Germany whence he escaped in 1961 to West Germany. 

The date of this painting is 1989: the year the Soviet Union and its empire came to an end.  


The paint is applied in thin washes.  In some places it appears to be peeling.  Black is the dominant colour.


I imagine this painting to be a metaphor for the artist’s life.  Deeply affected by German history and by his time under Soviet rule, the artist, still scrambling around with us in the murky darkness, seeks a less cumbersome future:

there with the swan – which is associated symbolically only with good qualities – in brighter waters.


Swan 2, 1989, oil on canvas  

Gerhard Richter, born 1932, Germany. Philadelphia Musuem of Art




Swan and Shadow, John Hollander, 1996





Leda and Zeus, oil on canvas, 1999. 

Louise Clement-Hoff, 1926-2020, American.  Private loan to Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2020

Zeus transformed himself into a swan to seduce the mortal Leda.





The singer, Bjork (born Iceland 1965) at the Oscars, 2002 wearing a dress made by Marjan Pejoski (Macedonian born 1968, active the UK).


The singer, transformed into a swan, seduced the crowd at the Oscars that year.

How did she come to have the facial features of a human swan?




The Voyage, 2016, mixed paper collage.

Varujan Boghosian, American born 1926.  Courtesy of the artist exhibited in 2017 at the Philadelphia Art Museum

Among the artist’s most important themes is the passage from life to death.











3 thoughts on “Swan songs

    1. Thanks again for taking a look and for adding a swan to ‘my’ collection of swans!

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