DAMES BLANCHES – text and article

White Ladies are the stuff of legend and mythology in several European countries, including the Netherlands, where the artist was born.

from natural phenomena...

Diaphonous and diffuse figures floating in woods or near lakes, often at dusk; these apparitions are White Ladies. The explanation given is that layers of mist form near the ground and then glide amongst the trees, moving and wandering on the air until daybreak comes and they evaporate.

…to nordic legends

“Witte Vrouwen” (or “Witte Wieven” in popular language) first appear in the Germanic peoples in ancient history. They were real people, much respected for their gifts of clairvoyance, and the priestesses of the tribe were chosen from among their number. The adjective white (“witte”) did not refer to their colour but rather to their wisdom, the verb “wissen” or “weten” signifying knowledge. After her death, a white lady’s memory was honoured on her burial mound. It was said that the white figures that seemed to roam around these places were their kindly ghosts come to watch over the people. Over several centuries white ladies became the ambiguous heroines of all sorts of legends that vary from region to region.

In the middle ages, with the advent of Christianity the interpretation of the apparitions of white ladies changed: they were seen as the spawn of sorcery and their machiavellian powers were feared or revered. The Church denounced these pagan beliefs for several centuries and persecuted their followers.

Yet the White Lady has survived and continues to haunt or enchant our nights and our dreams...

the artist's approach

In her series Manuela Luchtmeijer evokes a night in the northern mists. The first apparition floats in violet twilight lit by the moon; as darkness gathers the forms become more definite, the waverings take on a bluer hue. Eventually dawn and daybreak bring the return of colour. As she evaporates the white lady gives her final message of hope: I shall uphold. * Each painting harbours a triple reference: it evokes a particular legend, a moment of this misty night, but is also and above all a metaphor for an event or phase in the artist’s life. "I shall uphold".*

Each painting harbours a triple reference: it evokes a particular legend, a moment of this misty night, but is also and above all a metaphor for an event or phase in the artist’s life.


* "I shall uphold" ("Je Maintiendrai") is also the motto -in French- of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Walking on the Dark Side
huile sur toile / 91x116cm
Manuela Luchtmeijer 2006


Je Maintiendrai
huile sur toile / 100x100cm
Manuela Luchtmeijer 2005

Following the dreamlike path of the white ladies by T. Baudel

Like many artists, Manuela Luchtmeijer draws on her own life history for inspiration, and this indeed provides the starting point and one of the main themes of her White Ladies* series. Yet we will not be allowed to discover which stage is being referred to in each painting; at most we can determine a tonality, be it sombre or joyful. Instead of being offered an intimist reading we are shown a triple path through the night, a natural phenomenon and a legend.

First of all, the work as a whole is set in a scale of colours that trace the events of a nocturnal drama: violet at dusk, darker blues as night falls, the flamboyant tones of the rising sun. A blanket of mist in the night, gliding and twisting on the moving air is seen in each episode, and this diffuse white form becomes the common thread weaving its way across the paintings of the whole series. This shape is an evocation, although not an illustration, of the White Ladies; those figures of nordic mythology sometimes good faeries, sometimes witches, that have marked the Netherlands, the artist’s country of birth.

Form and materials, oils generously deployed in strong, vivid line augmented by diffuse patches of colour, all these have precedence over figuration to allow the evocation of each painting’s polysemy.

If figures can be discerned, here and there even in very fine detail coming through the knife work, they are not there to give a direct and naive “meaning” to the picture. It is more to do with using our natural gift for anticipating the next movement that a shape we have recognised will make to regain its balance; it’s about lending dynamism to still images.

Such dynamism should thus be interpreted as abstraction in motion rather than the suggestion of a figure, even if the figure in question is naturally in harmony with the subject of the painting.

This striving to express movement in a still image is inspired by oriental calligraphy. The artist indeed holds a degree in Japanese from L’Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris, and has studied and practised oriental calligraphy, incorporating it in previous work in various media: in chinese ink / pastel / oil combinations for classical and contemporary subjects, and in mosaics, as a challenge.

Thorough preparation of the surface by thick layering can take several months but is the necessary preliminary work to the creation of each painting. This is analogous to the time of meditation that comes before the flashing brushstokes of calligraphy. In contrast the leap of the white figure and its dispersal across the canvas happen at an almost automatic level, so as best to render the transience of the fleeting and contradictory impressions that inspire the painting, and which are superbly underpinned by the mythological theme of the White Ladies.

The three subjects in each painting are indeed linked to the whole series, in the description of the three paths that dreams take to reach us: the mysteries of nature, night, and our own history, be it personal or collective.

(Exhibition "Dames Blanches", June 24-July 7 2006, Paris)

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