Entire cities and countries are in lockdown because of the coronavirus. Millions are forced to stay at home, marooned like the pirate in the 1903 drawing by American illustrator and author Howard Pyle (pictured above, from his Book of Pirates). Humans being hopelessly social creatures, it is a miserable state of affairs. Even so, I hope the following works of art, together with my random reflections, would help mitigate the misery of those who are not used to being isolated from the crowd.
Study of a fisherman, by 1936, by Vincenzo Caprile (Italian, 1856–1936)
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (from the Bonhams auction house)
Prolonged periods out at sea are a kind of quarantine for fishermen and sailors. The sense of isolation is intensified by the absence of familiar faces, of friends and loved ones, and the vastness of the sea itself. Yet, those who make a living from the sea endure it all.
The Gulf Stream, 1899, by Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There are many things worse than staying at home because of the coronavirus. The fisherman in Winslow Homer’s powerful painting is stranded on a boat with a broken mast and rudder. Surrounded by a shark-infested sea, he teeters between despair and hope, not knowing if the ghostly ship in the distance would finally see and rescue him.
Woman at the Shoreline, 1910, by Léon Spilliaert (Belgian, 1881–1946)
Image courtesy of The Athenaeum
Even during normal times, many people have to wrestle with solitude and loneliness. The solitary figure in Léon Spilliaert’s enigmatic work may well symbolise all the widows in the world who are forced by circumstances to stand on their own. Or the independent-minded woman who has to struggle against gender discrimination in the workplace.
Seascape with lighthouse after a painting by C. Frederick Sörensen, 1862–1876
Image courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
A lighthouse is not just an engineering structure. Often situated on a promontory, it is symbolic of human solitude. Yet, it is also a reminder that those who choose to be alone, to stand above the herd, can be a guiding light to others.
Meditation by the Sea, early 1860s, by unnamed American Artist
Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Do not fret. The times when one is alone and isolated are the best times for self-reflection. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”