I have received from the hands of the generous author, my colleague Anne Gray, a copy of the catalogue of her new exhibition in Canberra, Sydney Long: The Spirit of the Land. The postman has delivered it at an especially helpful moment, because I have been contemplating the meaning of flamingoes—not dancing brolgas (above)—in the context of British painting in the Edwardian moment, because that strange but winsome bird makes regular and disproportionately frequent appearances there, never more spectacularly than in Edwin Austin Abbey’s slightly batty Columbus in the New World here at Yale:
I gather Sid Long first saw flamingoes at the Moore Park zoo in Sydney, and was certainly therefore not laboring under the misapprehension that they were in Australia anything other than exotica, but I do wonder if—like the marvelous dancing brolga—he nevertheless felt that the topsy-turvy flamingo had something particular to say to the fledgling Commonwealth. More probably, I suppose, the flamingo (to which he returned frequently) was for him a purely aesthetic motif, the beau ideal of sinuous line, and of chromatic flamboyance. As “Lady Kathleen” pointed out in her regular fashion column for the English Illustrated Magazine in November 1909 (quite a different but telling context): “Pale pink and a curious oriental red shade of flamingo brilliancy are daring colour blendings cleverly handled by certain creators of evening modes.” In a sense the haughty flamingo could not have been engineered by natural selection better to suit the art-nouveau aesthetic to which Sid Long devoted himself.