The Merry-Go-Round by W. Somerset Maugham and References to Paintings

When I was reading The Merry-Go-Round (1904) I noticed that Maugham often referred to paintings in order to describe his characters. I thought it would be interesting to put them side by side with the passages, so may be we could visualize what Maugham had in mind when he made these art references in his novel.

Art References and The Merry-Go-Round

somerset maugham novel, the merry go round, art reference,
Mrs. Castillyon/
"a shepherdess in Dresden china" 
Well, this is not exactly a painting... "Mrs. Castillyon was a vivacious creature, small and dainty like a shepherdess in Dresden china, excitable and restless, who spoke with a loud, shrill voice; and with a quick, nervous gesture, constantly threw herself back in her chair to laugh boisterously at what Reggie said"(40).


somerset maugham novel, the merry go round, art reference
Lady Vizard/
Madame de Montespan
"'I [Miss Ley] used at one time occasionally to meet her at parties, and she [Lady Vizard] struck me as one of the most splendid, majestic women I ever saw; one felt that something like that must have looked Madame de Montespan'" (47).


somerset maugham novel, the merry go round, art reference
Mrs. Murray/
Botticelli Venus
"She [Mrs. Murray] was a tall woman, as tall as himself, with a certain boyishness of figure that lent itself to a sinuous distinction of line; her hair was neither dark nor fair, the eyes gray and tender, but her smile was very noticeable for a peculiar sweetness that marked an attractive nature. And if there was no precise beauty in her face, its winsome expression, the pallor of her skin, gave it a fascinating grave sadness reminiscent of the women of Sandro Botticelli: there was that same inscrutable look of melancholy eyes which suggested a passionate torment repressed and hidden, and she had that very grace of gesture which one is certain was theirs" (54).


somerset maugham novel, the merry go round, art reference
Mrs. Murray's gown/
Catherine Cornaro by Titian
"Mrs. Murray had never looked handsomer than that night when she stood in the hall, holding herself very erect, and spoke with Basil while waiting for her carriage. Her cloak was so beautiful that the young man remarked on it, and she, flushing slightly with pleasure because he noticed, looked down at the heavy brocade as splendid as some material of the eighteenth century.
"'I bought the stuff in Venice,' she said, 'but I feel almost unworthy to wear it. I wouldn't resist it because it's exactly like a gown worn by Catherine Cornaro in a picture in one of the galleries'" (54-55).


somerset maugham novel, the merry go round, art reference
Moretto, Portrait of a Gentleman
"At last he [Basil] came to that portrait of an Italian nobleman by Moretto, which to an imaginative mind seems to express the whole spirit of the later Renaissance. It fitted his mood strangely. He thought that to make lovely patterns was the ultimate end of the painter's art, and noticed with keen appreciation the decorative effect of the sombre colouring and of the tall man, leaning, melancholy and languid, in that marble embrasure. Nameless through the ages, he stood in an attitude that was half weariness and half affectation; and his restrained despair was reflected by the tawny landscape of the background, blank like the desert places of the spiritual life; the turquoise sky even was cold and sad. The date was given, 1526, and he wore the slit sleeves and hose of the period; (the early passion for the New Birth was passed already; for Michaelangelo was dead, and Caesar Borgia rotted in far Navarre;)
the dark cerise of his parti-coloured dress was no less mournful than
the black, but against it gleamed the delicate cambric of his shirt and ruffles. One hand, ungloved, rested idly on the pommel of his long sword, the slender, delicate hand, white and soft, of a gentleman and a student. On his head he wore a strange-shaped hat, part buff, part scarlet, with a medallion on the front of St. George and the Dragon.
"The face haunted Basil, paler by reason of the dark beard; and out of it looked wistfully the eyes, as though sight were weariness and the world had naught to offer but disillusion" (123-4).


somerset maugham novel, the merry go round, art reference
Portrait by Romney

somerset maugham novel, the merry go round, art reference
Portrait by Sir Peter Lely

"... portraits on the wall by Sir Peter Lely and Romney..." (258) -- the decorations in the Castillyons' house in Jeyston.

The Merry-Go-Round is available in ebook format.


  1. Fascinating. Thank you so much for your effort.


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