January 3th of this year marked the 130th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birth, Happy Birthday John Ronald Reuel! With the new Amazon Silmarillion adaptation coming soon, Middle-earth is on my mind these days, with an itch to start another massive landscape work. To hold us over, here is a revisit to a post from the beginning of MuddyColors days and one of my favorite paintings from the studio, a portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien.
I cannot begin to tell how excited I was to undertake this commission to celebrate the brilliant mind that has thrilled readers for generations and inspired artists like myself with riches of stories and characters to fill visionary paintings. From the simple beginnings of Bilbo and the Dwarves in The Hobbit, to the personal trials of Frodo and the fellowship in The Lord of the Rings, to the epic tragedies in The Silmarillion, I do not think I could ever exhaust the emotional depths nor narratives of his stories in building a lifetime of images based upon the world of Middle-earth.
I consider this portrait a token ‘thank you’ back to Tolkien for what he has provided to me in my own life lessons – the best of my labors to honor the man who gave us the best of his imagination.
Taking a cue from the rich depths of his writings and world building, this painting is filled with many references to the realm of Middle-earth. Here we see the scholar at work at his desk in the studio at Oxford just after the publication of The Return of the King, or his he laboring in a room at Bag End? The round window recalls those described at Bilbo’s and Frodo’s residence on the Hill. Out the window we see the large tree in a meadow, the gathering place for the opening celebration in The Fellowship of A Long-Expected Party.
There are many more fun elements in this work!
The chair is a gift to Bag End from King Elessar (better known as Aragorn), and carries the crest of the Kings of Gondor woven into its fabric backing.
On the desk we find Tolkien leafing through illustrations of the barrel rider from The Hobbit, designs for the glowing runes defining the doorway into Moria, and lastly unfinished manuscript pages waiting to be compiled by his son Christopher into The Silmarillion.
Drifting up from the desk are wisps of smoke shaping into a flight of eagles, the representatives of the Valar in Middle-earth. Tucked into the book shelves are first edition copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and in the far left shelf is an old faded copy of Beowolf, a nod to the inspirations which Tolkien himself tapped into for direction with his mythologies.
Lastly, resting in the lower left corner, is a set of teacups bearing the crests of Beren and Luthien, the two lovers portrayed in the most epic of love stories from The Silmarillion. Tolkien designed these symbols and always thought of his wife as Luthien and himself as Beren, so much so that he had these names carved on their gravestones. I thought it romantic that we have caught Tolkien in his study just as he was having tea with the woman he loved so dearly.
Thank you for taking a trip with me into the world I love. I have also included a few recent drawings on Middle-earth.