This poem was first published in in the New York Sun on Sunday 28 August 1892, without a title, following Kipling’s article “Half-a Dozen Pictures”. It is collected in:
Peter Keating discusses the poem in the context of the links between Kipling’s poems and the prose pieces they accompany:
Although the connections between poetry and prose are sometimes slight, sometimes profound, they are always there. When a poem is separated from its original prose setting, it may survive perfectly well on its own, but it usually does so by becoming a slightly different poem. (p. 37)Keating gives further details of its first appearance:
On 20 August 1892 The Times published an article by Kipling, "Half-a-Dozen Pictures": it was one of a series of travel articles called From Tideway to Tideway. The article describes a visit to an art gallery and Kipling's reflections on the failure of most painters to match the beauty and vitality of the world around them. He offers some attractive verbal sketches of his own, though it is not part of his purpose to contrast the approaches to nature of writers and painters. His main concern is to urge artists of all kinds to get out and see the world for themselves: (Letters of Travel 1892-1913 p. 40):In the last paragraph of his introduction to Kipling's novel The Light that Failed, about the struggles of Dick Heldar, a young artist, Geoffrey Annis concludes:
... let us leave the final word with Kipling himself, with the final four lines from "When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted" (1892), which seem a fitting tribute to both Dick Heldar and to Rudyard Kipling his creator.
Rembrandt and Van Dyck
Kipling would have been very familiar with the history of painting. Two of his mother’s sisters married well-known Pre-Raphaelites, Edward Burne-Jones and Edward Poynter. But why did he choose those two examples? The Australian artist Simon Mark suggests: "and only Rembrandt will teach us" may refer to the fact that he constantly had a school of pupils in his studio, both because he enjoyed teaching and for regularity of income, and he was known as a very effective teacher.
Simon Mark also suggests that the concept of van Dyck having the capacity to "blame" others may be to do with his ability to transform a person's image by painting a portrait using great enhancement and flattery. He would possibly regard himself as having the judgement to criticise any portrait which did not show the idealised version of the sitter.
the tubes are twisted and dried Artists’ paints come in tubes like toothpaste tubes
aeon an age of the universe, appropriate to the cosmic setting of the poem.
comets’ hair the tail of a comet looks like streaming hair; indeed the name comes from the Greek for hair, kome.
The God of Things as They are See “The Judgement of Dungara” (Soldiers Three p. 245) 'The great God Dungara, the God of Things as They Are'.
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