Charles Hunt Sr.
- Charles Hunt Sr.
- Bluebeard Marries and Bluebeard Foiled
- each signed C. Hunt. and dated 1865 (lower right)
- each oil on canvas
John Davey & Sons, Liverpool
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, May 3, 2000, lot 156, illustrated
Acquired at the above sale
Filled with exotic characters and intrigue, Bluebeard, has continued to fascinate and delight readers for generations, and inspired interpretations by countless artists, composers and writers, from Charles Dickens and Jacques Offenbach, to Kurt Vonnegut and Paul Dukas. In the present work, Charles Hunt has captured the dramatic moments of the tale in this pair of paintings, as presented through a young troop of actors preparing their costumes and props for their performance of the astonishing tale of Bluebeard and his many wives.
According to the Brothers Grimm tale, Bluebeard was a very powerful lord who owned a great castle in France, which he frequently left behind to join battles in foreign lands. Bluebeard was a nickname given to the nobleman because of his long black shaggy beard, which had marvelous glints of blue. He was described as “very handsome and charming, but, if the truth be told, there was something about him that made you feel respect, and a little uneasy.” He had been married several times to young, attractive and noble women, but all of them had met a mysterious end. When asked why he had so much misfortune, Bluebeard replied: “one died of smallpox, one of a hidden sickness, another of a high fever, another of a terrible infection…Ah, I’m very unlucky, and they’re unlucky too! They’re all buried in the castle chapel.” No one seemed to find anything suspicious about this macabre pattern.
Although Bluebeard had ill fortune in marriage, he took yet another bride, illustrated in Bluebeard Marries. His latest sweet and beautiful young lady thought her new husband was “really very nice… and when you’re close, his beard doesn’t look as blue as the folks say.” A number of important clues to the outcome of this fairy tale can be found in the picture, the keys which dangle from Bluebeard’s waist, a young girl dressing dolls, a boy painting a small key “blood” red and two other boys dressed as a dragoon and a musketeer.
Just weeks after their marriage, Bluebeard announced to his new bride: “Darling, I must leave you a few weeks. But keep cheerful during that time, invite whoever you like and look after the castle.” Here, he added, handing his bride his ring of keys, “You’ll need these, the keys to the safe, the armoury, and the library keys, and this one, which opens all the room doors. Now this little key here opens the little room at the end of the great ground floor corridor. Take your friends where you want, open any door you like, but not this one! Is that quite clear?? Not this one! Nobody at all is allowed to enter that little room. And if you ever did go into it, I would go into such a terrible rage that it is better that you don’t.”
Bluebeard’s bride had many guests to the castle and she showed them through every room, except the room at the end of the corridor. But her sense of curiosity grew and she couldn’t stop thinking about the contents of the little room. Finally bursting with curiousity, she decided to enter the forbidden chamber and placed the key into the door and opened it wide, what she found was a ghastly horror! Inside hanging on the walls were the bodies of Bluebeard’s wives, which he had strangled with his bare hands! Terrified, she ran from the little room and returned to her chambers, only to notice that the key she had used to open the door was stained with blood. She tried in vain to remove the blood from the key, but it couldn’t be wiped clean. Now, she waited in terror for her murderous husband to return. Just that evening, Bluebeard returned home, and early the next morning he asked for his keys back. His wife hurriedly returned the keys to him, but Bluebeard quickly remarked, “There’s one missing, the key to the little room!” “Is there? Said the young bride shaking, “I must have left it in my room. When she returned with the blood stained key, Bluebeard shouted, “You went into the little room, didn’t you? Well, you’ll go back again, this time for good, along with the other ladies in there. You must die!”
As Bluebeard is about to cut the throat of his bride with his large and sharp sword, her sister and two brothers, the dragoon and musketeer respectively, burst into the ghoulish scene and strike Bluebeard dead, rescuing the terrified young bride. Hunt has depicted Bluebeard’s last moments in Bluebeard Foiled, complete with a young band of musicians playing their instruments in the right background. Pictured on the floor is the blood stained key and pages from an illustrated copy of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tale, which must have served as inspiration for the clever group of children who have turned a humble setting into a lively stage. A macabre touch to the presentation of the ghastly tale are the group of dolls hanging in the doorway, representing the dead wives of the evil Bluebeard. Bluebeard’s wife is also being assisted by a handsome boy who will later become her husband, for the once tortured bride of Bluebeard ultimately marries a good and honest man, who helps her to forget her terrible adventure. “And that young lady completely lost her sense of curiosity…” And that is how the tale of caution and curiosity ends.