My Substitute for Pistol and Ball
(chapters 1–16), painting
In the paintings about Moby Dick, which Reuvers created several years after the etchings, he initially used the same visual materials. In this painting, which also deals with the same chapters as the etching Nantucket, he again uses the deformed harpoons, the Tiki figurine, the shrunken head, the portraits of Melville and Tailor, the map of Nantucket, the title page of the first edition of Moby Dick, the magical square, the opening statement of the book and the Tahitian sailors.
The realistic representation of the documents and objects, including shadow effects, places this work in the tradition of the trompe l’oeil still life. This is reinforced by the addition of real elements to the images, such as the hair of the shrunken head.
But there are new references too. In the top left, for example, we see ‘The Black Dot’: the button-like black bubble in the centre of the vortex in which everybody and everything eventually disappears. Underneath it, we find the minuscule logo of Larousse, an important source of information for Reuvers.
And underneath the logo, we see a mouse trap of the brand ‘Cantmiss’ – referring to ‘The Trap’ mentioned in chapter two, ‘The Carpet-Bag’ – and the painting The Whaleship by Turner, which Ishmael examines in the inn. In Turner’s painting, which belongs to the collection of the Tate Gallery in London, a whale rises out of the water to throw itself on the bowsprit of a whaler.
To the left of the Tahitian sailors hovers a part of the patchwork counterpane, under which Ishmael and Queequeg sleep. The quilt is one of the many extraordinary miscellaneous collections that appear in the book, comparable to ‘the Anacharsis Clootz deputation’ of chapter 27.
Other new elements in the painting are, as can be seen in the bottom right, the medallion of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, and the Jewish character Noun, originally a pictograph of a whale. To the far right of the painting, we see two photographs of New Bedford, and a recipe for the chowder that was served to Ishmael in The Spouter-Inn.
Once more Ishmael
Top left, next to ‘The Black Dot’, ‘Call me Ishmael’ is written in Arabic script. The transcription of this line was made by an Arab man, who was on the look-out for lodging, and had accosted a friend of Reuvers in the street. She ushered him to Charley’s studio, where he was working on the painting. The name of the unexpected visitor turned out to be Ishmael.
A small plant
Next to the magical square, there is a small plant. Sailors often took a tussock, or a handful of dirt from home as a keepsake with magical powers to help one return safely.