General Woundwort
Mon 30th Aug 2010 at 19:29:33
Box canvas 40x60” (100x150cm)

The composition of this painting is rather complex, as it combines several passages from the book and the direct observation of the real place described in the story.

From Chapter 34: General Woundwort

Dusk was falling on Efrafa. In the failing light, General Woundwort was watching the Near Hind Mark at silflay along the edge of the great pasture field that lay between the warren and the iron road. Most of the rabbits were feeding near the Mark holes, which were close beside the field, concealed among the trees and undergrowth bordering a lonely bridle-path. A few, however, had ventured out into the field, to browse and play in the last of the sun. Further out still were the sentries of the Owsla, on the alert for the approach of men or elil and also for any rabbit who might stray too far to be able to get underground quickly if there should be an alarm…

The General

The previous beautiful passages bring on the scene General Woundwort, the dictator of the rabbits’ town of Efrafa and one of the most remarkable characters in the book.

He is represented in his powerful appearance looking out into the field where the Near Hind Mark is at silflay, around sunset time, just before going to meet Captain Chervil (who is talking to some of the does near the centre of the Mark ground. Unusually, his ears are down, as he is deliberately painted in a fearless posture, the tyrant safe at the centre of his kingdom, omnipotent and invincible.
The General has a grave look as he is…

From Chapter 34: General Woundwort

“…feeling seriously concerned about several things”

the overcrowding problem, the loss of two of his best officers, the escape of four wandering rabbits that came to Efrafa as an embassy from another warren and the knowledge that a large group of rabbits coming from the north passed very close to Efrafa and disappeared southwards without being apprehended. While watching the Mark at silflay, he is turning these things over in his mind.

His size is unusually large as Holly told in his account after the escape from Efrafa:

From Chapter 27: You Can’t Imagine it Unless you have been There

As soon as we got in, we were put up in front of this General Woundwort: and he really is a grim customer. I don’t think that even you’d match up to him, Bigwig. He’s almost as big as a hare and there’s something about his mere presence that frightens you, as if blood and fighting and killing were all just part of the day’s work to him…

Having worked his way up and created his own empire, fighting fiercefully all his enemies, scars on the body and splits in his ears depict this aspect of his personality

From Chapter 34: General Woundwort

In combat he was terrifying, fighting entirely to kill, indifferent to any wounds he received himself and closing with his adversaries until his weight overbore and exhausted them.

His eyes are wide and as no particular colour is indicated in the book, being a wild rabbit, I painted them in a lighter shade of browns and yellows.

From Chapter 37: The Thunder Builds Up

Woundwort stared at him (Bigwig) out of his great pale eyes.

The Landscape

Visiting the real places of the story always plays an important part in the creation of the paintings.
The distant background has been carefully reproduced and the roadless arch described in the book appears between the trees, marking the railway line.
A hedge runs on the evening side and it is possible to distinguish the silhouette of a tree representing the ash tree mentioned in the book while Bigwig leads Blackavar and the does in their escape from the Mark ground:

From Chapter 38: The Thunder Breaks

Over on the evening side, a hedge ran down the length of the field towards the iron road. He (Bigwig) saw Blackavar near by and ran across to him.
“I want everyone the other side of that hedge,” he said.
“Can you get hold of some of them and bring them that way?”…
…”Go straight to that ash tree in the hedge,” he said, “and take all the does you can pick up on the way. Get through to the other side and I’ll be there as soon as you are”.

The pasture field has nowadays been ploughed but I painted grass as described in the story. It’s orientated south-eastwards and therefore the sun is setting on the opposite side, behind the trees of the narrow wood bordering the pasture field. The last light flashes on the distant landscape and is reflected by the little clouds in the sky. Long south-eastwards shadows are thrown on the grass by the trees. The entire foreground is already in deep shadow: as evening is approaching, the light is failing and is almost dark on the edge of the field.

The Flora

Plants and flowers that appear in the painting are those described in the book:

From Chapter 34: General Woundwort

Captain Chervil, one of the two officers of the Mark, had just returned from a round of his sentries and was talking to some of the does near the centre of the Mark ground, when he saw the General approaching. He looked quickly about to see whether anything was at fault. Since all seemed to be well, he began nibbling at a patch of sweet vernal with the best air of indifference that he could manage…

…Nevertheless, this evening, as he came out from among the ash-trees, the General was feeling seriously concerned about several things…

…At this hour the Crixa was all green shade, with red gleams of sun that winked through the moving leaves. The damp grass along the edges of the paths was dotted with spikes of mauve bugle, and the sanicles and yellow archangels flowered thickly…

From Chapter 35: Groping

…Bigwig followed Chervil along the run, down which came the scents of warm grass, clover and hop trefoil…

…The Mark were filing up now and he (Bigwig) watched as they went past, each darkening the entrance for a moment before hopping out under the hawthorn…

To the Flora mentioned in the book, I have added a few more species I saw during my trips to Efrafa:

- Nettle
- Agrimony
- Herb bennett or wood avens
- a fly orchid: I spotted this little beauty growing in the narrow woodland between the bridle path and the once upon a time pasture field and I couldn’t resist adding it just in front of the General.
I have also added Stachys sylvatica, just beside the General and on the right side, behind the hawthorn. Its common name is Hedge Woundwort: the very plant that gave the General his name is depicted along side him in the painting!
I have as well come across a beautiful specimen of fungus, a kind of toadstool (Dryad’s saddle). I know it doesn’t play any particular part in the story but, as it grows on ash trees, it completes the ash tree in the painting in the left corner.
Bigwig does mention once a toadstool, when, on the way back to Watership Down after the escape with the does from Efrafa, he is teasing Blackavar on his feelings about a possible fox attack at Dunn Wood, the place where they decide to stop and rest for a while.

From Chapter 40: The Way Back

“This is no place to stop, Hazel-rah,” he (Blackavar) said. “No wide patrol would bivouac here. It’s fox country. We ought to try to get further before dark.”
…“There are likely to be foxes anywhere about the downs,” said Bigwig sharply. “Why is this fox country more than anywhere else?”
Tact was a quality that Blackavar valued about as much as Bigwig did; and now he made the worst possible reply.
“I can’t exactly tell you why”, he said. “I’ve formed a strong impression, but it’s hard to explain quite what’s based on.”
“Oh, an impression, eh?” sneered Bigwig. “Did you see any hraka? Pick up any scent? Or was it just a message from little green mice singing under a toadstool?”

We know therefore that our rabbits were familiar with toadstools!

- Aldo Galli -