I have wanted to do this painting for a long time at least as far back as the days when I had my studio in the tower of Loudoun House, the 1852 Gothic villa that is a sister house to the more famous Lyndhurst where the Dark Shadows motion pictures were filmed in 1971. Dark Shadows fans remember well the original 1795 painting that hung in the foyer of Collinwood, and of the 1967 painting Barnabas commissions from Sam Evans. I wanted to do something different from either of those paintings. This portrait is set in the 1897 storyline era. I imagine a moment where Barnabas has found Josette's music box and he contemplates giving it to Rachel Drummond who bears a strong physical resemblance to his long lost Josette. The music box after all these years still works and its delicate melody sends Barnabas into a sad reverie.
Most people who remember Barnabas remember only the fanging and how sinister he seemed, yet he was even in the early episodes a much more complex figure and played with great humanity by Jonathan Frid. I was one of those kids "who ran home from school" to watch Dark Shadows but even as a six to eight year old child it was never about the fanging for me. Yes, when Quentin turned into a werewolf he was scary though Reverend Trask was far more frightening in the way he destroyed innocent people with maniacal glee without having a single bit of supernatural power.
However, it was Barnabas' sad longing for Josette that resonated across the decades.
Again, it wasn’t about the fanging, the ghouls and the werewolves. It was about one person whose only desire was to go home to his beloved and to his family. Imagine waking up in 1967 after being locked in a coffin since 1795 and you see a world that is both alien and familiar. Faces that you know inhabited by the souls of strangers. You want to find a place in this new life, and you don’t want your family to know what you’ve become. You were a good person driven by forces that sicken you even as you find it almost impossible at times to stop what you’re doing. As Barnabas once said to Quentin as a vampire he had his needs but they disgusted him. Just as you almost completely lose your conscience, the one person you love even more than Josette saves you–your little sister Sarah. With many mistakes made along the way, you choose a path back to being who you used to be even if a cure for vampirism is never quite permanent.
Not only do you have to learn the social customs of the new era but also how language has changed, the mysterious electro-mechanical devices of the 1960's. More importantly, once Barnabas began the path to redemption, he had to learn how to trust again, how to love without inviting the destruction created by his curse. Unlike Quentin Collins, Barnabas' curse was the result of perhaps giving his heart away too easily. Too much of a romantic, even during a romantic era.
All of this was running through my mind while working on this painting. I didn't want to just copy a photograph. I watched hours of Dark Shadows tapes, borrowed my very cool neighbour's DVDs of the 1897 storyline and found inspiration in fan made music videos on You Tube. The end result was a composite of many images to coalesce into Barnabas holding the music box and remembering and longing.
The immutable longing for love.