Travel is not just about being there. Travel is about memory and anticipation. As I pack my one small suitcase for Vienna in November, I am full of memories of past trips and high hopes for this one.
Last year, the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum had a special exhibit: “Winter Tales.” Paintings, sculpture and artifacts from all over the world were gathered in a glorious celebration of winter. My very favorite piece was this portrait of a child with a fur-and-velvet muff and a scruffy little dog impatient for her to play: “Lady Caroline Scott as Winter,” by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Winter is so often personified as Death, or as a creaky old man. Here, though, winter is a child full of hope and wonder. She gazes out at us from the barren winter grounds of her British home, her face as fresh as the day she was painted in 1776 at the age of two or three.
This is not a glamorous society portrait. It is only about 57 x 45 inches (just the right size to place over my fireplace, if I could afford such a thing!) I can imagine the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, age 51 at the time, encountering Lady Caroline in the bare winter grounds of her home. Anyone would be captivated by her rosy-cheeked face and direct gaze. I can see Sir Joshua dashing off a sketch and finishing the portrait back in his studio. It would have made a nice break from painting his more demanding adult subjects, who proudly posed with the emblems of their wealth and power: swords, globes, weighty books, jewels and fine silks.
The British Peerage tells us that Lady Caroline was the daughter of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. She married the 6th Marquess of Queensberry (slightly lower in rank than a Duke, but who’s keeping score?) She had 6 surviving children and lived to the age of 80. So she was an exact contemporary of Jane Austen, although Jane died at age 41. I’d like to think Lady Caroline read Jane’s books.
Lady Caroline was a privileged child. As she grew up, no doubt she learned that many children were cold and dirty and hungry. Her rank would come with some responsibilities to take care of the less fortunate. She lived through the American Revolution, the Terror in France, and the Napoleonic Wars. And we all know that even for the most privileged, life holds heartbreak and disappointment. But on this wintry day, all that is in the future. In this perfect moment, Lady Carolin stands on her sturdy little legs, happy to be walking about in the wide world.
Vienna is an enchanting city in any season, but my favorite time there is winter. The Christmas season begins in late November, an ideal time for crowd-free travel. I do not have a fur muff or a scruffy little dog, but I am setting off for Vienna with all the anticipation of a child at Christmas.