Bradley James Weber — “Song of the Lark,” the 1884 painting that actor Bill Murray credits with saving his life, makes its return this week to Gallery 222 in the Art Institute of Chicago.
In an early 2014 press junket for the movie The Monuments Men, Murray recalled being so troubled by his his own performance during his theatrical debut in Chicago that he, “just walked out.”
“I started walking. And I walked for a couple of hours and I realized I’d walked the wrong direction. Not just the wrong direction in terms of where I lived but the wrong direction in terms of a desire to stay alive. And . . this may be a little bit – not completely true, but it’s pretty true – I walked and then I thought, ‘Well if I’m gonna die where I am, I may as well just go over towards [Lake Michigan] and maybe I’ll float for a while after I’m dead.'”
Murray walked up Michigan Avenue until he came to the Art Institute of Chicago.
“I just walked inside,” he recalled, “and I didn’t feel like I had any place being in there. They used to ask you for a donation, y’know, when you go into a museum, and I just walked right through because I was ready to die and I walked in and there’s a painting there . . . I think it’s called The Song of the Lark . . . . It’s a woman in a field and there’s a sunrise behind her. I’ve always loved this painting and I saw it that day and I just thought, ‘There’s a girl who doesn’t have a whole lot of prospects but the sun’s coming up anyway and she’s got another chance at it.’ So I think that gave me some sort of feeling that I too am a person and get another chance every day that the sun comes up.”
Completed in 1884 by French Realist, Jules Brenton, “Song of the Lark” depicts a young peasant woman, barefoot with sickle in-hand, standing in a field at sunrise. Benton’s painting also inspired the title of Willa Cather’s 1915 novel about a young Colorado pianist who takes her ambition and talent to Chicago where she discovers her true gift is singing.
Over the summer, “Song of the Lark” was on loan to the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln, Nebraska. Benton’s painting returns to its place among works by Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, John Constable, and Jules Dupré.