In Europe, Maggie Laubser yearned for the wide open spaces of the South African landscape. Surely she also longed for the wild birds with which she was familiar from roaming the fields as a child and collecting a variety of eggs. At that time, she also observed their habits and studied their behaviour. In 1924 when she finally returned to the country of her birth, it is not surprising that she took up the ties of her youth and birds became a major source of inspiration for her pictures.
The heron features in several of her landscape paintings, sometimes with ducks and sometimes with people that move into the distance. Bird in a Landscape with Rays differs from other compositions featuring herons as the bird’s prominence is emphasised by a rainbow that seemingly splits into two rainbows: one on the left and the other on the right. Dramatically, the heron takes its position on the forefront of the picture plane, between the two rainbows that enshrine the bird. This configuration of the rainbow is suggestive of nature’s cathedral and a Gothic arch is called to mind. Some of the rainbow colours reflect on the bird’s feathers linking the bird and the rainbow that connects heaven and earth. Therefore, it signifies ‘as above, as below’. This heron embodies a heavenly messenger.
In addition to the colours reflected on the bird’s feathers, which connect it to the rainbow, the elegant bearing of the bird enhances its regality. Enshrined by the rainbow arch, the bird becomes the ruler in this domain. That the earth where he treads is holy ground is confirmed by the double rainbow. In this domain there are barely any shadows, every colour is luminous. The clouds become bulbous lights and the tracks of reddish brown that seemingly meander to and from the heron are energised to take on lives of their own. The track that emerges from the left corner moves into the middle distance where it swings down towards the heron where it stops. Its sweeping movement emulates the elegance of the bird. This is the domain of eternal light.
Dalene Marais (1994). Maggie Laubser: Her Paintings, Drawings and Graphics, Johannesburg: Perskor, illustrated in black and white on page 349, catalogue number 1525.