It’s a thoroughly unpicnicky attitude that animates Zelda Fitzgerald’s A Mad Tea-Party. There are empty tea cups and an empty wicker basket. The title alludes to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but this is not satire, and the hectic imagery is unlike the Hatter’s tea party. The purposeful distortion, particularly the heavy emphasis of red and black, suggests blood and death.

The ballerina, whom Fitzgerald unrealistically aspired to be, is a recumbent, limp doll, on the blanket, looking up fearfully at a spectral figure without facial features, standing with arms spread. Standing on the side of the ballerina is a muscular man dressed in black and red. He looks away, too. His costume of black tights and red boots suggests a circus ringmaster, perhaps an allusion to her husband Scott, or her doctors. The forest, in the background, suggests the locale of Asheville, North Carolina, where Fitzgerald was receiving medical and psychological treatment. The red and white buildings resembling medieval castles may suggest love and hate.

Whatever Fitzgerald  intended, the contrast suggests she was conflicted perhaps by her unfulfilled (unrealistic) desire to become a ballet dancer. There is no evident enjoyment or pleasure in the painting, a sure sign of anxiety and near despair.

Fitzgerald was twenty-seven years old when she began talking ballet, with the intention of dancing professionally.

Fitzgerald was twenty-seven years old when she began talking ballet, with the intention of dancing professionally.

Featured Image:    Zelda Fitzgerald. A Mad Tea Party (1940s?d), gouache on paper. F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum

See: Zelda by Herself, http://halsey.cofc.edu/exhibitions/zelda/