The Magic Hour

Ian Beck’s latest picturebook is the first in a new series of titles from Tate Publishing inspired by classic paintings. Based on the John Singer Sargent painting Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, Beck’s book takes the reader on a journey into a Victorian summer’s evening.

Lily and Rose are playing in the garden of a country house during a wonderfully hot summer. One day, they spot a strange light in the distance. Thinking it must be fairies, they set out to discover the source of the light, sneaking out of the house at sunset to embark on their quest.

Singer Sargent created the Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose in 1885, setting it in a garden in a village in the Cotswolds. The girls depicted in the painting, Dolly and Polly Barnard, are lighting Japanese lanterns as the twilight deepens around them. The painter particularly loved to paint scenes and landscapes at dusk, referring to it as ‘the magic hour’, the phrase that inspired Beck’s title.

Rather than seeking to recreate the famous painting, Beck’s illustrations and story that takes the reader through them, expands that moment of dusk captured by Singer Sargent into an evening filled with magic. Full of movement and soft, muted colours, Beck’s images are a gentle homage to the Victorian summer.