Tag Archives: 1950

Edvard Munch’s Kiss By the Window, Asa Heshel and Hadassah (The Family Moskat)

27 Dec

“I longed for you very much.”
The girl quivered. There was a movement in her throat, as though she were swallowing something.
“I too,” she answered. “From the beginning.”

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the window, 1892

“If only (…) the twilight last forever, and the two of them, he and Hadassah, to stand there at the window, close to each other, for eternity!

And now for the final post of my The Family Moskat triptych; the scene in the novel where Hadassah visits Asa in his room and it is a very special moment in which they both admit their longing for one another, and the snow is falling and the darkness of an early winter night is descending. “The Family Moskat” is a novel written by Isaac Bashevis Singer published in 1950 and it falls the lives of the members of the Warsaw Moskat family starting from just before the First World War up until the horrors of the Second World War. The first post of this little series is about Edward Hopper’s painting “The Evening Wind” and Hadassah’s sleepless night and the second one is about Asa Heshel’s thoughts when he is alone in his room. This third and last post, at least for now, is the crown of the other two posts because it combines both Asa and Hadassah in a single scene. Asa had not visited Hadassah as he had promised and so Hadassah decides to visit him, which was quite a bold move for a girl of her age at the time. The passage from the novel goes:

You’re too pessimistic. I know, because I’m very melancholy too. Everyone is against me-my grandfather, Papa, even mamma.”
“What do they want of you?”
“You know. But I can’t.”
She started to say something else, but suddenly stopped. She walked to the window. Asa Heshel went after her and stood beside her. There was a twilight blueness outside. The snow fell slowly, broodingly. Lights gleamed from the opposite windows. There was a faint rumble of noise, which sounded at one moment like the sighing of the wind and again like the rustling of the forest. Asa Heshel held his breath and let his eyelids close. If only the sun were to stand still in the skies, as it had stood still for Joshua, and the twilight last forever, and the two of them, he and Hadassah, to stand there at the window, close to each other, for eternity!
He glanced toward her and met her own eyes turned toward him. Her features were hidden in the dimness. Her eyes. deep in pools of shadow, were opened wide. It seemed to Asa Heshel that he had experienced all this before. He heard himself say:
“I longed for you very much.”
The girl quivered. There was a movement in her throat, as though she were swallowing something.
“I too,” she answered. “From the beginning.

Edvard Munch, The Lonely Ones (Two People), 1895

The reason that Edvard Munch’s painting “The Kiss by the Window” came to my mind is because of its atmosphere. There is a sense of a foreboding doom, not just for Jews in Warsaw in the novel, but for Hadassah and Asa in the novel because Asa is an essentially heartless nihilist who only cares for his own needs and is ultimately a selfish person uncapable of true love. But he awoke tender feelings in Hadassah, the kind that she had never felt before, and the first step of the path of heartbrokenness is paved.There is always something foreboding about Munch’s art, especially in his paintings of lovers. They never express the pure loveliness that love can bring, but rather tackle the darker sides of love. The painting is painted in nocturnal blue shades which instantly makes it atmospheric. Two lovers are standing by the window and are merged in a kiss, merged indeed because their grimace-like faces are melting one into another, but not in that typical romantic notion of being “as one”, but in a much gloomier way which hints at more disturbing things. Lovers merging and becoming one may carry connotations of loosing oneself, disappearing, loosing one’s identity. In Asa’s case, he is a good representation of this fear and throughout the novel he always kept himself to himself in a way that would prevent him from truly connecting with another, and it is quite sad. From Munch’s painting “The Kiss by the Window” to his painting “The Lonely Ones (Two People)”; this is the love path of Asa and Hadassah and upon reading the novel again I find myself mourning over Hadassah’s choices, her devotion and adoration, all for Asa who was most unworthy of it all.

Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita – Little Girl With a Doll

19 May

Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Little Girl with a Doll (Fillette a la poupée), 1950-51

Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita was born in a rich, aristocratic family in Tokyo and he had an urge to study Western art since a very early age. As soon as he had graduated high school, he wanted to move to Paris to study the art he so admired but was advised by a family member to stay in Japan for a little while longer and study Western art there. In 1913, at last, Foujita moved to Paris and settled in Montparnasse where he quickly befriended fellow bohemians and artists such as Chaim Soutine, Picasso, Henri Matisse and Modigliani. Foujita was a vibrant, extroverted and eccentric addition to the artist’s colony in Montparnasse. Some of his eccentricities include wearing a lampshade whilst going to the opera and pretending that it was a common thing in Japan; he was known for throwing big, lavish parties and wearing eye-catching clothes and haircuts; he was married five times and each of his wives also served as his model. Women, cats, and little girls with their dolls were a common and repetitive motif in Foujita’s art. Recently these paintings of girls, all painted during the last decade of Foujita’s life, caught my attention because they are so unique and strange.

Painting “Little Girl with a Doll” is an oil on canvas from 1950-51 but at first sight it looks like a drawing, at least to me. It’s only if you take a closer look that you see the visible brushstrokes, especially on the creases on the girl’s dresses. This isn’t unusual because Foujita loved trompe-l’oeil, and he often showed little interest in the effect of volume, preferring the flatness which is a typical element of Japanese art. Standing against the grey doors a blonde girl with a ponytail is painted holding her Japanese doll. All of Foujita’s drawings of girls follow the same formula; a closely cropped girl, very pale, with thin lips, blonde hair and no eyebrows, dressed in strange off-the shoulder dresses, holding a cat or a doll, with a simple background or one showing a townscape.

These girls look out of time and out of place; their pale oval faces with thin lips, no eyebrows and thin hair make me think of late Medieval and early Renaissance portraits of damsels and martyrs. Their appearance is very different to the beauty ideal of the times, just think of Sandra Dee and how different these girls are to her. And yet, the girl’s clothes brings to mind the Rococo era; they are like little Rococo orphans, in fancy yet worn-out clothes, looking like wistful little dolls; forgotten and left behind… Painting “Little Girl with Clasped Hands” has a specially early Renaissance flair; the girl’s head-wear is reminiscent of that worn by many Tudor ladies and Henry VIII’s unfortunate wives, and the composition of a girl with the town in the background is also very Medieval. Foujita mixes all these elements together in these oil on canvases and still manages to create something unique and eye-catching.

Foujita, Little Girl With a Cat (Fillette au chat), 1955

Foujita, Little Girl With a Doll (Fillette avec poupée), 1951

Foujita, Girl With Clasped Hands (Fillette aux mains jointes), 1960

Foujita, Little Girl with a Mexican Doll (Fillette à la poupée mexicaine), 1950