Tag Archives: art

Charles Burchfield – January Twilight

27 Jan

“South wind in January; cool and moist – the occasional soft roar of wind in the tree tops; sunlight streaming from out of the white southern horizon, running up the sides of the trees like polished Dutch metal, and lighting up brightly the fences of houses, yearning southward.”

Charles Burchfield, January Twilight, 1962, watercolour

I’m really sick of you – January, can you end already? Can you possibly have less days or even better, never come again? But whilst you are still here, I will use the opportunity to write about this lovely watercolour by Charles Burchfield called “January Twilight” painted in 1962, just five years before the artist’s death in 1967.

Watercolour “January Twilight” shows a motif which we’ve seen often throughout Burchfield’s career; street scene with gloomy Victorian houses, a few trees and perhaps an uninterested passerby. All these watercolours of streetscenes are similar in a way, and still unique and wonderful each in their own right. What differentiates these watercolours is the mood and the weather, in “January Twilight” the weather is wintery; freezing and cold January . The tall and bare tree branches are stretching up towards the sky like the spires of Gothic cathedrals. Burchfield really has a knack of capturing the mood of the moment, they are so many little things that make you truly feel the scene that you are gazing at; the smoke from the chimneys, the snow on the roofs, the bare trees, the color of the sky, everything is so evocative of a winter’s day. Painted nearly entirely in shades of grey and with a few touches of soft yellow, the watercolour is monochromatic yet lively at the same time. Burchfield perfectly captures the pale rays of winter sun suddenly coming from behind the drab houses and illuminating the bare tree branches, wet pavements and piles of snow. I love how Gothic-looking his wooden Victorian houses always appear, almost as if they were real persons, full of dark secrets and tales to tell. One can also notice how much more free, loose and playful his style had become in his later years, less attention is paid to precision and details, and more on capturing the mood. I love the snake-like curves drawn here and there in the snow and I love the touches of yellow, as subtle as they are. One can really get lost in all the details of Burchfield’s dream-likes scenes.

Burchfield’s watercolours, whether they were painted early in his career in the late 1910s or 1920s or near the end of his life in the 1960s, are all characterised by this sense of wonder for the world around him. Burchfield grew up in a small rural town of Salem, Ohio, which offered little diversities and amusement, and in such circumstances one really has to find the beauty in everyday things because a small town doesn’t offer an array of things to escape the boredom from in the way a big city does. In that aspect, a small town can be fruitful for one’s imagination, time passes slower and one pays attention to little things, one has time to stop and smell the roses. I really see this in Burchfield’s art.

Details

Sabina as an Artist (Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

25 Jan

“And that’s how I began my first cycle of paintings. I called it Behind the Scenes. Of course, I couldn’t show them to anybody. I’d have been kicked out of the Academy. On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop’s cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract. After pausing for a moment, she added, On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.

Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, written in 1982 and published in 1984, is one of my favourite novels, as many of you probably know by now because I have written about it before. I love the simplicity with which this novel, and other Kundera’s novels, are written. Kundera never writes to fill the paper with words, he never wastes time on unnecessary descriptions and digressions, every sentence is carefully weighed, simple but philosophical and thought-pondering. He never bores the reader like some writers *cough* Balzac *cough* do. He gets to the point and I appreciate it.

The novel is set against the political events of 1968 and it revolves around the lives of four main characters; Tomáš, a surgeon, an intellectual and a womaniser; Tereza, a shy and gentle provincial girl who falls in love with Tomáš and comes to live with him in Prague and marries him, then Sabina; Tomáš’s lover and his best friend who is a painter and is in a self-declared war on kitsch, and Franz, an idealistic, kind yet weak professor from Geneva and Sabina’s lover. Kundera always uses his characters to explore ideas and philosophies so his characters are not just characters. I’ve always had a soft spot for Sabina because she is very free-spirited and because she is a painter, and she also represents the ‘unbearable’ lightness of being from the title, as opposed to Tereza’s view of life as ‘heavy’ burden. Tomáš and Sabina both represent the lightness of life because they take everything as it comes, they are like balloons in the air, flying freely wherever wind takes them, and Tereza is someone who pulls Tomáš down to reality with her heaviness. Tereza is initially jealous of Sabina, for obvious reasons, but eventually they befriend and on one ocassion Tomáš brings Tereza to Sabina’s studio and Sabina tells us something about her art.

As I mentioned above, the novel is set in the sixties and at the time when Sabina was a student the artistic and cultural climate was strict. We know this from real life examples, the life of the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, or from literary examples; Kundera’s first novel “The Joke”, published in 1967 but set in the 1950s, where we see how a simple joke against the regime can mean a life in prison or at least ostracism from society for the individual. If Sabina had painted as freely as she wanted perhaps she would have been expelled from university, but these restrictions only served to inspire her creatively and in her works, which of course we don’t see because it is a novel although I wonder what they might look like in Kundera’s mind, she finds ways to beat the system from within. The space in her paintings always shows two worlds, realism and magic meet and live alongside one another on Sabina’s cavases.

Jeanne Hebuterne, Self-Portrait, 1918

This dualism always reminds me of circus or theatre stage, at once vibrant and melancholy, and that is why I chose the picture of red curtains on the stage because they show this divison well; the red velvet curtains separate the real world of the audience from the magical, fanciful world of the stage. Here is what the novel says:

Sabina invited Tereza to her studio, and at last she saw the spacious room andits centerpiece: the large, square, platform-like bed.

I feel awful that you’ve never been here before, said Sabina, as she showed herthe pictures leaning against the wall. She even pulled out an old canvas, of asteelworks under construction, which she had done during her school days, aperiod when the strictest realism had been required of all students (art thatwas not realistic was said to sap the foundations of socialism). In the spiritof the wager of the times, she had tried to be stricter than her teachers andhad painted in a style concealing the brush strokes and closely resembling colorphotography.

Here is a painting I happened to drip red paint on. At first I was terribly upset, but then I started enjoying it. The trickle looked like a crack; it turned the building site into a battered old backdrop, a backdrop with abuilding site painted on it. I began playing with the crack, filling it out, wondering what might be visible behind it. And that’s how I began my first cycle of paintings. I called it Behind the Scenes. Of course, I couldn’t show them to anybody. I’d have been kicked out of the Academy. On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop’s cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract. After pausing for a moment, she added, On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.

(Sabina and Tereza, two women in Tomáš’s life, stills from the film from 1988 which Kundera disliked intensely.)

Tereza listened to her with the remarkable concentration that few professors ever see on the face of a student and began to perceive that all Sabina’s paintings, past and present, did indeed treat the same idea, that they all featured the confluence of two themes, two worlds, that they were all double exposures, so to speak. A landscape showing an old-fashioned table lamp shiningthrough it. An idyllic still life of apples, nuts, and a tiny, candle-lit Christmas tree showing a hand ripping through the canvas.

She felt a rush of admiration for Sabina, and because Sabina treated her as afriend it was an admiration free of fear and suspicion and quickly turned into friendship. She nearly forgot she had come to take photographs. Sabina had to remind her. Tereza finally looked away from the paintings only to see the bed set in the middle of the room like a platform.

Syd Barrett’s Favourite Artists and Artworks

6 Jan

January is always a time of sobering up, the hangover after a wild party of colours, vibrancy and magic that is December. I hate that! I want the party to go on perpetually, I don’t want to ‘sober’ up… ever. I want to always be drunk on music, art, poetry, love and beauty. And so this drab, lonely and grey month always passes in a whimsical mood for me because I celebrate Syd Barrett’s birthday every year. Syd Barrett was born on the 6th January 1946. But the celebration doesn’t begin and end on the 6th, oh no, it lingers on and on. I devote myself these days to listening to Pink Floyd’s early work, then Syd’s solo albums, reading one of my ultimate favourites: Julian Palacios’s wonderful book “Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe”. The book instantly transports me back in time, to some whimsical, groovy, fairy tale-like place which perhaps never even existed, or it did, but only for a moment, like a shooting star. This is a post I originally wrote six years ago to celebrate Syd’s birthday, but I thought I’d repost it today because it’s been six years, come on, and I know there are many new readers now who probably have not read it. Enjoy!

Syd Barrett with his painting, spring 1964

In this post we’ll discuss two of my favourite things in the world; Syd Barrett and art. Despite having achieved fame as a musician, first with Pink Floyd, and then later with two solo-albums, Syd was a painter first and foremost. He attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London, and continued painting later in life. Let’s take a look at the artists and artworks Syd loved! Syd’s first passion was art. Some even went as far as saying that he was a better painter than a musician. Even David Gilmour said that Syd was talented at art before he did guitar. I’ve seen his paintings, and I wouldn’t agree. What could surpass the beauty that he’s created musically?

All quotes in this post are from the book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe’ by Julian Palacios, and so is this one: ‘Waters brought older, upper-class friends round to Barrett’s house after school, among them Andrew Rawlinson and Bob Klose. They found him painting, paint below his easel, newspaper as a drop cloth and brushes on the windowsill. Painting and music ran in tandem, and Barrett was good at both. (…) Barrett sketched, painted and wrote, his output prolific.

syd-80Syd holding one of his paintings.

Syd first attended the Saturday-morning classes at Homerton College, and then started a two-year programme at the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology in autumn 1962. Along with his enthusiasm and skill at painting, he was good at memorising dates and authors of paintings. Here’s another quote that demonstrates Syd’s painting technique: ‘Syd drew and painted with ease, demonstrating a deft balance between shadow and light. He had a talent for portraits, though his subjects sometimes looked somewhat frozen. Best at quick drawings, Syd had a good feel for abstract art, creating bright canvases in red and blue.‘ It seems to me that Syd would have loved Rothko; an American Abstract-Expressionist artist who painted his canvases in strong colours with spiritual vibe.

Then, in autumn of 1964, Syd came to London to study at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. The curriculum at Camberwell was more rigorous than what Syd was used to at his previous college of arts: ‘At Camberwell, drawing formed the core curriculum. Tutors put Barrett through his paces working in different mediums and materials.‘ Syd’s art tutor, Christopher Chamberlain was taken with Syd’s tendency to paint in blunt, careless brushstrokes. Later in life, Barrett tended to burn his paintings, ‘psychedelic paintings, vaguely reminiscent of Jackson Pollock‘ because he believed that the point lies in creation and the finished product is unimportant. I can’t understand that at all – my paintings are my children.

Now I’ll be talking about seven artists that are in one way or another connected to Syd Barrett.

1918. Hébuterne by ModiglianiAmedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918

Modigliani

Sitting cross-legged in the cellar at Hills Road, Mick Rock was impressed as Syd rolled a joint with quick, nimble had. Nicely stoned, they listened to blues and talked about Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, until the morning light peeked through the narrow slot windows.

Amedeo Modigliani; whose name itself sounds like a sad hymn of beauty, is perhaps one of the most unsung heroes of the art world. And the story of Amedeo and Jeanne’s love is perhaps the saddest of all. When Modigliani died, she couldn’t bear life without him so she threw herself out of the window, eight months pregnant at the time, oh how engulfed in sadness that January of 1920 must have been. Modigliani painted women, he painted them nude, and he painted their heads with large sad eyes, elongated faces, long necks and sloping shoulders. I think Modigliani expressed melancholy and the fragility of life like no other painter. I can’t tell for sure that Syd loved Modigliani, but since he talked about him, I take it that he was at least interested in the story behind his art. I would really like to hear that conversation between Syd and Rock.

gustav klimt beechwood forestGustav Klimt, Beechwood forest, 1902

Klimt

Appealing to Barrett’s Cantabrigian sensibilities were paintings like Gustav Klimt’s 1903 Beechwood Forest, where dense beech trees blot the sky, each leaf captured in one golden brushstroke.

Smouldering eroticism pervades all of Gustav Klimt’s artworks. Sometimes flamboyant, at other occasions toned down, but always burning in the shadow. In ‘Beechwood Forest’, Klimt paints trees with sensuality and elegance. He always painted landscape as a means of meditation, usually on holidays spent in Litzlberg at Lake Attersee, enjoying the warm, sunny days with his life companion Emilie Flöge. Klimt approached painting landscapes the same way he painted women, with visible sensuality and liveliness. The absence of people in all of his landscapes suggest that Klimt perceived the landscape as a living being, mystical pantheism was always prevalent. The nature, in all its greenness, freshness and mystery, was a beautiful woman for Klimt.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged ManJames Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man, 1891

James Ensor

Stephen Pyle recalled that Syd’s main interests were expressionist artist Chaim Soutine and surrealist painters Salvador Dali and James Ensor. Ensor’s surreal party of clowns with skeletons cropped up in his artwork even thirty years later.

Belgian painter James Ensor (1860-1949) was a true innovator of the late 19th century art. He was alone and misunderstood amongst his contemporaries, just like many revolutionary artists are, but he helped in clearing the path for some art movements like Surrealism and Expressions which would turn out to be more popular than Ensor himself. Painting ‘Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man’ is a good example of Ensor’s themes and style of painting: skeletons, puppets, masks and intrigues painted in thick but small brushstrokes, with just a hint of morbidness all found their place in Ensor’s art. There’s no doubt that Barrett was inspired by the twisted whimsicality and playfulness of Ensor’s canvases.

1920. Les Maisons by SoutineChaim Soutine, Les Maisons, 1920

Soutine

Art historian William Shutes noted,Barrett used large single brushstrokes, built up layer by layer, layer over layer, like relief contours.

Chaim Soutine was a wilful eccentric, an Eastern Jew, an introvert who left no diaries and only a few letters. But he left a lot of paintings, mostly landscapes that all present us with his bitter visions of the world. He painted in thick, heavy brushstrokes laden with pain, anger, resentment and loneliness. In ‘Les Maisons’ the houses are crooked, elongated, painted in murky earthy colours. Their mood of alienation and instability is ever present in Soutine’s art. He portrayed his depression and psychological instability very eloquently. Description of Barrett’s style of painting, layers and layers of colour, relief brushstrokes, reminds me very much of the way Soutine painted; in heavy brushstrokes, tormented by pain and longings, as if layering colours could release the burden off of his soul.

Ren? Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009 øðä îàâøéè, áðå ùì àãí, 1964, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009Rene Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964

Rene Magritte

There’s no doubt that, as a Surrealist, Magritte was inspirational to young people in the sixties who were inclined to listening to psychedelic music or had a whimsical imagination. With Barrett, Magritte is mostly associated with his ‘Vegetable Man’ phase, in times when his LSD usage was getting out of control, just prior to being kicked out of band. Magritte is, along with Dali, another Surrealist that appealed to Barrett’s imagination. Belgian artist, Magritte meticulously painted similar, everyday objects like men in suits, clouds, pipes, umbrellas and buildings with strange compositions and shadows. In ‘The Son of Man’, some have suggested that he was dealing with the subject of one’s own identity, and that might be something that appealed to Syd when he appeared in the promotional picture with spring onions tied to his head which is an obvious wink to Magritte, not to mention Acimboldo.

1875. Les Raboteurs de parquet - Gustave CaillebotteGustave Caillebotte, Les Raboteurs de parquet, 1875

Gustave Caillebotte

Lying in bed one morning, he stared at his blanket’s orange and blue stripes and had a flashback to Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting ‘The Wood Floor Planers’, which depicts workers scraping the wood floors of a sunlit room in striated patterns. Inspired, with Storm Thorgenson’s garish orange and red room at Egerton fresh in his mind, he got up, pushed his few belongings into a corner, and sauntered off to fetch paint from the Earl’s Court Road.

This is perhaps Caillebotte’s best legacy – inspiring Syd Barrett to paint his floor in stripes which later ended up gracing his first solo-album, the famously dark and whimsical ‘The Madcap Laughs’, released on 3 January 1970. Like the cover, other pictures taken that spring day in 1969 by Mick Rock and Storm Thorgenson, are all filled with light and have a transcendent mood.

1935-dali-paranoiac-visageDali, Paranoiac Visage, 1935

Dali

I believe none of you are surprised that Dali is on this list. Anyone who is familiar with his art will know that it ties very well with the music of Pink Floyd, and perhaps some other psychedelic bands. There’s no one quite like Dali in the world of art. Art he created, like Surrealism in general, is a visual portrayal of Freud’s ideas of the unconscious, and is based on irrationality, dreams, hallucinations and obsessions. His paintings are mostly hallucinogenic landscapes in the realm of dreams; realistic approach combined with deformed figures and objects which, just like in the art of Giorgio de Chirico, evokes feelings of anxiety in the viewer.

When I like an artist, musician or a writer, I always want to know what inspired them, or what they thought of something that I love. What did Barrett really think of Modigliani, for example? But, some things will forever stay a mystery. Perhaps it’s better that way.

My Favourite Posts of 2022

5 Jan

Each published post is followed by another, and then another, and another, until the earlier ones are forgotten, and I am not really a fan of this. It is a reflection of the fast-paced modern world that we live in, and our constant craving for everything fresh and new, but I like to revisit things and enjoy them even if they’re not fresh-out-of-the-oven.

It is interesting for me to look back upon my year of writing and see which themes have posessed me and which new artists or artworks I have discovered. There are definitely some themes that have fascinated me continually throughout the 2022; Indian themes with poetry of Tagore, and fairy tale illustrations by Warwick Goble and Edmund Dulac, and also a work by a contemporary Indian artist as you will see bellow, festival and lanterns such as Prendergast’s watercolour bellow, watercolours by Georgia O’Keeffe, and not to forget my summer obsession with the Rust Belt which I’ve explored musically through Bruce Springsteen, and also artistically and literally through a collection of essays on the theme, and to crown the year a revisit to one of my favourites; Marc Chagall. So, bellow are twelve posts which I have chosen as my favourites in the last year, it’s either for the beauty of the painting, the whole concept and/or they hold personal significance for me in one way or another.

Maurice Prendergast – Feast of the Redeemer

“Spring lanterns –

colourful reincarnations

of the moon”

(haiku by Isabel Caves, found here.)

Film Saawariya (2007) and Art: Carl Krenek, Maurice Prendergast, Edmund Dulac

I am a dreamer. I know so little of real life that I just can’t help reliving such moments as these in my dreams, for such moments are something I have very rarely experiened.

I am going to dream about you the whole night, the whole week, the whole year.

I feel I know you so well that I couldn’t have known you better if we’d been friends for twenty years. You won’t fail me, will you? Only two minutes, and you’ve made me happy forever. Yes, happy. Who knows, perhaps you’ve reconciled with me, resolved all my doubts.

(…) If and when you fall in love, may you be happy with her. I don’t need to wish her anything, for she’ll be happy with you. May your sky always be clear, may your dear smile always be bright and happy, and may you be forever blessed for that moment of bliss and happiness that you gave to another lonely and grateful heart. Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of one’s life?

Eugène Grasset – La Morphinomane (The Morphine Addict)

“Well it just goes to show
Things are not what they seem
Please, Sister Morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams
Oh, can’t you see I’m fading fast?
And that this shot will be my last…”

(The Rolling Stones, Sister Morphine)

Voyage of Delights: Fragonard – Alcine Finds Ruggiero in His Chamber

“….now that nothing restrains
his ardor he gathers her into his arms to begin
their voyage of delights.”

Charles Burchfield – In a Deserted House and Bruce Springsteen’s Downbound Train

In the moonlight, our wedding house shone
I rushed through the yard
I burst through the front door, my head pounding hard
Up the stairs, I climbed
The room was dark, our bed was empty
Then I heard that long whistle whine
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head, and cried…”

Bruce Springsteen’s Blue-Collar Heroes, the Rust Belt and “My Hometown”

“Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows
And vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody
Wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill
Across the railroad tracks
Foreman says, “these jobs are going, boys
And they ain’t coming back
To your hometown
To your hometown
To your hometown
To your hometown…”

(Bruce Springsteen, My Hometown)

Winslow Homer – Sunset Fires

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”

(Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds)

John Constable – Seascape Study with Rain Cloud (Rainstorm over the Sea)

 

Depeche Mode and Caspar David Friedrich: Pleasures Remain So Does the Pain, Words are Meaningless and Forgettable

Vows are spokenTo be brokenFeelings are intenseWords are trivialPleasures remainSo does the painWords are meaninglessAnd forgettable

Arjun Shivaji Jain: Solitude, If I Must Thee Accept

There’s a club if you’d like to goYou could meet somebody who really loves youSo you go and you stand on your ownAnd you leave on your ownAnd you go home and you cryAnd you want to die…

(The Smiths, How Soon is Now)

Georgia O’Keeffe: Canyon with Crows and Other Watercolours

 

“Something in the way she movesAttracts me like no other loverSomething in the way she woos me”

Marc Chagall: Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover

Hope you enjoyed this little trip down the 2022 posts memory lane!

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.

Asa Heshel (The Family Moskat): And if time did not exist, Then what was the sense of love?

26 Dec

“Time makes refuse of all things. No philosophy could alter that. He stretched himself out on the bed and closed his eyes. Hadassah would grow old, too. She would die and they would carry her corpse in the funeral procession along the Gensha to the cemetery. And if time did not exist, then she was a corpse already. Then what was the sense of love? ‘Why should he yearn for her?”

Willem Drost, Standing Young Man at the Window in his Study Reading, known as ‘The Student’, 1653

This post is the second part of the intended ‘triptych’ about Hadassah and Asa Heshel from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel “The Family Moskat”, published in 1950. I already wrote a post about Hadassah’s sleepless night and Hopper’s etching “The Evening Wind” which you can read here. But today let us sink into the atmosphere of a winter afternoon in Warsaw, just before the beginning of the First World War. A young man, Asa Heshel, is lying on the bed in his room. He had come to Warsaw from his little village in order to study and achieve greatness, but is feeling disillusioned with it all, and his thoughts keep returning to something outside of his field of study, a girl he had just met: Hadassah. He is awaiting her visit, but she is not coming… Snow is starting to fall:

He started up in bed. What was happening to him? Why was he wasting his time in idle fantasies? He had come to Warsaw to study, not to moon about love. Ah, how he envied those ancient philosophers, the Stoics, whose determination no amount of suffering could disturb; or the Epicureans, who, even when their house was in flames, ate their bread and drank their wine! But he would never be able to achieve such heights. His emotions were constantly returning to plague him. All he could do was think about Hadassah, her room, her books, her father and mother, even about Shifra, the maid. If only he knew whether she ever thought about him! Or had she forgotten him altogether? He would make an attempt to telephone her-or maybe he would write her a letter. He got off the bed, turned on the lamp, and sat down to write to Hadassah. After the first few lines he dropped the pen. What was the sense of it? He would plead with no one; he would sooner die. When he fell asleep, the gray dawn already showed through the window. He got up late, his head aching. He dressed and went out to the food store to buy a couple of rolls and some cheese and then went back to his room. He leafed through a geography, a Russian grammar, a world history. His eye caught a sentence about Charlemagne, founder of the Holy Homan Empire. The author described Charlemagne as a great man, defender of the Church, a reformer. Asa Heshel shook his head. “The crueler the tyrant, the greater the world’s praise,” he said to himself. “Mankind loves the murderer.”

He tried to clear his mind and go on with his reading. But his thoughts would not be dismissed. What sort of world was this, where the order of things was continual murdering, looting, and persecution and where at the same time the air was filled with phrases about justice, freedom, love? And what was he doing? Poring over children’s primers, hoping that some day, maybe in ten years, he would manage to earn a diploma. Is this what had become of his youthful dreams? What was he but an inconsequential nobody, with inconsequential and futile notions? He got up and walked over to the window. He took the nickel-covered watch from his vest pocket; it was half past three, but the winter dusk was already beginning to fall. There was a deep quiet in the courtyard that the window overlooked. A thin snow fell from the rectangle of sky he could see above the surrounding roofs. A crow had perched atop a weathervane on the opposite rooftop; against the pale white sky it took on a bluish color. It seemed to be peering into the vast distances of another world. At the roof’s edge, along its gutter, a cat carefully paced.

Down below in the courtyard a beggar woman bent over a box, a sack on her shoulders, poking with a hook among the refuse. She pulled out a couple of rags and stuffed them into the sack. She lifted a shrunken, worn face toward the upper windows and sang out in a thin voice: “I buy bones, I buy rags. Bones, bones.” Asa Heshel leaned his forehead against the pane. Once, he thought, she too was young, and the ox whose bones she now sought to buy was a calf leaping about the meadows. Time makes refuse of all things. No philosophy could alter that. He stretched himself out on the bed and closed his eyes. Hadassah would grow old, too. She would die and they would carry her corpse in the funeral procession along the Gensha to the cemetery. And if time did not exist, then she was a corpse already. Then what was the sense of love? ‘Why should he yearn for her? Why should it grieve him that she was to be the bride of Fishel? He must acquire the indifference of the Hindu yogis. Enter Nirvana while he was yet alive.

He fell into a half doze. The sharp ringing of the outside doorbell woke him. …”

Edward Hopper’s The Evening Wind and Hadassah’s Sleepless Night (The Family Moskat)

22 Dec

The years had gone by like a dream.

Edward Hopper, The Evening Wind, 1921, etching

I am usually not a great fan of etchings because I love colour, but this etching by Edward Hopper called “The Evening Wind” was particularly captivating to me. I had been wanting to write about it for some time now, but the timing never felt right, the words never seemed right… And now, reading Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel “The Family Moskat” for the second time, in these grey winter mornings and candlelit winter evenings, the image of a naked woman in her bedroom, in the black and white form of an etching, instantly came to my mind upon reading the passage of the novel which I will share further on in the post. The etching is a portrait of a human figure in isolation, as is typical for Edward Hopper’s work. A naked woman is seen kneeling on her bed and looking towards the open window. The evening wind coming from the window is indicated by the movement of the curtains. It is a simple scene but striking visually and really atmospheric. There is a beautiful play of darkness and light in the scene. The woman is naked, but her face is hidden by her long hair. What is she looking at? And which wind opened the window, was it really the evening wind, or was it the breath of a long-lost lover, her beloved ghost still haunting her? Or was it the wind of nostalgia, bringing in a fragrance of memories and things long-lost. She seems startled as well as frozen in the moment; the wind startled her at first but then made her stop and ponder. The woman is wistful and alone, alone save for that evening wind, and this made me think of Hadassah.

The novel, published in 1950, follows the lives of the members of the Jewish Moskat family and others associated with it, in Warshaw, in the first half of the twentieth century. One of the main characters is Hadassah, the granddaughter of a wealthy family patriarch Meshulam Moskat, who is portrayed as a very shy and dreamy teenage girl in the beginning of the novel – quiet on the outside but passionate on the inside, but over time, through disappointments and love betrayals, Hadassah turns inwards and becomes as quiet and wistful as the forest that she lives nearby. “Still waters run deep” is something that comes to mind when I think of Hadassah, and someone had used that term to describe me one time. Hadassah is my favourite female character in the novel. She quickly falls in love with Asa Heshel, a disillusioned Jew who read Spinoza’s writings a bit too much. At first he comes off as a misunderstood, moody loner but very soon reveals a lack of character and horrible moral standards. I dispise him immensely, especially because of the way he treated Hadassah.

Edward Hopper, Study for Evening Wind, 1921, fabricated chalk on paper

In this passage of the novel, Hadassah is awoken from her slumber by the winter wind beating against the windows. Feeling wistful and nostalgic, she opens her old diary and starts flipping the pages (have I not been there myself…). She is not physically naked in this passage in the novel, but she is naked in spirit, in sorts, because Singer truly offers us a rare glimpse into the world of a dreamy young girl. The way her room, her diary, her thoughts and the conversation she is having with her mother about marriage are described, all feel so familar to me, as if my own. Pressed flower petals, yellowish diary pages, grammar books, dress laid over a chair, strange new feelings arising in your soul, unknown and unexplored territories of love, “the years have gone by like a dream”; this speaks to me in a language I can hear, to paraphrase the Smashing Pumpkins’ song “Thirty-Three”;

On that same night Hadassah, too, was sleepless. The wind, blowing against the window, had awakened her, and from that moment she had not been able to close an eye. She sat up in bed, switched on the electric lamp, and looked about the room. The goldfish in the aquarium were motionless, resting quietly along the bottom of the bowl, among the colored stones and tufts of moss. On a chair lay her dress, her petticoat, and her jacket. Her shoes stood on top of the table-although she did not remember having put them there. Her stockings lay on the floor. She put both hands up to her head. Had it really happened? Could it be that she had fallen in love? And with this provincial youth in his Chassidic gaberdine? What if her father knew? And her mother and Uncle Abram? And Klonya! But what would happen now? Her grandfather had already made preliminary arrangements with Fishel. She was as good as betrothed.

Beyond this Hadassah’s thoughts could not go. She got out of bed, stepped into her slippers, and went over to the table. From the drawer she took out her diary and began to turn the pages. The brown covers of the book were gold-stamped, the edges were stained yellow. Between the pages a few flowers were pressed, and leaves whose green had faded, leaving only the brittle veined skeletons. The margins of the pages were thick with scrawls of roses, clusters of grapes, adders, tiny, fanciful figures, hairy and horned, with fishes’ fins and webbed feet. There was a bewildering variety of designs-circles, dots, oblongs, keyswhose secret meaning only Hadassah knew. She had started the diary when she was no more than a child, in the third class at school,in her child’s handwriting, and with a child’s grammatical errors. Now she was grown. The years had gone by like a dream.

She turned the pages and read, skipping from page to page. Some of the entries seemed to her strangely mature, beyond her age when she had written them, others naive and silly. But every page told of suffering and yearning. What sorrows she had known! How many affronts she had suffered-from her teachers, her classmates, her cousins! Only her mother and her Uncle Abram were mentioned with affection. On one page there was the entry: “What is the purpose of my life? I am always lonely and no one understands me. If I don’t overcome my empty pride I may just as well die. Dear God, teach me humility.” On another page, under the words of a song that Klonya had written down for her, there was: “Will he come one day, my destined one? What will he look like? I do not know him and he does not know me; I do not exist for him. But fate will bring him to my door. Or maybe he was never born. Maybe it is my fate to be alone until the end.” Below the entry she had drawn three tiny fishes. ‘What they were supposed to mean she had now forgotten. She pulled a chair up to the table, sat down, dipped a pen in the inkwell, and put the diary in front of her. Suddenly she heard footsteps outside the door.

Quickly she swung herself onto the bed and pulled the cover over her. The door opened and her mother came in, wearing a red kimono. There was a yellow scarf around her head; her graying hair showed around the edges.

“Hadassah, are you asleep? Why is the light on?”

The girl opened her eyes. “I couldn’t sleep. I was trying to read a book.”

“I couldn’t sleep either. The noise of the wind-and my worries. And your father has a new accomplishment; he snores.”

“Papa always snored. (…) Mamma, come into bed with me.”

“What for? It’s too small. Anyway, you kick, like a pony.”

“I won’t kick.”

“No, I’d better sit down. My bones ache from lying. Listen, Hadassah, I have to have a serious talk with you. You know, my child, how I love you. There’s nothing in the world I have besides you. Your father-may no ill befall him-is a selfish man.”

“Please stop saying things about Papa.”

“I have nothing against him. He is what he is. He lives for himself, like an animal. I’m used to it. But you, I want to see you happy. I want to see you have the happiness that I didn’t have.”

“Mamma, what is it all about?”

“I was never one to believe in forcing a girl into marriage. I’ve seen enough of what comes of such things. But just the same you’re taking the wrong road, my child. In the first place, Fishel is a decent youth-sensible, a good businessman. You don’t find men like him every day. … ”

“Mamma, you may as well forget it. I won’t marry him.”

(…) She went out and closed the door behind her. The moment she was gone, Hadassah flung herself out of bed. She went to the table, picked up the diary, thought for a moment, and then put it away in the drawer. She turned out the light and stood quietly in the darkness. Through the window she could see a heavy snow falling, the wind driving the flakes against the window pane.”

Serge Gainsbourg’s L’Hôtel Particulier and the Art of Paul Delvaux

20 Dec

“All my life I’ve tried to transcribe reality to make it into a kind of dream.”

(Paul Delvaux)

Paul Delvaux, Sleeping Venus (La Venus Endormie), 1944

Serge Gainsbourg’s acclaimed concept album “Historie de Melody Nelson” released on 24 March 1971 has a Lolitaesque theme and in seven unique yet connected songs tells a tale of an older gentleman (Serge) who, by accident, collides his car into the red bicycle of a sweet and pretty schoolgirl called Melody Nelson (Jane Birkin). This chance seemingly unhappy encounter blossoms into a flower of seduction and romance as the gentleman takes Melody to a hotel. This part of the musical story is told in the fifth song “L’hôtel particulier“. Needless to say, I very much enjoy the variety of different musical styles on the album’s songs, and I love the innocently-sexy Jane Birkin in the videos, but it is the video for this song “L’hôtel particulier” that fascinates me in particular because it features the wondrous paintings of the Belgian Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) who was actually still alive during the time the album was made. Not only alive, but also very prolific. Even though he was the last surviving Surrealist during his life, he was a wanderer and an individualist in the Surrealist crowd who created a unique dream-like world on his canvases which feature repetitive motifs; Classical architecture, nocturnal setting, nude women whose bodies are white as snow and appear smooth as marble, skeletons, crescent moon, trains, boudoirs.

The shaping of Delvaux’s art career was a slow and steady process because at first his parents pressured him into studying architecture, it was something he didn’t enjoy but it did serve him greatly later in creating the strange, accurately depicted yet eerie spaces in his paintings. In 1934 Delvaux saw the Surrealist exhibition “Minotaure” and this inspired him to start working in the direction of Surrealism because it led him back to the imaginative state of childhood. Delvaux’s art also shows the influence of Giorgio de Chirico’s cold and enigmatic worlds where architecture is drawn with precision yet the overall effect is unsettling. In 1937 and 1939 he visited Italy and the architecture inspired him to serve as a setting for the world of his languid dead-eyed hypnotised nudes. Delvaux painted some wonderful eerie paintings even in the late 1960s and 1970s, but the paintings chosen for Gainsbourg’s video were mostly painted in the 1940s. The World War II period was a harsh one for Delvaux as it was for everyone, but it only inspired him to paint more and to retreat into the world of his imagination. The artist stated “I would like to create a fabulous painting in which I would live, in which I could live.”

As a child he was afraid of skeletons but later in life he found a way to incorporate them into his nocturnal worlds, bones glistening in moonlight, death opposing the sensuality of the women’s nude flesh. One such skeleton pops up in the painting “Sleeping Venus” painted in 1944, and unlike skeletons in James Ensor’s art (a fellow Belgian painter), Delvaux’s skeleton is unashamed of himself, he doesn’t put on a mask or hide under some garish carnival clothes. Nude Venus is sweetly asleep on a divan in front of the temple-like building while the skeleton is having a fascinating conversation with a Belle Epoque woman with a large brimmed hat and a dark red dress. The conversation is so fascinating that not even the passing couple, Serge and Jane, can interrupt it. Even though Delvaux’s paintings aren’t directly connected to the music and the song, I think they create a striking background visually which really leaves the viewer interested.

Bellow I’ve compared Delvaux’s paintings to stills from the video and also added the lyrics of the song because they are really descriptive:

Paul Delvaux, The Echo, 1943

Au cinquante-six, sept, huit, peu importeDe la rue X, si vous frappezÀ la porteD’abord un coup, puis trois autresOn vous laisse entrerSeul et parfois même accompagné
*
At number fifty-six, seven, eight… who knows,
Of the unnameable street,
if you knock on the door
One knock first, then three more,
they will let you in
Alone or sometimes even not alone.

Paul Delvaux, Night Train, 1947

Une servante, sans vous dire un motVous précèdeDes escaliersDes couloirs sans fin se succèdentDécorés de bronzes baroquesD’anges dorésD’Aphrodites et de Salomés
*
Without saying a word,
a maid leads you
Through a haze of endless stairs and hallways
Adorning baroque bronzes,
gilded angels,
Aphrodites and Salomés

Paul Delvaux, The Great Sirens, 1947

S’il est libre, dites que vous voulez le quarante-quatreC’est la chambre qu’ils appellent iciDe CléopâtreDont les colonnes du lit de style rococoSont des nègres portant des flambeaux
 
If it’s available, say that you want room forty-four
They call it here
the Cleopatra room,
Where ebony bodies holding torches
Cover the rococo style bed columns

Paul Delvaux, Le nu et le mannequin, December 1947

Entre ces esclaves nusTaillés dans l’ébèneQui seront les témoins muetsDe cette scèneTandis que là-haut un miroirNous réfléchitLentement j’enlace Melody
 
Among these naked slaves
carved in wood,
All silent witnesses to the scene,
While above us a mirror
reflects our image,
Slowly I embrace Melody.

Marc Chagall: Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover

18 Dec

“Something in the way she movesAttracts me like no other loverSomething in the way she woos me”

Marc Chagall, Les Amoureux, 1928

These days I am not merely thinking about Marc Chagall’s artworks – I am living in them, and oh my, what a wonderful place to live in. In particular, I am enjoying gazing at his painting “The Lovers” from 1928. The painting, as suggested in the title, shows two lovers lost in an embrace, floating somehere in the sky, somewhere in the world of their own. The motif of lovers is something that pervades Chagall’s canvases. While the woman is gazing in the distance, the man’s head is leaned on her shoulder, as if seeking comfort. She is looking into the future and he is holding onto her. The crimson colour of the woman’s dress is echoed by the fuchsia coloured background and in the colour of the roses on the right side of the painting. A blue sky with a large full moon and a bird flying by is seen emerging from the bottom right side of the canvas.

Chagall’s lovers don’t live in the real, material, tangible world around us, no, they live in the realm of love, in the soft, feathery, fragrant and sweet clouds of love. Dancing in the sky in the rhythm of each other’s hearts, floating through the night sky like shooting stars. Even when the space around the lovers is real, with its little cottages, wooden fences, cows, goats, fiddlers and mud, this ugly banality is transformed and transcended, it is as if the lovers are completely untouched by it all. It’s like threading over the fresh snow and leaving no footprints. In Chagall’s art the “down to earth” and “dreamy” meet and collide in a perfect way. Chagall is the most tender-hearted man in the world of art and his innocent, imaginative and childlike vision of the world is obvious in his canvases. The figure that always haunts his art is the slender figure of a black haired woman; his beloved wife Bella Rosenfeld.

1917-18-marc-chagall-the-promenadeMarc Chagall, The Promenade, 1917-18

Their early days of love are captured in a series of paintings such as “Birthday”, “Promenade” and “Over the Town”. There is a playful innocence and a pure display of affections in these paintings that chimes with me so well. Chagall takes the phrase “floating in the air” quite literally because in these paintings the lovers are flying indeed; the power of their love is so strong that not even gravity can stop it.”The Promenade” shows Chagall and Bella having a picnic on a meadow outside town but then suddenly Bella is flying in the air like a pink ballon. Chagall is holding her hand but he too will quickly rise into the clouds following his darling. Painting “Over the Town” shows an embracing couple flying above the little houses of the little town which is now too small to contain the vastness of the love that they feel. The houses and the landscape under them both seem faded, as if seen in a dream or in a memory, painted in shades of grey. Only that one house is red, like a crimson red heart pulsating in the rhythm of love.

“Over the Town” is a painting which thematically and aesthetically goes hand in hand with Chagall’s painting “Birthday” painted in 1915; both paintings show lovers magically lifted from the ground by the power of love, the power against which all the mundane things in life suddently seem gray and irrelevant. When I gaze at this paintings, these lovers which all have faces like Chagall and Bella, the lyrics of the Beatles’ song “Something” come to mind;

Something in the way she movesAttracts me like no other loverSomething in the way she woos meI don’t want to leave her nowYou know I believe and how

Somewhere in her smile she knowsThat I don’t need no other loverSomething in her style that shows meI don’t want to leave her nowYou know I believe and how

You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around, now it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know…

Marc Chagall, Birthday, 1915

I can imagine Chagall gazing at Bella and musing to himself “something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover, something in the way she woos me…” In the painting “Birthday” it is Chagall who is flying above Bella though she too is about to join him soon. Again we see the everyday transformed into the wonderful; a simple room, Bella in her everyday clothes, yet there is magic, the magic of love which transforms everything. Bella wrote about this feeling which Chagall so beautifully portrays in his paintings: “I suddenly felt as if we were taking off. You too were poised on one leg, as if the little room could no longer contain you. You soar up to the ceiling. Your head turned down to me, and turned mine up to you… We flew over fields of flowers, shuttered houses, roofs, yards, churches.” In most paintings Bella is portrayed as wearing the same clothes she would have been wearing everyday and on the photos which exists of her, and the town we see is their hometown of Vitebsk in Belorus. Both of these elements bring a domestic kind of familiarity which becomes magical and sweet when Chagall portrays it.

Marc Chagall, Over the Town, 1913

The love at first sight between Bella and Chagall started in 1909 when a beautiful daughter of a rich jeweller met the poor and aspiring painter who worked as an apprentice for Leon Bakst and it lasted for thirty five years until Bella, sadly, passed away three months shy of her forty-nineth birthday in 1944. In his autobiography “My Life”, Chagall writes of Bella: “Her silence is mine, her eyes mine. It is as if she knows everything about my childhood, my present, my future, as if she can see right through me; as if she has always watched over me, somewhere next to me, though I saw her for the very first time. I knew this is she, my wife. Her pale colouring, her eyes. How big and round and black they are! They are my eyes, my soul.”

Bella, although seemingly a quiet, pale and withdrawn girl, was enthusiastic about Chagall as well, and later wrote about being mesmerised by his ethereal pale blue eyes: “When you did catch a glimpse of his eyes, they were as blue as if they’d fallen straight out of the sky. They were strange eyes … long, almond-shaped … and each seemed to sail along by itself, like a little boat. She also wrote of their first meeting: I was surprised at his eyes, they were so blue as the sky … I’m lowering my eyes. Nobody is saying anything. We both feel our hearts beating.

Marc Chagall and Bella in Paris, 1938

Marc Chagall and Bella, c 1920

Chagall’s paintings reflect his way of thinking, he said; “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” These are painting created from the heart, indeed. There is no logic, rationality or coldness about his art. Even when he paints in the Cubist manner, his squares and rectangles are not harsh but somehow still coated in the colour of dreams. Chagall had no interest in Cubism and Impressionist and was of an opinion that art is the “state of the soul.”

Marc Chagall, Lovers in Pink, 1916

Marc Chagall, Grey Lovers, 1917

When I am in love I live not in real world but in Chagall’s paintings. I am flying in the night sky and I am bathed in that gorgeous blueness. I am smiling at the stars and they are smiling back at me. Their golden dust is falling all over my white tulle dress. I am floating above the bridges, forests, meadows, flower fields, little houses with red roofs. I hear the violins, and flute, and the guitar, and I am carried away by that sweet music. I smell the violets, the roses, the lily of the valley; what sweet scents fill this warm summer night. Love is a warm summer night. My heart is overflowing with love and bursting into a thousand ruby red rose petals, and the petals fall and fall like a never-ending waterfall. I am melting into shapes, sounds and colours. I am the lilac, I am the crimson, I am the blue. I am the bird and the star. I am a rose petal carried by the wind, travelling far and far beyond. The coldness, dreariness and bleakness of winter Can.Not.Touch.Me. To live always in this way ahh that would be a life well lived. Is it possible? Is it really possible? Gazing at Chagall’s paintings makes me believe that it indeed is.

Belmiro de Almeida: I hate that sadness in your eyes, but Angie, ain’t it time we said goodbye?

16 Dec

I hate that sadness in your eyes
But Angie, Angie
Ain’t it time we said goodbye?

Belmiro de Almeida, Bad News, 1897

Brasilian painter Belmiro de Almeida is an artist that I have recently discovered and a few of his paintings I found particularly interesting these days and they are also thematically connected. Belmiro de Almeida was born in Serra in 1858 and studied in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, but later travelled to Europe where he studied in the Academie Julian in Paris. He loved Paris so much that for the rest of his life he would live half in Brasil and half in Paris. His perhaps most famous painting is “The Spat” from 1887, which I’ll show bellow, but the one that is the most interesting to me is the one above called “Bad News”, painted in 1897. The painting shows a woman alone in a room. She is leaning over the sofa and hiding her crying face. The space around her is empty save for some furniture in the background. The circle shape of the painting is especially interesting to me, it looks as if we are gazing at her through a keyhole. This is a very intimate scene because we are seeing the delicate, vulnerable side of the woman, the side that she would otherwise hide from everyone. But she is not wearing her mask now. No, her eyes are probably puffy and her cheeks flushed, her hair disarrayed. Oh, if someone walked in on her now, the tragedy would be all hers. This intimate, informal, secretive almost mood is further accentuated by the garments that she is wearing and her long and gorgeous hair flowing freely down her back. She is alone in the room, alone with the letter which is obviously the source of all her anguish. Oh Angie, don’t you weep! How many paintings there are in art history where a single (love) letter can completely set the tone and the mood for the painting? In the paintings of Vermeer and Fragonard for example, a love letter can send one flying or can throw one into the deepest, darkest abyss. The “Bad News” from the painting’s title refers to the letter on the floor. What is in the letter? We can never know for sure, but we can guess… Perhaps the letter says:

Angie, Angie
When will those clouds all disappear?
Angie, Angie
Where will it lead us from here?
With no lovin’ in our souls
And no money in our coats
You can’t say we’re satisfied
Angie, Angie
You can’t say we never tried
Angie, you’re beautiful, yeah
But ain’t it time we said goodbye?
Angie, I still love you
Remember all those nights we cried?
All the dreams were held so close
Seemed to all go up in smoke
Let me whisper in your ear
Angie, Angie
Where will it lead us from here
Oh, Angie, don’t you weep
Oh, your kisses still taste sweet
I hate that sadness in your eyes
But Angie, Angie
Ain’t it time we said goodbye? Yeah

Belmiro de Almeida, The Spat, 1887

Painting “The Spat” shows an argument between a bourgeous couple. While the woman is shown leaning over the sofa and weeping, the man is smoking a pipe and has the most disinterested look on his face. You can almost hear the woman asking the man “Do my tears mean nothing to you, do they not pull at your heart’s strings?”, and I can imagine the man saying, “No, my darling, they do not.” He just seems so disinterested and lacking any emotion. He probably finds her crying more tedious than touching. There is an emotional distance between them and the woman pose, her turning her back on him, is not only a way of hiding her face but also perhaps a body language. There is a pink rose on the carpet on the floor, some of its petals scattered about, and the rose here, just like the letter in the previous painting, brings a sad touch to it.