“Do you think she is beautiful?”
“Beautiful? Yes, in a way, but she isn’t one of those horrid regular beauties. You notice her at once in a room, but you’d never see her on the walls of the Academy. It isn’t her beauty so much as her personality, and that you feel more by intuition than by observation. And yet the effect is beauty.”
“Are you very much in love with her?”
“Why, aren’t you? Isn’t every one?”
“In love with her?”
George was silent. He was not sure whether the question was naif or very much the reverse. Elizabeth changed the conversation.
“What do you ‘do’?”
“Oh, I’m a painter, and I write hack articles for Shobbe and such people to earn a living.”
“But don’t you sell your pictures?”
“I try to; but you see, people in England aren’t much interested in modern art, not as they are on the Continent or even in America. They want the same old thing done over again and again with more sugar. One thing about the British bourgeois — he doesn’t know anything about pictures, but very stoutly stands for what he likes, and what he likes is anything except art. The newest historians say that the Anglo-Saxons come from the same race as the Vandals, and I can well believe it.”
“Surely there are some up-to-date collectors in England.”
“Why, yes, of course, probably as many as anywhere else, but too many of them collect pictures as an investment and so only take what the dealers advise them to buy; others are afraid to touch English art, which has gone soggy with Pre-Raphaelitism and touched imbecility with the anecdotal picture. There are people with taste and enthusiasms, but they’re nearly all poor. It’s much the same in Paris. The new painters there are having a terriﬁc struggle, but they’ll win. The young are with them. And then in Paris it’s rather chic to know the latest movements and to defend the rebel artists against the ordinary mass ignorance and hostility. Here they’re still terriﬁed by the fate of Oscar, and it’s chic to be a sporting imbecile. The English think it’s virile to have no sensibilities.”
“Are you English or American?”
“English, of course. Should I care about them if I were not? In a way, of course, it doesn’t really matter. The nationalist epoch of painting is over — it’s now an international language centred in Paris and understood from Petersburg to New York. What the English think doesn’t matter.”
Richard Aldington, 1892-1962 Death of a Hero, 1929
Described by George Orwell as “the best of the English war books” and by Aldington as a threnody, a death dirge, a lamentation, Death of a Hero, is a semi-autobiographal account of George Winterbourne, an idealistic artist who enlists in the army at the outbreak of World War I. The narrator is pessimistic about the presence of art in Britain, and perceptively understands that art will become an international language.