Milan Kundera,The Unbearable Lightness of Being,1984

 

 

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The Beauty of New York.

   Franz and Sabina would walk the streets of New York for hours at a time. The view changed with each step, as if they were following a winding mountain path surrounded by breathtaking scenery; a young man in a black suit directing an invisible orchestra while crossing the street; a fountain spurting water and a group of construction workers sitting on the rim eating lunch; strange iron ladders running up and down buildings with ugly red façades, so ugly that they were beautiful; and next door, a huge glass skyscraper backed by another, itself topped by a small Arabian pleasure-dome with turrets, galleries, and gilded columns.

   She was reminded of her paintings. There, too, incongruous things came together: a steelworks construction site superimposed on a kerosene lamp; an old-fashioned lamp with a painted-glass shade shattered into tiny splinters and rising up over a desolate landscape of marshland.

   Franz said, ‘Beauty in the European sense has always had a premeditated quality to it. We’ve always had an aesthetic intention and a long-range plan. That’s what enabled Western man to spend decades building a Gothic cathedral or a Renaissance piazza. The beauty of New York rests on a completely different base. It’s unintentional. It arose independent of human design, like a stalagmitic cavern. Forms which are in themselves quite ugly turn up fortuitously, without design, in such incredible surroundings that they sparkle with a sudden wondrous poetry.’

   Sabina said, ‘Unintentional beauty. Yes. Another way of putting it might be “beauty by mistake.” Before beauty disappears entirely from the earth, it will go on existing for a while by mistake. “Beauty by mistake” – the final phase in the history of beauty.’

   And she recalled her first mature painting, which came into being because some red paint had dripped on it by mistake. Yes, her paintings were based on ‘beauty by mistake’, and New York was the secret but authentic homeland of her painting.

   Franz said, “Perhaps New York’s unintentional beauty is much richer and more varied than the excessively strict and composed beauty of human design. But it’s not our European beauty. It’s an alien world.’

   Didn’t they then at last agree on something?

   No. There is a difference. Sabina was very much attracted by the alien quality of New York’s beauty. Franz found it intriguing but frightening; it made him feel homesick for Europe.

Part 6. The Grand March. Chapter 11.

   In the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions a question is like a knife that slices through the stage backdrop and gives us a look at what lies behind it. In fact, that was exactly how Sabina had explained the meaning of her paintings to Tereza: on the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth

   But the people who struggle against what we call totalitarian regimes cannot function with queries and doubts. They, too, need certainties and simple truths to make the multitudes understand, to provoke collective tears.

   Sabina had once had an exhibition that was organized by a political organization in Germany. When she picked up the catalogue, the first thing she saw was a picture of herself with a drawing of barbed wire superimposed on it. Inside she found a biography that read like the life of a saint or martyr: she had suffered, struggled against injustice, been forced to abandon her bleeding homeland, yet was carrying on the struggle. ‘Her paintings are a struggle for happiness’ was the final sentence.

   She protested, but they did not understand her.

   Do you mean that modern art isn’t persecuted under Communism?

   My enemy is kitsch, not Communism!’ she replied, infuriated.

From that time on, she began to insert mystifications into her biography, and by the time she got to America she even managed to hide the fact that she was Czech. It was all merely a desperate attempt to escape the kitsch that people wanted to make of her life.

Milan Kundera, b.1929. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984  Czech: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí

Part Three. Words Misunderstood. Chapter 5. A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words (continued). The Beauty of New York

Part Six. The Grand March. Chapter 11.

Image: Max Ernst, 1891-1976. Les cages sont toujours imaginaires, 1925. @Kunsthaus, Zürich

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Cuthbert Bede BA – The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman, 1853

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Chapter XII. Mr. Verdant Green terminates his existence as an Oxford Freshman. 

      After ordering for dinner every thing that the house was enabled to supply, they made their way in the first place (as it could only be seen between 11 and 1) to Blenheim; the princely splendours of which were not only costly in themselves, but, as our hero soon found, costly also to the sight-seer. The doors in the suite of apartments were all opposite to each other, so that, as a crimson cord was passed from one to the other, the spectator was kept entirely to the one side of the room, and merely a glance could be obtained of the Raffaelle, the glorious Rubens’s, [19] the Vandycks, and the almost equally fine Sir Joshuas. But even the glance they had was but a passing one, as the servant trotted them through the rooms with the rapidity of locomotion and explanation of a Westminster Abbey verger; and he made a fierce attack on Verdant, who had lagged behind, and was short-sightedly peering at the celebrated “Charles the First” of Vandyck, as though he had lingered in order to surreptitiously appropriate some of the tables, couches, and other trifling articles that ornamented the rooms. In this way they went at railroad pace through the suite of rooms and the library, – where the chief thing pointed out appeared to be a grease-mark on the floor made by somebody at somebody else’s wedding-breakfast, – and to the chapel, where they admired the ingenuity of the sparrows and other birds that built about Rysbrach’s monumental mountain of marble to the memory of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough; – and then to the so-called “Titian room” (shade of mighty Titian, forgive the insult!) where they saw the Loves of the Gods represented in the most unloveable manner,[20] and where a flunkey lounged lazily at the door, and, in spite of Mr. Bouncer’s expostulatory “chaff,” demanded half-a-crown for the sight.

      Indeed, the sight-seeing at Blenheim seemed to be a system of half-crowns. The first servant would take them a little way, and then say, “I don’t go any further, sir; half-a-crown!” and hand them over to servant number two, who, after a short interval, would pass them on (half-a-crown!) to the servant who shewed the chapel (half-a-crown!), who would forward them on to the “Titian” Gallery (half-a-crown!), who would hand them over to the flower-garden (half-a-crown!), who would entrust them to the rose-garden (half-a-crown!), who would give them up to another, who shewed parts of the Park, and the rest of it. Somewhat in this manner an Oxford party sees Blenheim (the present of the nation); and Mr. Verdant Green found it the most expensive show-place he had ever seen.

[19] Dr Waagen says that the Rubens collection at Blenheim is only surpassed by the royal galleries of Munich, Vienna, Madrid, and Paris.


[20] The ladies alone would repel one by their gaunt ugliness, their flesh being apparently composed of the article on which the pictures are painted, leather. The only picture not by “Titian” in this room is a Rubens, – “the Rape of Proserpine” – to see which is well worth the half-crown charged for the sight of the others.


Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889) The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman,1853. Part I. 

Text: Part I. Chapter XII. Mr. Verdant Green terminates his existence as an Oxford Freshman.

Image: Part III. Chapter IX. Mr, Verdant Green asks Papa.

Publisher: Blackwoods Magazine, 1850s. Nathaniel Cooke, (Late Ingram, Cooke, And Co.) Milford House, Strand, London, 1853. Part II. 1854, Part III, 1857.

Illustrations by Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889), with numerous illustrations designed and drawn on wood by the author.

The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green is a light comic novel with illustrations by the author, Edward Bradley, 1827-1889, under the pseudonym of Cuthbert M. Bede. It follows the day-to-day life of Mr. Verdant Green, a first year undergraduate at Oxford University, and became a cult book for Oxford students, published in three volumes between 1853 to 1857. The description of an outing to Blenheim Palace to view the paintings of Titian, Raffaele, Vandyke, Rubens, the Sir Joshuas, and the sculpture of Rysbrach provides continual circumstances for exploitation by the house servants of the Duke and duchess of Marlborough, who fleece the tourists of  half-a-crown at every opportunity.

Cuthbert Bede BA – The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman,1853

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Part II. Chapter IX. Mr Verdant Green makes his first appearance on the boards.

SCENE IV. The Word. – Miss Bouncer discovered with her camera, arranging her photographic chemicals. She soliloquizes: “There! now, all is ready for my sitter.” She calls the footman (Mr. Verdant Green), and says, “John, you may show the Lady Fitz-Canute upstairs.” The footman shows in Miss Honeywood, dressed in an antiquated bonnet and mantle, waving a huge fan. John gives her a chair, into which she drops, exclaiming, “What an insufferable toil it is to ascend to these elevated Photographic rooms;” and makes good use of her fan. Miss Bouncer then fixes the focus of her camera, and begs the Lady Fitz-Canute to sit perfectly still, and to call up an agreeable smile to her face. Miss Honeywood thereupon disposes her face in ludicrous “wreathed smiles;” and Miss Bouncer’s head disappears under the velvet hood of the camera. “I am afraid,” at length says Miss Bouncer, “I am afraid that I shall not be able to succeed in taking a likeness of your ladyship this morning.” “And why, pray?” asks her ladyship with haughty surprise. “Because it is a gloomy day,” replies the Photographer, “and much depends upon the rays of light.” “Then procure the rays of light!” “That is more than I can do.” “Indeed! I suppose if the Lady Fitz-Canute wishes for the rays of light, and condescends to pay for the rays of light, she can obtain the rays of light.” Miss Bouncer considers this too exigeant, and puts her sitter off by promising to complete a most fascinating portrait of her on some more favourable day. Lady Fitz-Canute appears to be somewhat mollified at this, and is graciously pleased to observe, “Then I will undergo the fatigue of ascending to these elevated Photographic-rooms at some future period. But, mind, when I next come, that you procure the rays of light!” So she is shown out by Mr. Verdant Green, and the folding-doors are closed amid applause, and the audience distract themselves with guesses as to the word.

“Photograph” is a general favourite, but is found not to agree with the three first scenes, although much ingenuity is expended in endeavouring to make them fit the word. The Curate makes a headlong rush at the word “Daguerreotype,” and is confident that he has solved the problem, until he is informed that it is a word of more than three syllables. Charles Larkyns has already whispered the word to Mary Green; but they keep their discovery to themselves. At length, the Revd. Josiah Meek, in a moment of inspiration, hits upon the word, and proclaims it to be CALOTYPE (“Call – oh! – type;”) upon which Mr. Alfred Brindle declares to Miss Fanny Green that he had fancied it must be that, all along, and, in fact, was just on the point of saying it: and the actors, coming in in a body, receive the violet-crowns and laurel-wreaths of praise as the meed of their exertions. Perhaps, the Miss Honeywoods and Mr. Bouncer receive larger crowns than the others, but Mr. Verdant Green gets his due share, and is fully satisfied with his first appearance on “the boards.”

Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889)  The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green : an Oxford Freshman,1853

Part II. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF MR. VERDANT GREEN, AN OXFORD UNDERGRADUATE, BEING A CONTINUATION OF “THE ADVENTURES OF MR. VERDANT GREEN, AN OXFORD FRESHMAN.” 1854

Text + Image: Part II. Chapter VIII. Mr Green spends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Publisher: Blackwoods Magazine, 1850s. Nathaniel Cooke, (Late Ingram, Cooke, And Co.) Milford House, Strand, London, 1853. Part II. 1854, Part III, 1857.

Illustrations by Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889), with numerous illustrations designed and drawn on wood by the author.

The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green is a light comic novel with illustrations by the author, Edward Bradley, 1827-1889, under the pseudonym of Cuthbert M. Bede. It follows the day-to-day life of Mr. Verdant Green, a first year undergraduate at Oxford University, and became a cult book for Oxford students, published in three volumes between 1853 to 1857. The popular novelty of photography is described as Miss Fanny Bouncer creates Daguerrotypes: Moreover, as the adorning of College chimney-pieces with the photographic portraits of all the owner’s College friends, had just then come into fashion, Mr. Verdant Green’s beaming countenance and spectacles were daguerreotyped in every variety of Ethiopian distortion; and, being enclosed in miniature frames, were distributed as souvenirs among his admiring friends.” Part III. Chapter IX. Mr. Verdant Green Takes His Degree.

Nathanael West – The Day of the Locust, 1939

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An ambulance siren screamed in the street. Its wailing moan started the crowd moving again and Tod was carried along in a slow, steady push. He closed his eyes and tried to protect his throbbing leg. This time, when the movement ended, he found himself with his back to the theatre wall. He kept his eyes closed and stood on his good leg. After what seemed like hours, the pack began to loosen and move again with a churning motion. It gathered momentum and rushed. He rode it until he was slammed against the base of an iron rail which fenced the driveway of the theatre from the street. He had the wind knocked out of him by the impact, but managed to cling to the rail. He held on desperately, fighting to keep from being sucked back. A woman caught him around the waist and tried to hang on. She was sobbing rhythmically. Tod felt his fingers slipping from the rail and kicked backwards as hard as he could. The woman let go.

Despite the agony in his leg, he was able to think clearly about his picture, “The Burning of Los Angeles.” After his quarrel with Faye, he had worked on it continually to escape tormenting himself, and the way to it in his mind had become almost automatic.

As he stood on his good leg, clinging desperately to the iron rail, he could see all the rough charcoal strokes with which he had blocked it out on the big canvas. Across the top, parallel with the frame, he had drawn the burning city, a great bonfire of architectural styles, ranging from Egyptian to Cape Cod colonial. Through the center, winding from left to right, was a long hill street and down it, spilling into the middle foreground, came the mob carrying baseball bats and torches. For the faces of its members, he was using the innumerable sketches he had made of the people who come to California to die; the cultists of all sorts, economic as well as religious, the wave, airplane, funeral and preview watchers–all those poor devils who can only be stirred by the promise of miracles and then only to violence. A super “Dr. Know-All Pierce-All” had made the necessary promise and they were marching behind his banner in a great united front of screwballs and screw-boxes to purify the land. No longer bored, they sang and danced joyously in the red light of the flames.

In the lower foreground, men and women fled wildly before the vanguard of the crusading mob. Among them were Faye, Harry, Homer, Claude and himself. Faye ran proudly, throwing her knees high. Harry stumbled along behind her, holding on to his beloved derby hat with both hands. Homer seemed to be falling out of the canvas, his face half-asleep, his big hands clawing the air in anguished pantomime. Claude turned his head as he ran to thumb his nose at his pursuers. Tod himself picked up a small stone to throw before continuing his flight.

He had almost forgotten both his leg and his predicament, and to make his escape still more complete he stood on a chair and worked at the flames in an upper corner of the canvas, modeling the tongues of fire so that they licked even more avidly at a corinthian column that held up the palmleaf roof of a nutburger stand.

He had finished one flame and was starting on another when he was brought back by someone shouting in his ear. He opened his eyes and saw a policeman trying to reach him from behind the rail to which he was clinging. He let go with his left hand and raised his arm. The policeman caught him by the wrist, but couldn’t lift him. Tod was afraid to let go until another man came to aid the policeman and caught him by the back of his jacket. He let go of the rail and they hauled him up and over it.

When they saw that he couldn’t stand, they let him down easily to the ground. He was in the theatre driveway. On the curb next to him sat a woman crying into her skirt. Along the wall were groups of other disheveled people. At the end of the driveway was an ambulance. A policeman asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital. He shook his head no. He then offered him a lift home. Tod had the presence of mind to give Claude’s address.

He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into a police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.

Nathanael West, 1903-1940 The Day of the Locust, 1939. Chapter 27

The main character, Tod Hackett, works as a costume designer and background scenic artist in Hollywood, but aspires to be an artist. The Day of the Locust creates an apocalyptic sense of the self-destructive temporality of life and humanity in the film world of Hollywood. The fantastic and grotesque images in the novel relate to Romanesque paintings by Goya and Daumier but also of certain Italian artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, of Salvator Rosa, Francesco Guardi and Monsu Desiderio, the painters of Decay and Mystery.” Chapter 18. The book ends with a riot at a movie premiere which merges religious imagery of the Last Judgement with his heroic cinema screen scale painting ‘The Burning of Los Angeles’. The painting is a symbol of the malaise of Hollywood. ‘In ‘The Burning of Los Angeles’ Faye is the naked girl in the left foreground being chased by the group of men and women who have separated from the main body of the mob. One of the women is about to hurl a rock at her to bring her down. She is running with her eyes closed and a strange half-smile on her lips. Despite the dreamy repose of her face, her body is straining to hurl her along at top speed. The only explanation for this contrast is that she is enjoying the release that wild flight gives in much the same way that a game bird must when, after hiding for several tense minutes, it bursts from cover in complete, unthinking panic. Chapter 13.

Image: James Ensor,1860-1949, ‘Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889′, 1888. Oil on canvas, 252.7 × 430.5 cm. J.Paul Getty Museum, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels. The painting was an inspiration for Nathanael West’s imaginary painting The Burning of Los Angeles‘.

W M Thackeray – Vanity Fair,1848 Ch XVII

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Chapter 17. How Captain Dobbin Bought a Piano.

No. 369,” roared Mr. Hammerdown. “Portrait of a gentleman on an elephant. Who’ll bid for the gentleman on the elephant? Lift up the picture, Blowman, and let the company examine this lot.” A long, pale, military-looking gentleman, seated demurely at the mahogany table, could not help grinning as this valuable lot was shown by Mr. Blowman. “Turn the elephant to the Captain, Blowman. What shall we say, sir, for the elephant?” but the Captain, blushing in a very hurried and discomfited manner, turned away his head.

Shall we say twenty guineas for this work of art? — fifteen, five, name your own price. The gentleman without the elephant is worth five pound.”

I wonder it ain’t come down with him,” said a professional wag, “he’s anyhow a precious big one”; at which (for the elephant-rider was represented as of a very stout figure) there was a general giggle in the room.

Don’t be trying to deprecate the value of the lot, Mr. Moss,” Mr. Hammerdown said; “let the company examine it as a work of art — the attitude of the gallant animal quite according to natur’; the gentleman in a nankeen jacket, his gun in his hand, is going to the chase; in the distance a banyhann tree and a pagody, most likely resemblances of some interesting spot in our famous Eastern possessions. How much for this lot? Come, gentlemen, don’t keep me here all day.”

Some one bid five shillings, at which the military gentleman looked towards the quarter from which this splendid offer had come, and there saw another officer with a young lady on his arm, who both appeared to be highly amused with the scene, and to whom, finally, this lot was knocked down for half a guinea. He at the table looked more surprised and discomposed than ever when he spied this pair, and his head sank into his military collar, and he turned his back upon them, so as to avoid them altogether.

Of all the other articles which Mr. Hammerdown had the honour to offer for public competition that day it is not our purpose to make mention, save of one only, a little square piano, which came down from the upper regions of the house (the state grand piano having been disposed of previously); this the young lady tried with a rapid and skilful hand (making the officer blush and start again), and for it, when its turn came, her agent began to bid.

But there was an opposition here. The Hebrew aide-de-camp in the service of the officer at the table bid against the Hebrew gentleman employed by the elephant purchasers, and a brisk battle ensued over this little piano, the combatants being greatly encouraged by Mr. Hammerdown.

At last, when the competition had been prolonged for some time, the elephant captain and lady desisted from the race; and the hammer coming down, the auctioneer said:—“Mr. Lewis, twenty-five,” and Mr. Lewis’s chief thus became the proprietor of the little square piano. Having effected the purchase, he sate up as if he was greatly relieved, and the unsuccessful competitors catching a glimpse of him at this moment, the lady said to her friend,

Why, Rawdon, it’s Captain Dobbin.”

W M Thackeray, 1811-1861.  Vanity Fair,1848. Chapter 17. How Captain Dobbin Bought a Piano

image: W M Thackeray, An Elephant for Sale,1848

John Galsworthy – To Let, 1921 The Forsyte Saga

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VII  JUNE TAKES A HAND.

One who was a sculptor, a Slav, a sometime resident in New York, an egoist, and impecunious, was to be found of an evening in June Forsyte’s studio on the bank of the Thames at Chiswick. On the evening of July 6, Boris Strumolowski—several of whose works were on show there because they were as yet too advanced to be on show anywhere else—had begun well, with that aloof and rather Christlike silence which admirably suited his youthful, round, broad-cheekboned countenance framed in bright hair banged like a girl’s. June had known him three weeks, and he still seemed to her the principal embodiment of genius, and hope of the future; a sort of Star of the East which had strayed into an unappreciative West. Until that evening he had conversationally confined himself to recording his impressions of the United States, whose dust he had just shaken from off his feet—a country, in his opinion, so barbarous in every way that he had sold practically nothing there, and become an object of suspicion to the police; a country, as he said, without a race of its own, without liberty, equality, or fraternity, without principles, traditions, taste, without—in a word—a soul. He had left it for his own good, and come to the only other country where he could live well. June had dwelt unhappily on him in her lonely moments, standing before his creations—frightening, but powerful and symbolic once they had been explained! That he, haloed by bright hair like an early Italian painting, and absorbed in his genius to the exclusion of all else—the only sign of course by which real genius could be told—should still be a “lame duck” agitated her warm heart almost to the exclusion of Paul Post. And she had begun to take steps to clear her Gallery, in order to fill it with Strumolowski masterpieces. She had at once encountered trouble. Paul Post had kicked; Vospovitch had stung. With all the emphasis of a genius which she did not as yet deny them, they had demanded another six weeks at least of her Gallery. The American stream, still flowing in, would soon be flowing out. The American stream was their right, their only hope, their salvation—since nobody in this “beastly” country cared for Art. June had yielded to the demonstration. After all Boris would not mind their having the full benefit of an American stream, which he himself so violently despised.

This evening she had put that to Boris with nobody else present, except Hannah Hobdey, the mediaeval black-and-whitist, and Jimmy Portugal, editor of the Neo-Artist. She had put it to him with that sudden confidence which continual contact with the neo-artistic world had never been able to dry up in her warm and generous nature. He had not broken his Christlike silence, however, for more than two minutes before she began to move her blue eyes from side to side, as a cat moves its tail. This—he said—was characteristic of England, the most selfish country in the world; the country which sucked the blood of other countries; destroyed the brains and hearts of Irishmen, Hindus, Egyptians, Boers, and Burmese, all the finest races in the world; bullying, hypocritical England! This was what he had expected, coming to such a country, where the climate was all fog, and the people all tradesmen perfectly blind to Art, and sunk in profiteering and the grossest materialism. Conscious that Hannah Hobdey was murmuring: “Hear, hear!” and Jimmy Portugal sniggering, June grew crimson, and suddenly rapped out:

“Then why did you ever come? We didn’t ask you.” The remark was so singularly at variance with all that she had led him to expect from her, that Strumolowski stretched out his hand and took a cigarette.

“England never wants an idealist,” he said.

But in June something primitively English was thoroughly upset; old Jolyon’s sense of justice had risen, as it were, from bed. “You come and sponge on us,” she said, “and then abuse us. If you think that’s playing the game, I don’t.”

She now discovered that which others had discovered before her—the thickness of hide beneath which the sensibility of genius is sometimes veiled. Strumolowski’s young and ingenuous face became the incarnation of a sneer.

“Sponge, one does not sponge, one takes what is owing—a tenth part of what is owing. You will repent to say that, Miss Forsyte.”

“Oh, no,” said June, “I shan’t.”

“Ah! We know very well, we artists—you take us to get what you can out of us. I want nothing from you”—and he blew out a cloud of June’s smoke.

Decision rose in an icy puff from the turmoil of insulted shame within her. “Very well, then, you can take your things away.”

And, almost in the same moment, she thought: ‘Poor boy! He’s only got a garret, and probably not a taxi fare. In front of these people, too; it’s positively disgusting!’

Young Strumolowski shook his head violently; his hair, thick, smooth, close as a golden plate, did not fall off.

“I can live on nothing,” he said shrilly; “I have often had to for the sake of my Art. It is you bourgeois who force us to spend money.”

The words hit June like a pebble, in the ribs. After all she had done for Art, all her identification with its troubles and lame ducks. She was struggling for adequate words when the door was opened, and her Austrian murmured:

“A young lady, gnadiges fraulein.”

“Where?”

“In the little meal-room.”

With a glance at Boris Strumolowski, at Hannah Hobdey, at Jimmy Portugal, June said nothing, and went out, devoid of equanimity. Entering the “little meal-room,” she perceived the young lady to be Fleur—looking very pretty, if pale. At this disenchanted moment a lame duck of her own breed was welcome to June, so homoeopathic by instinct.

The girl must have come, of course, because of Jon; or, if not, at least to get something out of her. And June felt just then that to assist somebody was the only bearable thing.

“So you’ve remembered to come,” she said.

“Yes. What a jolly little duck of a house! But please don’t let me bother you, if you’ve got people.”

“Not at all,” said June. “I want to let them stew in their own juice for a bit. Have you come about Jon?”

“You said you thought we ought to be told. Well, I’ve found out.”

“Oh!” said June blankly. “Not nice, is it?”

They were standing one on each side of the little bare table at which June took her meals. A vase on it was full of Iceland poppies; the girl raised her hand and touched them with a gloved finger. To her new-fangled dress, frilly about the hips and tight below the knees, June took a sudden liking—a charming colour, flax-blue.

‘She makes a picture,’ thought June. Her little room, with its whitewashed walls, its floor and hearth of old pink brick, its black paint, and latticed window athwart which the last of the sunlight was shining, had never looked so charming, set off by this young figure, with the creamy, slightly frowning face. She remembered with sudden vividness how nice she herself had looked in those old days when HER heart was set on Philip Bosinney, that dead lover, who had broken from her to destroy for ever Irene’s allegiance to this girl’s father. Did Fleur know of that, too?

“Well,” she said, “what are you going to do?”

It was some seconds before Fleur answered.

“I don’t want Jon to suffer. I must see him once more to put an end to it.”

“You’re going to put an end to it!”

“What else is there to do?”

The girl seemed to June, suddenly, intolerably spiritless.

“I suppose you’re right,” she muttered. “I know my father thinks so; but—I should never have done it myself. I can’t take things lying down.”

How poised and watchful that girl looked; how unemotional her voice sounded!

“People WILL assume that I’m in love.”

“Well, aren’t you?”

Fleur shrugged her shoulders. ‘I might have known it,’ thought June; ‘she’s Soames’ daughter—fish! And yet—he!’

“Well, what do you want ME to do?” she said with a sort of disgust.

“Could I see Jon here to-morrow on his way down to Holly’s? He’d come if you sent him a line to-night, and perhaps afterwards you’d let them know quietly at Robin Hill that it’s all over, and that they needn’t tell Jon about his mother.”

“All right!” said June abruptly. “I’ll write now, and you can post it. Half-past two to-morrow. I shan’t be in, myself.”

She sat down at the tiny bureau which filled one corner. When she looked round with the finished note Fleur was still touching the poppies with her gloved finger.

June licked a stamp. “Well, here it is. If you’re not in love, of course, there’s no more to be said. Jon’s lucky.”

Fleur took the note. “Thanks awfully!”

‘Cold-blooded little baggage!’ thought June. Jon, son of her father, to love, and not to be loved by the daughter of—Soames! It was humiliating!

“Is that all?”

Fleur nodded; her frills shook and trembled as she swayed towards the door.

“Good-bye!”

“Good-bye! … Little piece of fashion!” muttered June, closing the door. “That family!” And she marched back towards her studio. Boris Strumolowski had regained his Christlike silence, and Jimmy Portugal was damning everybody, except the group in whose behalf he ran the Neo-Artist. Among the condemned were Eric Cobbley, and several other “lame-duck” genii who at one time or another had held first place in the repertoire of June’s aid and adoration. She experienced a sense of futility and disgust, and went to the window to let the river-wind blow those squeaky words away.

But when at length Jimmy Portugal had finished, and gone with Hannah Hobdey, she sat down and mothered young Strumolowski for half an hour, promising him a month, at least, of the American stream; so that he went away with his halo in perfect order. ‘In spite of all,’ June thought, ‘Boris IS wonderful.’

John Galsworthy, 1867-1933.      To Let, 1921 The Forsyte Saga. Published by William Heinemann Ltd, London

Images: Anthony Gross, The Forsyte Saga

The Forsyte Saga,  is a series of five novels published between 1906 and 1921 that chronicle the  lives of an establishment upper-middle-class English family. The head of the family, Soames, represents the idea of art as a commodity and collects art as a business,Soames had not spent thirty-eight years over his one hobby without knowing something more about pictures than their market values. He was, as it were, the missing link between the artist and the commercial public. Art for art’s sake and all that, of course, was cant. But aesthetics and good taste were necessary. The appreciation of enough persons of good taste was what gave a work of art its permanent market value, or in other words made it “a work of art.” ‘ Art is symbolic of the breakdown of British society and values of principle, tradition, class and taste. His errant daughter, June Forsyte, presents exhibitions in her studio-gallery of Neo-Artists, avant-garde European artists and an English medieval black and whitist, based on the idea of genius and art-for-arts-sake, which Soames describes as “lame ducks”.

John Galsworthy – To Let,1921 The Forsyte Saga

anthony-gross-to-let-john-galsworthy-1

IX Goya.

Lunch was over and Soames mounted to the picture-gallery in his house near Mapledurham. He had what Annette called “a grief.” Fleur was not yet home. She had been expected on Wednesday; had wired that it would be Friday; and again on Friday that it would be Sunday afternoon; and here were her aunt, and her cousins the Cardigans, and this fellow Profond, and everything flat as a pancake for the want of her. He stood before his Gauguin—sorest point of his collection. He had bought the ugly great thing with two early Matisses before the war, because there was such a fuss about those Post-Impressionist chaps. He was wondering whether Profond would take them off his hands—the fellow seemed not to know what to do with his money—when he heard his sister’s voice say: “I think that’s a horrid thing, Soames.” and saw that Winifred had followed him up.

“Oh! you DO?” he said dryly; “I gave five hundred for it.”

. . . .

Soames passed into the corner where, side by side, hung his real Goya, and the copy of the fresco “La Vendimia.” His acquisition of the real Goya rather beautifully illustrated the cobweb of vested interests and passions, which mesh the bright-winged fly of human life. The real Goya’s noble owner’s ancestor had come into possession of it during some Spanish war—it was in a word loot. The noble owner had remained in ignorance of its value until in the nineties an enterprising critic discovered that a Spanish painter named Goya was a genius. It was only a fair Goya, but almost unique in England, and the noble owner became a marked man. Having many possessions and that aristocratic culture which, independent of mere sensuous enjoyment, is founded on the sounder principle that one must know everything and be fearfully interested in life, he had fully intended to keep an article which contributed to his reputation while he was alive, and to leave it to the nation after he was dead. Fortunately for Soames, the House of Lords was violently attacked in 1909, and the noble owner became alarmed and angry. “If,” he said to himself, “they think they can have it both ways they are very much mistaken. So long as they leave me in quiet enjoyment the nation can have some of my pictures at my death. But if the nation is going to bait me, and rob me like this, I’m damned if I won’t sell the—lot. They can’t have my private property and my public spirit—both.” He brooded in this fashion for several months till one morning, after reading the speech of a certain statesman, he telegraphed to his agent to come down and bring Bodkin. On going over the collection Bodkin, than whose opinion on market values none was more sought, pronounced that with a free hand to sell to America, Germany, and other places where there was an interest in art, a lot more money could be made than by selling in England. The noble owner’s public spirit—he said—was well known but the pictures were unique. The noble owner put this opinion in his pipe and smoked it for a year. At the end of that time he read another speech by the same statesman, and telegraphed to his agents: “Give Bodkin a free hand.” It was at this juncture that Bodkin conceived the idea which salved the Goya and two other unique pictures for the native country of the noble owner. With one hand Bodkin proffered the pictures to the foreign market, with the other he formed a list of private British collectors. Having obtained what he considered the highest possible bids from across the seas, he submitted pictures and bids to the private British collectors, and invited them, of their public spirit, to outbid. In three instances (including the Goya) out of twenty-one he was successful. And why? One of the private collectors made buttons—he had made so many that he desired that his wife should be called Lady “Buttons.” He therefore bought an unique picture at great cost, and gave it to the nation. It was “part,” his friends said, “of his general game.” The second of the private collectors was an Americo-phobe, and bought a unique picture to “spite the damned Yanks.” The third of the private collectors was Soames, who—more sober than either of the others—bought after a visit to Madrid, because he was certain that Goya was still on the up grade. Goya was not booming at the moment, but he would come again; and, looking at that portrait, Hogarthian, Manetesque in its directness, but with its own queer sharp beauty of paint, he was perfectly satisfied still that he had made no error, heavy though the price had been—heaviest he had ever paid. And next to it was hanging the copy of “La Vendimia.” There she was—the little wretch—looking back at him in her dreamy mood, the mood he loved best because he felt so much safer when she looked like that.

He was still gazing when the scent of a cigar impinged on his nostrils, and a voice said: “Well, Mr. Forsyde, what you goin’ to do with this small lot?”

That Belgian chap, whose mother—as if Flemish blood were not enough—had been Armenian! Subduing a natural irritation, he said: “Are you a judge of pictures?”

“Well, I’ve got a few myself.”

“Any Post-Impressionists?”

“Ye-es, I rather like them.”

“What do you think of this?” said Soames, pointing to the Gauguin.

Monsieur Profond protruded his lower lip and short pointed beard. “Rather fine, I think,” he said; “do you want to sell it?”

Soames checked his instinctive “Not particularly”—he would not chaffer with this alien.

“Yes,” he said.

“What do you want for it?”

“What I gave.”

“All right,” said Monsieur Profond. “I’ll be glad to take that small picture. Post-Impressionists—they’re awful dead, but they’re amusin’. I don’ care for pictures much, but I’ve got some, just a small lot.”

“What DO you care for?”

Monsieur Profond shrugged his shoulders. “Life’s awful like a lot of monkeys scramblin’ for empty nuts.”

“You’re young,” said Soames. If the fellow must make a generalisation, he needn’t suggest that the forms of property lacked solidity!

“I don’ worry,” replied Monsieur Profond smiling; “we’re born, and we die. Half the world’s starvin’. I feed a small lot of babies out in my mother’s country; but what’s the use? Might as well throw my money in the river.”

Soames looked at him, and turned back towards his Goya. He didn’t know what the fellow wanted.

“What shall I make my cheque for?” pursued Monsieur Profond.

“Five hundred,” said Soames shortly; “but I don’t want you to take it if you don’t care for it more than that.”

“That’s all right,” said Monsieur Profond; “I’ll be ‘appy to ‘ave that picture.”

He wrote a cheque with a fountain-pen heavily chased with gold. Soames watched the process uneasily. How on earth had the fellow known that he wanted to sell that picture? Monsieur Profond held out the cheque.

“The English are awful funny about pictures,” he said. “So are the French, so are my people. They’re all awful funny.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Soames stiffly.

“It’s like hats,” said Monsieur Profond enigmatically, “small or large, turnin’ up or down—just the fashion. Awful funny.” And, smiling, he drifted out of the gallery again, blue and solid like the smoke of his excellent cigar.

John Galsworthy, 1867-1933.      To Let, 1921 The Forsyte Saga. Published by William Heinemann Ltd, London

Images: Anthony Gross, The Forsyte Saga

The Forsyte Saga,  is a series of five novels published between 1906 and 1921 that chronicle the  lives of an establishment upper-middle-class English family. The head of the family, Soames, represents the idea of art as a commodity and collects art as a business,Soames had not spent thirty-eight years over his one hobby without knowing something more about pictures than their market values. He was, as it were, the missing link between the artist and the commercial public. Art for art’s sake and all that, of course, was cant. But aesthetics and good taste were necessary. The appreciation of enough persons of good taste was what gave a work of art its permanent market value, or in other words made it “a work of art.” ‘ Art is symbolic of the breakdown of British society and values of principle, tradition, class and taste. His errant daughter, June Forsyte, presents exhibitions in her studio-gallery of Neo-Artists, avant-garde European artists and an english black and white Medievalist, based on the idea of genius and art-for-arts-sake, which Soames describes as “lame ducks”.