Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Love in the Days of Rage, 1988

Chapter 7.

….. She thought back to another spring when she had fallen in love with one of her teachers at the Art Students League, he one of the great teachers, a man in his sixties then, what the students called ‘an old rad,’ of the thirties generation, one of the WPA artists who went around with the old Partisan Review crowd, but at this time, her time, he was not very far away from retirement and used to like to have some of his favourite students come up to his flat on West End Avenue on Sundays and drink beer and talk about painting and politics. There didn’t seem to be any woman in residence at his house, and it was only much later she found out the truth, but then that summer back then after classes were over for the year she used to drop in now and then and usually found him alone in his huge studio and always glad to see her. Looking back now she could see that she was the one who had made the advances, although he certainly did respond with affection. But in the end it came out, it all came out that he was very gay, and there was no way around it. A very solitary man, living by himself and still living for his students, and Annie didn’t stop seeing him, but in the end she had to leave, she had to move on, with her own needs, and he gave her a silver ring set with a scarab which she still had and still wore. In addition to that he gave her much more, he showed her the artist as perpetual enemy of the state, as gadfly of the state, the artist as the total enemy of all the organized forces that bore down on the free individual everywhere, the artist as the bearer of Eros, as bearer of the life force itself, as bearer of love, in a world seemingly bent on destroying all that, Eros versus civilization, life against death. Yes, in his printmaking classes you learned not only stone lithography and drypoint etching, you also learned you had to use that art to say something important, not just a bunch of minimalist nothingness. You learned the radical tradition of the WPA artists and muralists. ‘Speak up and stop mumbling!’ he would yell at them when he bent over their work and saw that the drawing was saying nothing. And it was strange, she reflected now, how his ideas were like Julian’s, as now Julian had fallen silent, watching the musicians in the square, but suddenly then in the middle of that sunny idyll came a dissident sound from down the rue Mouffetard, the sound of drums beaten by students carrying placards who now came streaming into the Place Contrescarpe, circling the still-playing musicians and the old couple, who now stopped dancing and hurried off down the street. And the three students with drums led a straggling line around the little square, with more of them pouring in all the time, waving placards and banners upon which were scrawled and painted the first murmurings of that wild new spirit of rebellion. Among them were posters she recognized as having been done by the poster brigades at the Beaux-Arts, some by her students, some of them indeed in the style of WPA artists but with messages hardly dreamed of in the American thirties: 

Alcohol kills: Take LSD

THE YOUNG MAKE LOVE, THE OLD MAKE OBSCENE GESTURES

I’M A GROUCHO MARXIST

‘Revolution is the ecstasy of history’

MAKE LOVE AND BEGIN AGAIN

POWER TO THE IMAGINATION!

‘Nous sommes tous les enrages – Ortega y Gasset

TO FORBID IS FORBIDDEN

Open the Windows of Your Heart

MAKE LOVE NOT WAR

THE SORBONNE IS THE STALINGRAD OF THE REVOLUTION!

Chapter 11.

…… An ancient waiter actually wearing a pince-nez came bowing up, took their order, and tottered off, looking like a Degas dancing master. It was a long way from the Place de la Sorbonne. The lace curtains, the brightly polished brass railings, the discrete booths with lush leather banquettes, the elderly dame in black lace at the caisse, gave the impression of still being deep in the nineteenth century, caught forever in an impressionist painting, and one almost expected to hear the soft clop-clop of carriage horses outside. ‘I should have brought a sketchbook,’ Annie said, as she began drawing on the menu, which seemed perhaps to embarrass Julian a very little. He fidgeted. ‘Well, if you can do a Daumier or a Goya . . .’ he began. `Imagination au Pouvoir?’ said Annie, drawing the slogan at the top of the carte, and Julian decided to enjoy himself, lifting his glass of wine. ‘Go ahead on the tablecloth too! After all, it’s in the great tradition. They all did it, the impressionists did it, Picasso did it, the symbolists and dadaists and surrealists did it, they all drew on tablecloths, except they were paper tablecloths, and then of course they took the paper back to their studios and copied it on canvas sometimes, and got their whole world down on canvas, for everyone to dream about today -‘ ‘As if that world still existed,’ Annie put in, drawing on the menu. ‘Just like all these elegant people in this restaurant still think it exists – nothing but a painter’s dream forever and ever!’ Julian wasn’t laughing anymore, watching her draw contorted bourgeois figures in top hats and picture hats, writhing on the paper, hanging on the phrases of the haute cuisine, running off the elegant page, dropping off, as it were, into the real world of 1968 under the students’ revolutionary slogan ‘Imagination au Pouvoir!’ It was a cry heard around the world that year, a cry of rebellion everywhere, more than a ‘hippie rebellion’. Annie was still drawing when the soup came, and she continued, pushing it aside. ‘I have this fantasy,’ she went on, ‘this painter’s fantasy about Paris, which should really be called L’Huile-sur-Toile – Oil-on-Canvas, as they say in the descriptions of paintings in museums. So once upon a time there was this little village called L’Huile-sur-Toile – a tiny little village on a little tiny river called the Toile. Now, that was a very long time ago, maybe in the Middle Ages or earlier still. Before that, painters mostly painted on wood – huile-sur-bois – but then, L’Huile-sur-Toile started growing, and more and more painters construc-ted paysages all around the banks of the Toile, and the little town grew larger and larger and larger, with all kinds of different neighbourhoods or quartiers springing up, all built in different styles, and the styles swept the town from one end to the other, age upon age the styles changed, like the changes in architecture itself, like the changes in dress and in life-styles. There was the pastoral and then the Gothic quartier and then the baroque quartier, and eventually the symbolist and the surrealist and every kind of neighbourhood that any artist could imagine. But at first there was mostly darkness on the Toile, because it was still the Dark Ages, and they only had candles and oil lamps and no electricity, and their heads were full of shadows and superstition and darkness too. But – but gradually the light grew in the heart of the darkness, at first only a faint light in the distant sky, behind the dark landscape, behind the dark buildings along the Toile, and then it broke through over the rooftops, and flooded the Toile itself. Then the forces of darkness entrenched themselves on the Right Bank and the forces of light took the Left Bank as theirs, so that from the earliest times the reactionary Right faced the avant-garde progressive liberal Left, and each viewed the other suspiciously, each considering The Other Side to be treacherous territory, alien land. But the light kept growing, and then in the nineteenth century the first impressionists came marching down the boulevards from Montmartre to the river’s edge, all of them looking obsessively for light and nothing but light, their easels under arm. And they strolled along the Toile and set up their easels and started painting the light, and some of them crossed over to the Left but many remained on the Right, where most of them had been born in good bourgeois families. But they all were obsessed with light and many of them didn’t care where it came from or where it would lead them, they were not concerned with the sociology or the politics of L’Huile-sur-Toile. And their style swept the city and the suburbs and the countryside all up and down the Toile, as far as the eye could see in the new light, and swept even down to the far sea, through Normandy to Honfleur and back again, back past the Grande Jatte and the promenades and quays all along the Toile, and in the centre of Paris­-sur-Toile the good burghers of the city clapped their hands and danced and sang the “Marseillaise” and other stirring nationalist anthems, while the impressionists and the postimpressionists kept on painting everything in sight, including the Opera and their own dear Bourse right here. And they painted Notre-Dame over and over, although neither the Right nor the Left could really claim the Church as being exclusively theirs, since it stood in the middle of the river on the Ile de la Cite, although many times the towers seemed to tilt to the Right and at rare times to the Left. There was one gang of artists who had descended as impressionists from their Bateau Ivre high on the Right in Montmartre, and this gang of impressionists refused to stick to the same style of paint­ing with their newfound light but insisted on constantly changing their styles. Their leader was Picasso, who con­stantly broke up the old formulas and forged new styles of seeing and invented cubism and painted everything all over in cubes and then destroyed them, after which came the dadaists and surrealists and symbolists and other ists and the taxis of the Marne and the First World War, while the painters all kept repainting the landscape of the Toile over and over, until finally the Spanish Civil War ushered in the Second World War, and with the Second War came the American invaders, and they came, they saw, they conquered but then didn’t leave as they were supposed to, but stayed on to take advantage of the very good exchange on the American dollar and to take advantage of the very good light for painting. Then these foreigners and others of their ilk from all over the world also started repainting the landscape of the Toile, only this time it was no longer recognizable as the adorable little bourg it had always been. It all began to look like a huge imitation abstract-expressionist canvas by Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning while the Bourse went on looking just like it always had in impressionist pictures, with its inhabitants still looking and thinking like their impressionist portraits. And then General de Gaulle himself came in here, into this very restaurant, and he bowed and saluted and bowed again, without taking off his pillbox hat or even offering to check it, all the while murmuring to himself, “La Gloire, oui, c’est La Gloire!” And everyone rushed into the streets of L’Huile-sur­-Toile waving the tricolour and shouting, “Don’t change anything, ever! Don’t rock the boat! The Left Bank doesn’t exist!” And everyone went around acting as if the world of L’Huile-sur-Toile was perfect and no need to change anything ever, everything should go on as it always had on the avenues of la Grande Republique. But, but the students, alors, merde, the students – ces enragés, ces chienlits – were hungry and bored, and they had had enough of All That, they wanted an entirely new mix of colours, an entirely new palette, entirely new tools and new types of brushes to paint with, and they used spray paint on everything. They woke up the workers everywhere, they inspired the hunger strikers, and every other brand of forgotten humanity came pouring out of the side streets – the anarchists and the Trotskyists and the communists who hated everyone else, especially the anarchists, they all began to unite, because they were all hungry and fed up with the flat flabby ancien régime and with de Gaulle’s grandeur, which didn’t include them. They were all totally frustrated by the plutocracy that ruled the world even beyond the Toile, and they wanted to focus a huge magnifying glass on the canvas of the whole world and concentrate the new light on the very centre of the canvas until it caught fire and burned a hole right through the whole landscape!’ This time it was Annie who was fairly carried away, her voice tending to rise to a higher octave, so that now the antique waiter with the raised eyebrows came hurrying up, and Annie broke off and sat back, looking at Julian, who sat silent looking at her as if he had never really seen her before. Then he raised his glass to her, smiling in her eyes, and drank, as she spooned her cold soup. Then after a while Julian signed a chit, and they went out together into the loud afternoon traffic that crept past the Bourse, the multicoloured cars like myriad drops of paint flowing over an immense abstract-impressionist landscape whose perspective had long ago been destroyed. 

——

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1919-1997. Love in the Days of Rage, 1988. Chapter 7 / Chapter 11

Images: Interior view of l’Atelier Populaire, 1968. © Atelier Populaire d.r. Courtesy École des Beaux-Arts, Paris

Set in Paris, in May 1968. An American artist, Annie is teaching at the École des Beaux-Arts. To a background of cultural action and police presence in the streets the novella weaves the story of a love affair between Annie and Julian Mendes, an anarchist banker, with descriptions of the romantic Parisian daily life of cafes and restaurants, and references to the artistic and architectural past of the city as the scenario of political events changes around them.  

The novel presents the critical aesthetic moment of May 1968 as the point where art changed from a cycle of avant-garde movements of Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Cubism, Symbolism, Dada and Surrealism forever repeating the language of the canvas. As Annie considers her previous career as an artist in New York she is also a symbol of a changing aesthetic reality. She links May ’68 to the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in the United States. A Federal Art Project (1935–1943) that funded artists as workers to produce public artworks in a social realist style as part of the New Deal program. Annie sees that the traditional nostalgic bourgeois views of the old grey buildings and stone labyrinth of the feminine landscape of Paris have been appropriated by American artists as huge abstract expressionist canvases. The studio has been replaced by a collective Atelier Populaire – a peoples studio. The École des Beaux-Arts, and art schools and institutions throughout France, were occupied by the students who produced thousands of posters and political slogans. The ideas and images were pasted on the walls of Paris, but artists began to realise that the power and potential language of art had changed as direct action and media sensation could reach the eyes of the world.

John Lanchester- Capital, 2012

Chapter 12

Smitty, the performance and installation artist and all-round art­world legend, stood looking out the window of his studio in Shoreditch, waiting for his new assistant to come back with a triple-shot cappuccino and the daily papers. He had a black suit and white shirt on for visiting his nan, and could just see in the reflection that he looked, though he said so himself, pretty sharp: if his mum could have seen him, she would have been pleased. So that was good. Other things were not so good. He wasn’t impressed by the performance of his new assistant, who had gone out twenty minutes ago, and who only needed about a quarter of that amount of time to get out and back, and who would therefore be returning with a cup of frothy coffee which was odds-on to be cold.

Looking out the window, Smitty surveyed the London scene: oldsters struggling with carrier bags on their way back from the supermarket, a crack whore topping up with Tennent’s, pram­faces from the estate and their grub-white babies, immigrants from who knew where, Kosovo probably or wherever it was the latest lot came from. The street was noisy with distant traffic and drilling and people had put their orange recycling bags out, piled and spilling, but they hadn’t been collected yet, so the pavement was a military-grade obstacle course. Smitty loved and approved of all he saw. London, life, London life. He felt an idea coming on. At the other end of the road, a group of workmen in bright orange safety jackets were standing around a hole they had dug about a week before. Two of them were smoking, the third was laughing, the fourth was drinking something from a thermos, and to one side of them their mechanical  digger stood with its scoop pointing downwards. The way they were all grouped around the hole made it look as if the hole were their focus of attention, as if they were admiring it. That was what gave Smitty the idea: make a work of art about holes. Or, make holes the work of art. Yes, that was better. Dig some holes and make the hole the artwork, or rather the confusion and chaos the hole caused – people’s reaction, not the thing itself. Yeah – bloody great hole, for no reason. Let the tossers argue about who fills it in. That’s part of the artwork too.

This was how Smitty had made his name: through anonymous artworks in the form of provocations, graffiti, only-just-non­criminal vandalism, and stunts. He was famous for being unknown, a celebrity without identity, and it was agreed that his anonymity was his most interesting artefact – though the stunts made people laugh, too. He had a crew who he had known since for ever, and who helped him when he needed helping. Last year, the sale of signed works and his own book about himself had taken his earnings over £1,000,000 for the first time.

Smitty disliked writing things down – a dislike which meant he had struggled at school and been directed to what were regarded as non-subjects such as art, which had led him to art school, which had led him to where he was today, thanks – so he preferred to use a crappy hand-held dictaphone. He liked the way the object, which seemed so much a tool of corporate subjugation, so much the kind of thing which would belong to the kind of man who would murmur the kind of thing like ‘Take a memo, Miss Potter: was in his hands an instrument of subversion, of creativity, of chaos. Also his assistant would transcribe it later and then send him a text message, to his pay-as-you-go mobile which couldn’t be traced, since a large part of Smitty’s work, and an even larger part of his allure and his fame, was the fact of his total anonymity. No one knew who he was, or how he got away with what he did. In the case of the hole project, getting away with what he did would be a big part of it. A certain sort of artist would get council permission for the hole, would apply for a fucking grant for it. Not Smitty. He pressed Record and said:

‘Bloody great hole’

The assistant came up the stairs, put a slab of daily newspapers on the table and brought Smitty his cappuccino. It was half-hot, not quite cool enough to complain about, and he was out of breath so he had obviously been hurrying, which added together meant Smitty didn’t feel quite justified in giving him a bollocking. All the same, he was a little displeased. The assistant was a middle-class boy pretending to be a streetwise working­class kid, which in itself Smitty didn’t mind, since he had once been like that himself – but he did prefer his cappuccino piping hot. Then the boy took out the day’s mail from the pocket of his manbag, and Smitty cheered up, since one of the things instantly recognisable among the letters was a fat packet from the clippings agency. His favourite reading, his favourite viewing and listening, was anything about himself, or his work. The coverage usually turned on the amazing thrill given to all by his anonymity.

Smitty tore open the envelope and a bunch of clippings fell out. Some of them were about the paperback of his book, a couple of them were reviews of a new piece he had made on an abandoned building site in Hackney. It had been called Bucket of Shit and had involved putting ten abandoned toilets around the rubble – only instead of being filled with shit, the toilets had been full of cut flowers, crunched together and spray-painted to look like oversize turds. He and his crew took photographs and sent press releases out by email. The council’s contractors had cleared the piece within forty-eight hours but the harvest was here in the clippings, most of it favourable. Urban renovation and the ease with which we passed by, unseeing, the urban underclass; that was, apparently, what this latest ‘guerrilla intervention’ had been about. One or two of the usual twats didn’t get it, but so what? It wasn’t a popularity contest.

‘Can I have a look at the clips?’ asked the kid. He was – this was one of his better points, perhaps even his best – visibly excited by Smitty’s fame and danger and aura. Smitty lobbed the cuttings onto the table in front of the boy and went back to looking out the window. Calmed and buoyed by his reading, Smitty felt himself become expansive.

‘You’ve got to be a brand, man. Then you find some shit to flog, yeah? That’s the way it works. A stunt like that, Bucket, takes effort to think through and set up and it’s harder still when you’ve got to do it hands-off, so no one can trace it back. Got to be careful, got to cover your tracks, like those Indian dudes walking backwards in their footprints, yeah? And there’s not a penny in it either. Nada, sweet FA. Which doesn’t mean there’s nothing in it, no forward movement. The stuff which can’t be sold, that’s the stuff which makes everything else seem real. You can’t commodify this shit. Which is the whole point. But it adds to your mojo, to your aura. And that allows you to make shit you can sell. See? So that thing which cost whatever it was, four or five grand, by the time it was all in, the long run, it’s what’s paying for those papers and this cappuccino.’

The assistant, who had heard other versions of this speech before, nodded. But he did not look as fully alert or on the ball as he might do, and Smitty disapproved. He was, truth be told, a little tired of all the people who wanted to be him. Whose admiration was expressed as envy. He wasn’t old, nowhere near – he was twenty-eight, for fuck’s sake! – but he was already thoroughly familiar with young kids who thought that making your name was easy, that all that needed to happen was for the oldsters to budge up and make way and then it would be their names all over the papers. Achievers who hadn’t achieved anything yet. Hanging out a shop sign with nothing written on it. That kind of would-be up-and-comer was half in love, half in hate with the people they wanted to be, fizzing with envy they hadn’t diagnosed in themselves. This boy was like that, and was showing signs of insufficient respect. He liked Smitty’s fame but didn’t seem to appreciate that Smitty came attached to it. More interested in his own work than in his employer’s – even though he didn’t have any work of his own to speak of. He had come recommended by Smitty’s art dealer and agent, a bright kid related to somebody or other, freshly graduated from St Martin’s or Clerkenwell or wherever it was. The kid was bright and on his better days had a hungry look that Smitty approved of, but the boy also needed to be careful. He had the air of someone who liked to take a few pills of a weekend. Smitty liked to talk about living large and caning it, but his attitude to drugs was, beneath the rhetoric, cautious  and epicurean: small amounts, meticulously chosen, at the right time and in the right company. He took as much trouble sourcing his drugs as a different kind of person would take sourcing organic meat. If his assistant was getting off his face Friday-to-Sunday to such an extent that his concentration was wavering at work, he was soon going to find himself being an ex-assistant. An ex-assistant with a watertight confidentiality clause in his contract.

A beeping noise went off. The boy fished his phone out of his pocket.

‘You asked me to tell you when it was half eleven,’ he said.

‘Yeah, OK,’ said Smitty. He picked up his mobile and his wallet and his car keys. ‘Got a thing to go to. My nan.’

‘Sorry,’ said the boy with a hint of something in his tone Smitty didn’t like, an only just detectable irony of some kind. OK, that’s it, he told himself. You’re fired. He headed out the door to his car in a genuinely shitty mood.

John Lanchester. Capital, 2012

Capital presents a chronicle of characters in a south London street where various tales interlink to reflect the capitals changing demographic of ‘ordinary’ and ‘new’ Londoners representing themes of gentrification, disparate income and diverse nationalities. The residents of Pepys Road are participants in an allegorical story linked by their urban habitat. The narrative on art in the novel is fermented through a campaign of graffiti, petty vandalism, CDs with 40 minutes of amateur film of Pepys Road, dead blackbirds in jiffy bags, a blog, and postcards with the slogan “We Want What You Have”. The phrase acts as underlying motto summarising the resentment and envy at the social and materialist disparity of the capitalist economy. 

The story involves the successful and anonymous performance artist, Smitty – a parody of the Young British Artists (YBAs) and the era of Brit Art that emerged in London in the late 1980s and of the artist ‘Banksy’. Smitty attended Goldsmiths – the institutional epicentre of Brit Art. The YBAs were noted for their provocative attitude and their appropriation of the money and celebrity connected with the art world that changed the hierarchical position and public perception of the artist. Smitty is described as a ‘natural barrow boy” from a modest social background. His assistant, and dogsbody, Parker French has the privileges of education and social position, but his jealousy at Smitty’s success as an artist causes him to take revenge in the form of a sinister art prank which implicates Smitty and threatens his anonymity. 

Smitty has the attributes of the successful contemporary cool metropolitan figure – a well cut black suit and white shirt, a studio near Hoxton Square with a £5,000 music system and a sixty-inch plasma flat-screen TV, and most importantly, an income of £1,000,000 a year. What Smitty understands is the significance of Isiah Berlin’s phrase ‘The fox knows many things; the hedgehog, one big thing’. Smitty understands the advantage of the one big thing – idea, bluff, or trick – and his one idea was “about the possibilities and consequences of anonymity” (Ch 39, pg 225) 

Smitty represents the change from the private musings of the mid-twentieth century studio or academic artist to the generation of Brit Art and artists who assumed their role as public figures – independent, entreprenurial media-manipulators and unequivocally confident of their talent and celebrity, recognised in international exhibitions and lavishly illustrated books about themselves. His art reflects the visceral elements of Brit Art: “Smitty’s art was all about confrontation. It was about shocking people, jolting them out of their well-grooved perceptions. Parodies, defacements, obscenities, spray-painted graffiti of Picasso being sucked off by an octopus – that was what Smitty was all about.” (Ch 46, pg 264) In Chapter 12 Smitty, “the performance and installation artist and all-round art­ world legend“ reflects on the nature of his “anonymous artworks in the form of provocations, graffiti, only-just-non­criminal vandalism, and stunts.” The work of art was not concerned with practical skill and technique absorbed or acquired at Art School. Instead, the artwork was the product of a conceptual process that created “provocative temporary site-specific works” (Ch 13, pg 86). Ideas are dictated into a dictaphone and the artwork – entitled, ‘Bloody Great Hole’ or ‘Bucket of Shit’, or a nine-foot high concrete dildo ‘Seemed like a good idea at the time’, is fabricated by specialist workers in a factory. The artist is not a solitary figure in a studio but a manipulator of ideas, a ‘brand’ and mastermind of a ‘crew’ who photograph and publicize’ the idea of an artwork. The idea is the work. The work is the publicity and recognition, and the peripheral sale of the artist’s identity and artefacts related to the work. The artist has reclaimed the Romantic notion of the visionary and independent ‘heroic’ status’ of the artist. The value attached to the work comprehends the artists’ place within the corporate art market and the administrative quangos of museums and galleries. Smitty craves fame, but as an anonymous persona. As the artist he has claimed his power as creator and controller of the artwork, market and media.

George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

Nineteen Eighty-Four, BBC TV, 12 December 1954

Winston sat back against the window-sill. It was no use going on. He was about to buy some more beer when the old man suddenly got up and shuffled rapidly into the stinking urinal at the side of the room. The extra half-litre was already working on him. Winston sat for a minute or two gazing at his empty glass, and hardly noticed when his feet carried him out into the street again. Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified — when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested. 

At this moment his train of thought stopped abruptly. He halted and looked up. He was in a narrow street, with a few dark little shops, interspersed among dwelling-houses. Immediately above his head there hung three discoloured metal balls which looked as if they had once been gilded. He seemed to know the place. Of course! He was standing outside the junk-shop where he had bought the diary. 

A twinge of fear went through him. It had been a sufficiently rash act to buy the book in the beginning, and he had sworn never to come near the place again. And yet the instant that he allowed his thoughts to wander, his feet had brought him back here of their own accord. It was precisely against suicidal impulses of this kind that he had hoped to guard himself by opening the diary. At the same time he noticed that although it was nearly twenty-one hours the shop was still open. With the feeling that he would be less conspicuous inside than hanging about on the pavement, he stepped through the doorway. If questioned, he could plausibly say that he was trying to buy razor blades. 

The proprietor had just lighted a hanging oil lamp which gave off an unclean but friendly smell. He was a man of perhaps sixty, frail and bowed, with a long, benevolent nose, and mild eyes distorted by thick spectacles. His hair was almost white, but his eyebrows were bushy and still black. His spectacles, his gentle, fussy movements, and the fact that he was wearing an aged jacket of black velvet, gave him a vague air of intellectuality, as though he had been some kind of literary man, or perhaps a musician. His voice was soft, as though faded, and his accent less debased than that of the majority of proles. 

‘I recognized you on the pavement,’ he said immediately. ‘You’re the gentleman that bought the young lady’s keepsake album. That was a beautiful bit of paper, that was. Cream-laid, it used to be called. There’s been no paper like that made for — oh, I dare say fifty years.’ He peered at Winston over the top of his spectacles. ‘Is there anything special I can do for you? Or did you just want to look round?’ 

‘I was passing,’ said Winston vaguely. ‘I just looked in. I don’t want anything in particular.’ 

‘It’s just as well,’ said the other, ‘because I don’t suppose I could have satisfied you.’ He made an apologetic gesture with his softpalmed hand. ‘You see how it is; an empty shop, you might say. Between you and me, the antique trade’s just about finished. No demand any longer, and no stock either. Furniture, china, glass it’s all been broken up by degrees. And of course the metal stuff’s mostly been melted down. I haven’t seen a brass candlestick in years.’ 

The tiny interior of the shop was in fact uncomfortably full, but there was almost nothing in it of the slightest value. The floorspace was very restricted, because all round the walls were stacked innumerable dusty picture-frames. In the window there were trays of nuts and bolts, worn-out chisels, penknives with broken blades, tarnished watches that did not even pretend to be in going order, and other miscellaneous rubbish. Only on a small table in the corner was there a litter of odds and ends — lacquered snuffboxes, agate brooches, and the like — which looked as though they might include something interesting. As Winston wandered towards the table his eye was caught by a round, smooth thing that gleamed softly in the lamplight, and he picked it up. 

It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rainwater, in both the colour and the texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anemone. 

‘What is it?’ said Winston, fascinated. 

‘That’s coral, that is,’ said the old man. ‘It must have come from the Indian Ocean. They used to kind of embed it in the glass. That wasn’t made less than a hundred years ago. More, by the look of it.’ 

‘It’s a beautiful thing,’ said Winston. 

‘It is a beautiful thing,’ said the other appreciatively. 

‘But there’s not many that’d say so nowadays.’ He coughed. ‘Now, if it so happened that you wanted to buy it, that’d cost you four dollars. I can remember when a thing like that would have fetched eight pounds, and eight pounds was — well, I can’t work it out, but it was a lot of money. But who cares about genuine antiques nowadays even the few that’s left?’ 

Winston immediately paid over the four dollars and slid the coveted thing into his pocket. What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one. The soft, rainwatery glass was not like any glass that he had ever seen. The thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness, though he could guess that it must once have been intended as a paperweight. It was very heavy in his pocket, but fortunately it did not make much of a bulge. It was a queer thing, even a compromising thing, for a Party member to have in his possession. Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect. The old man had grown noticeably more cheerful after receiving the four dollars. Winston realized that he would have accepted three or even two. 

‘There’s another room upstairs that you might care to take a look at,’ he said. ‘There’s not much in it. Just a few pieces. We’ll do with a light if we’re going upstairs.’ 

He lit another lamp, and, with bowed back, led the way slowly up the steep and worn stairs and along a tiny passage, into a room which did not give on the street but looked out on a cobbled yard and a forest of chimney-pots. Winston noticed that the furniture was still arranged as though the room were meant to be lived in. There was a strip of carpet on the floor, a picture or two on the walls, and a deep, slatternly arm-chair drawn up to the fireplace. An old-fashioned glass clock with a twelve-hour face was ticking away on the mantelpiece. Under the window, and occupying nearly a quarter of the room, was an enormous bed with the mattress still on it. 

‘We lived here till my wife died,’ said the old man half apologetically. ‘I’m selling the furniture off by little and little. Now that’s a beautiful mahogany bed, or at least it would be if you could get the bugs out of it. But I dare say you’d find it a little bit cumbersome.’ 

He was holdlng the lamp high up, so as to illuminate the whole room, and in the warm dim light the place looked curiously inviting. The thought flitted through Winston’s mind that it would probably be quite easy to rent the room for a few dollars a week, if he dared to take the risk. It was a wild, impossible notion, to be abandoned as soon as thought of; but the room had awakened in him a sort of nostalgia, a sort of ancestral memory. It seemed to him that he knew exactly what it felt like to sit in a room like this, in an arm-chair beside an open fire with your feet in the fender and a kettle on the hob; utterly alone, utterly secure, with nobody watching you, no voice pursuing you, no sound except the singing of the kettle and the friendly ticking of the clock. 

‘There’s no telescreen!’ he could not help murmuring. 

‘Ah,’ said the old man, ‘I never had one of those things. Too expensive. And I never seemed to feel the need of it, somehow. Now that’s a nice gateleg table in the corner there. Though of course you’d have to put new hinges on it if you wanted to use the flaps.’ 

There was a small bookcase in the other corner, and Winston had already gravitated towards it. It contained nothing but rubbish. The hunting-down and destruction of books had been done with the same thoroughness in the prole quarters as everywhere else. It was very unlikely that there existed anywhere in Oceania a copy of a book printed earlier than 1960. The old man, still carrying the lamp, was standing in front of a picture in a rosewood frame which hung on the other side of the fireplace, opposite the bed. 

‘Now, if you happen to be interested in old prints at all-‘ he began delicately. 

Winston came across to examine the picture. It was a steel engraving of an oval building with rectangular windows, and a small tower in front. There was a railing running round the building, and at the rear end there was what appeared to be a statue. Winston gazed at it for some moments. It seemed vaguely familiar, though he did not remember the statue. 

‘The frame’s fixed to the wall,’ said the old man, ‘but I could unscrew it for you, I dare say.’ 

‘I know that building,’ said Winston finally. ‘It’s a ruin now. It’s in the middle of the street outside the Palace of Justice.’ 

‘That’s right. Outside the Law Courts. It was bombed in — oh, many years ago. It was a church at one time, St Clement Danes, its name was.’ He smiled apologetically, as though conscious of saying something slightly ridiculous, and added: ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s!’ 

‘What’s that?’ said Winston. 

‘Oh- “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s.” That was a rhyme we had when I was a little boy. How it goes on I don’t remember, but I do know it ended up, “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” It was a kind of a dance. They held out their arms for you to pass under, and when they came to “Here comes a chopper to chop off your head” they brought their arms down and caught you. It was just names of churches. All the London churches were in it — all the principal ones, that is.’ 

Winston wondered vaguely to what century the church belonged. It was always difficult to determine the age of a London building. Anything large and impressive, if it was reasonably new in appearance, was automatically claimed as having been built since the Revolution, while anything that was obviously of earlier date was ascribed to some dim period called the Middle Ages. The centuries of capitalism were held to have produced nothing of any value. One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets — anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered. 

‘I never knew it had been a church,’ he said. 

‘There’s a lot of them left, really,’ said the old man, ‘though they’ve been put to other uses. Now, how did that rhyme go? Ah! I’ve got it! 

“Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s, 

You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin’s — ” 

there, now, that’s as far as I can get. A farthing, that was a small copper coin, looked something like a cent.’ 

‘Where was St Martin’s?’ said Winston. 

‘St Martin’s? That’s still standing. It’s in Victory Square, alongside the picture gallery. A building with a kind of a triangular porch and pillars in front, and a big flight of steps.’ 

Winston knew the place well. It was a museum used for propaganda displays of various kinds — scale models of rocket bombs and Floating Fortresses, wax-work tableaux illustrating enemy atrocities, and the like. 

‘St Martin’s-in-the-Fields it used to be called,’ supplemented the old man, ‘though I don’t recollect any fields anywhere in those parts.’ 

Winston did not buy the picture. It would have been an even more incongruous possession than the glass paperweight, and impossible to carry home, unless it were taken out of its frame. But he lingered for some minutes more, talking to the old man, whose name, he discovered, was not Weeks — as one might have gathered from the inscription over the shop-front — but Charrington. Mr Charrington, it seemed, was a widower aged sixty-three and had inhabited this shop for thirty years. Throughout that time he had been intending to alter the name over the window, but had never quite got to the point of doing it. All the while that they were talking the half-remembered rhyme kept running through Winston’s head. Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement’s, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin’s! It was curious, but when you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten. From one ghostly steeple after another he seemed to hear them pealing forth. Yet so far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells ringing. 

He got away from Mr Charrington and went down the stairs alone, so as not to let the old man see him reconnoitring the street before stepping out of the door. He had already made up his mind that after a suitable interval — a month, say — he would take the risk of visiting the shop again. It was perhaps not more dangerous than shirking an evening at the Centre. The serious piece of folly had been to come back here in the first place, after buying the diary and without knowing whether the proprietor of the shop could be trusted. However-! 

Yes, he thought again, he would come back. He would buy further scraps of beautiful rubbish. He would buy the engraving of St Clement Danes, take it out of its frame, and carry it home concealed under the jacket of his overalls. He would drag the rest of that poem out of Mr Charrington’s memory. Even the lunatic project of renting the room upstairs flashed momentarily through his mind again. For perhaps five seconds exaltation made him careless, and he stepped out on to the pavement without so much as a preliminary glance through the window. He had even started humming to an improvised tune — 

Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s, 

You owe me three farthings, say the — 

—–

George Orwell, 1903-1950: Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949. Part 1, Chapter 8. Published by Secker & Warburg, London 1949.

Winston Smith is venturing around an insalubrious ‘prole’ neighbourhood of London where people are described as squabbling and pugnacious. Wandering “into a sunken alley where a few stallholders were selling tired-looking vegetables” he recognises a junk-shop where he had bought a blank book with paper of rare quality, a penholder and a bottle of ink. He finds himself outside a dingy, unnamed pub and clandestinely hurries inside into a “hideous cheesy smell of sour beer” and “stinking urinal”. He engages in conversation with an old man, asking about the idea of freedom and the quality of life in an earlier age. The man reflects disconnectedly on the Revolution of 1925 and describes the inequalities between the capitalists (and a few lawyers and priests) and workers. Winston reflected that people “were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision.” The squalid street-life and mundane conversations of the proletarian city are contrasted with pleasure and purposeless of fragments of art, antiques and bric-a-brac decoration leftover from an earlier time as Winston steps inside the old junk-shop where he had bought the book which used as his diary. The appearance of the proprietor, a Mr Charrington, suggest a cultured intellectual man, maybe a literary type or musician. Winston is attracted by the remnants of beauty and impulsively buys a piece of coral in a glass paperweight. The conversation with the shop-owner arouses feelings in Winston of “a sort of nostalgia, a sort of ancestral memory.” A print of a building is identified as what once had been the church of St Clement Danes. “The centuries of capitalism were held to have produced nothing of any value. One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets — anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered.”  Mr Charrington mused about churches in London that had been destroyed or turned into museums and mentioned St Martins in Victory Square, which Winston knew “as a museum used for propaganda displays of various kinds — scale models of rocket bombs and Floating Fortresses, wax-work tableaux illustrating enemy atrocities, and the like.” Winston leaves the shop without buying the picture while resolving to return to buy the engraving of St Clement Danes and “further scraps of beautiful rubbish.”

Images: George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949. Published by Secker & Warburg, London 1949

Nineteen Eighty-Four, BBC TV, 12 December 1954. Adapted by Nigel Kneale; Directed by Rudolph Cartier; Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morrell, Yvonne Mitchell, Donald Pleasance

Gabriel Josipovici – The Big Glass,1991

the-bride-stripped-bare-by-her-bachelors-the-large-glass-1915-23-duchamp-1407355562_b

All those people wear me out. Nothing but running around and organizing. Organizing, he wrote. When the history of our times comes to be written, They Organized Themselves to Death will be the only possible epitaph. No doubt they mean well where the arts are concerned, he wrote, but for that reason they are the biggest menace. No doubt thay think they have the interests of the artist at heart, he wrote, but for that reason they must be avoided like the plague. No doubt they see themselves as devoted middlewomen, bringing the truly important work of the time to the avid masses, but all they are really doing, wrote Harsnet (typed Goldberg) is fucking up the lives of both sets of people. They bring time into what is essentially timeless, he wote. They bring anxiety about venues and dates into what is essentially a calm and anxiety-free activity. They try to ram down the throat of the public what the public quite rightly does not want. The Arts Council should be abolished, he wrote. And the Royal Arts Fund. And the Royal Literary Society. And the Royal Ballet. And the Royal Academy. Especially the Royal Academy, he wrote, with its Presidents and its Private Views and its Signed Goblets and its Concerts of Spanish music to go with the Murillo exhibition and its Concerts of Russian music to go with its Tatlin exhibition and its Concerts of Dutch music to go with its De Hooch exhibition, and its Silk-screened Scarves and its Special Offers and its Jigsaws of the Raft of the Medusa and La Grande Jatte and its Good Taste and its Tondo and its Education Department and its Restaurant with its Tasty Snacks and its Cold Buffet and its Glass of Wine and its Napkins Designed by a Living Artist, and its Proximity to Cork Street, with its Galleries and their Private Views and their Favoured Clients and their Phone Calls to New York and their Summer Shows and their Autumn Shows and their Winter Shows and their Embossed Invitations and their Highly Polished Floors. There is no end to it all, wrote Harsnet (typed Goldberg). When you begin to think about it you grow dizzy, your stomach turns over, not just at the commercialism of it all, but at the aestheticism of it all, not just at the chequebooks but at the Intellligent Conversations, not just at the fifty percent but at the Sensitive Responses, not just at the winks and nods but at the Hushed Silence in the Presence of Art. Our civilization will be destroyed, he wrote, not by the Bomb but by its reverence for the Creative Spirit. Better never enter a church, he wrote, than enter in a spirit of false awe. Churches and art galleries, he wrote. That funereal atmosphere. False awe in the face of death, he wrote. No one knowing how to react, all speaking in low tones with solemn faces. It is the same with art, he wrote. Now even artists work with awed expressions, he wrote. Talk in whispers. Ape the critics. Ape the dealers. Ape the organizers. True art as a release from Art, he wrote. The glass as freedom, not constraint. As a mirror of reality, not Monument to Creativity.

Gabriel Josipovici, born 1940. The Big Glass,1991. pp 92-93

Publisher: Carcanet Press Ltd, 1991, 119pp

Image: Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, 1915–23 (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even) also known as La Grand Verre (The Large Glass), 1915-1923; oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels; 277.5 x 175.9 cm (109.25 x 69.25 inches). Collection: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Image: Man Ray,1890-1976. Dust Breeding,1920, Gelatin silver Print, 23.9 x 30.4 cm (9 7/16 x 12 inches), Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Large Glass, and the accompanying notes, The Green Box, are an iconic work of Modern Art and contemporary art theory. Duchamp’s art presents enigmatic interpretations on the meaning and interpretation of an art object creating an ambiguous abstract narrative and proposing conceptual ideas of time, delay, and action in a work that questions the values of traditional retinal painting. Josipovicis text is a continuous, paragraphless meditation on art and its creation, in the form of a series of notes by the artist Harsnet on the making of Big Glass, based on Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and its accompanying notes. Harsnet is a wit and a prankster, and his notes record much of his life at the time in the form of a continuous stream of information and reflection that indiscriminately incorporates shopping lists and other mundane details of his life. The reader sees part of the plot through the marginal notations and explanatory writings of a former fellow artist, Goldberg, now turned critic and teacher, who is transcribing the notes.” The characters, Harsnet and Golding, suggest the artist Richard Hamilton, 1922-2011, who reconstructed the Large Glass in 1965-66, now at Tate, London, and John Golding, 1929-2012, artist and critic, who published a monograph, Duchamp – The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, 1973. Josipovici acknowledges Octavio Paz’s Marcel Duchamp or the Castle of Purity as a source of inspiration.

Gabriel Josipovici has published more than a dozen novels, three volumes of short stories, several books of criticism, and plays. He is Research Professor in the Graduate School of Humanities, University of Sussex and an admired thinker and writer on the subject of modernism.

V.S. Naipaul – The Enigma of Arrival,1987

the-enigma-of-the-arrival-and-the-afternoon-1912PART TWO. THE JOURNEY

TO WRITE ABOUT JACK and his cottage and his garden it was necessary for me to have lived a second life in the valley and to have had a second awakening to the natural world there. But a version of that story — a version — came to me just days after I came to the valley, to the cottage in the manor grounds.

The cottage at that time still had the books and some of the furniture of the people who had been there before. Among the books was one that was very small, a paperback booklet, smaller in format than the average small paperback and with only a few pages. The booklet, from a series called ‘The Little Library of Art’, was about the early paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. There were about a dozen reproductions of his early surrealist paintings. Technically, in these very small reproductions, the paintings did not seem interesting; they seemed flat, facile. And their content was not profound either: arbitrary assemblages, in semi-classical, semi-modern settings, of unrelated motifs — aqueducts, trains, arcades, gloves, fruit, statues — with an occasional applied touch of easy mystery: in one painting, for instance, an over-large shadow of a hidden figure approaching from round a corner.

But among these paintings there was one which, perhaps because of its title, caught my attention: ‘The Enigma of Arrival’. I felt that in an indirect, poetical way the title referred to something in my own experience; and later I was to learn that the titles of these surrealist paintings of Chirico’s hadn’t been given by the painter, but by the poet Apollinaire, who died young in 1918, from influenza following a war wound, to the great grief of Picasso and others.

What was interesting about the painting itself, ‘The Enigma of Arrival’, was that — again perhaps because of the title — it changed in my memory. The original (or the reproduction in the ‘Little Library of Art’ booklet) was always a surprise. A classical scene, Mediterranean, ancient-Roman — or so I saw it. A wharf; in the background, beyond walls and gateways (like cut-outs), there is the top of the mast of an antique vessel; on an otherwise deserted street in the foreground there are two figures, both muffled, one perhaps the person who has arrived, the other perhaps a native of the port. The scene is of desolation and mystery: it speaks of the mystery of arrival. It spoke to me of that, as it had spoken to Apollinaire.

And in the winter gray of the manor grounds in Wiltshire, in those first four days of mist and rain, when so little was clear to me, an idea — floating lightly above the book I was working on — came to me of a story I might one day write about that scene in the Chirico picture.

My story was to be set in classical times, in the Mediterranean. My narrator would write plainly, without any attempt at period style or historical explanation of his period. He would arrive — for a reason I had yet to work out — at that classical port with the walls and gateways like cut-outs. He would walk past that muffled figure on the quayside. He would move from that silence and desolation, that blankness, to a gateway or door. He would enter there and be swallowed by the life and noise of a crowded city (I imagined something like an Indian bazaar scene). The mission he had come on — family business, study, religious initiation — would give him encounters and adventures. He would enter interiors, of houses and temples. Gradually there would come to him a feeling that he was getting nowhere; he would lose his sense of mission; he would begin to know only that he was lost. His feeling of adventure would give way to panic. He would want to escape, to get back to the quayside and his ship. But he wouldn’t know how. I imagined some religious ritual in which, led on by kindly people, he would unwittingly take part and find himself the intended victim. At the moment of crisis he would come upon a door, open it, and find himself back on the quayside of arrival. He has been saved; the world is as he remembered it. Only one thing is missing now. Above the cut-out walls and buildings there is no mast, no sail. The antique ship has gone. The traveller has lived out his life.

V.S. Naipaul, born 1932. The Enigma of Arrival,1987. Publisher: Penguin Books,1987 

Image: Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978. el enigma de la llegada y la tarde, 1912 The Enigma of the Arrival and the Afternoon. Oil on canvas 70 x 86cm, private collection.

Richard Aldington – Death of a Hero,1929

Guild of Handicraft

“The Simple-Lifers? Oh, yes, I remember. Well, there was a set of people down there, who had fled from the horrors of the mechanical age—you know, the usual art-y sort, Ruskin-cum-William Morris . . .“

“Handlooms, vegetable diet, long embroidered frocks, with home-spun tweed trousers from the Hebrides? I know them. ‘News from Nowhere’ people. What a gospel to lead nowhither!”

“Yes. Well they were to lead the simple life, work with their hands part of the time, and do arts and craft and write the rest of the time. They were also to show the world an example of perfect community life. They used to make the farm-girls dance round a Maypole—the boys wouldn’t come, they stood in the lane and jeered.”

“And what happened?”

“Well, those who hadn’t private incomes got very hard up, and were always borrowing money off the two or three members who had money. The arts and crafts didn’t sell, and the toiling on the land had very meagre results. Then they got themselves somehow into two or three cliques, talking scandal about them, and saying they were ruining everything by their selfish behaviour. Then the wife of one of the rich members ran away with one of the men, and the other rich members were so scandalised that they went away too, and the whole community broke up. The village was very glad when they went. The farmers and gentry were furious because they talked Socialism and the ideal State to the labourers. And all the labourers’ wives were furious because the Simple-Life women tried to brighten up their lives and make them furnish their cottages ‘artistically’ . . .”

Richard Aldington, 1892-1962. Death of a Hero, 1929

Fiona MacCarthy described the Simple Life as “a rethinking of aesthetics. ‘the absence of things’…”. Utopian artistic communities developed globally in the 19th century as an alternative to the industrialisation of society and the mass production of art and design. Aldington here satirises the radical beliefs and activities of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the individual artist-craftworkers who adopted the rural life and revived old craft techniques. The Simple Lifers were a British community of artists and craftsmen and women who: “In the spring of 1902, when the back-to-the-land movement was at its height, an exodus began to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. East End London workmen – jewellers, silversmiths, enamellers, cavers, modellers, blacksmiths, cabinet-makers, book-binders and printers – fled from the rushed and crowded life of the big city to a rural idyll of craftsmanship and husbandry which was, at the time, all good socialists’ dream. This extraordinary idealistic movement was to have a lasting impact not only on the lives of the 150 London immigrants and their leader, the architect, Charles Robert Ashbee, but also on the nature of the little town they occupied. The Guild of Handicraft had been formed in Whitechapel in 1888. It blended an attitude to art, design and manufacture with a view of how society might be changed for the better. This book traces its fortunes and misfortunes, hilarious and grave, and the many eccentrics, idealists and men of letters and the arts who were involved, including William Morris, Roger Fry, Mrs Patrick Campbell, Edward Carpenter, Holman Hunt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lowes Dickinson and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Set in the heart of the Cotswolds, Fiona MacCarthy’s account of this attempt to resolve the dilemma faced by artists and craftsmen working in a mass-produced society, documents one delightful and intriguing experiment in utopian social history. Fiona MacCarthy – The Simple Life: C. R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds, Faber and Faber, 2011

Image: Guild of Handicraft, Chipping Campden, 1902-1908

See Also:

https://artinfiction.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/richard-aldington-death-of-a-hero1929/

https://artinfiction.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/richard-aldington-death-of-a-hero1929-2/

Gertrude Stein – The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933

Ambroise_Vollard,_standing_in_front_of_Picasso's_Evocación._El_entierro_de_CasagemasChapter 3 – GERTRUDE STEIN IN PARIS

1903-1907

During Gertrude Stein’s last two years at the Medical Schools Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, 1900-1903, her brother was living in Florence. There he heard of a painter named Cézanne and saw paintings by him owned by Charles Loeser. When he and his sister made their home in Paris the following year they went to Vollard’s the only picture dealer who had Cézannes for sale, to look at them.

Vollard was a huge dark man who lisped a little. His shop was on the rue Laffitte not far from the boulevard. Further along this short street was Durand-Ruel and still further on almost at the church of the Martyrs was Sagot the ex-clown. Higher up in Montmartre on the rue Victor-Masse was Mademoiselle Weill who sold a mixture of pictures, books and bric-a-brac and in entirely another part of Paris on the rue Faubourg-Saint-Honore was the ex-café keeper and photographer Druet. Also on the rue Laffitte was the confectioner Fouquet where one could console oneself with delicious honey cakes and nut candies and once in a while instead of a picture buy oneself strawberry jam in a glass bowl.

The first visit to Vollard has left an indelible impression on Gertrude Stein. It was an incredible place. It did not look like a picture gallery. Inside there were a couple of canvases turned to the wall, in one corner was a small pile of big and little canvases thrown pell mell on top of one another, in the centre of the room stood a huge dark man glooming. This was Vollard cheerful. When he was really cheerless he put his huge frame against the glass door that led to the street, his arms above his head, his hands on each upper corner of the portal and gloomed darkly into the street. Nobody thought then of trying to come in.

They asked to see Cézannes. He looked less gloomy and became quite polite. As they found out afterward Cézanne was the great romance of Vollard’s life. The name Cézanne was to him a magic word. He had first learned about Cézanne from Pissarro the painter. Pissarro indeed was the man from whom all the early Cézanne lovers heard about Cézanne. Cézanne at that time was living gloomy and embittered at Aix-en-Provence. Pissarro told Vollard about him, told Fabry, a Florentine, who told Loeser, told Picabia, in fact told everybody who knew about Cézanne at that time.

There were Cézannes to be seen at Vollard’s. Later on Gertrude Stein wrote a poem called Vollard and Cézanne, and Henry McBride printed it in the New York Sun. This was the first fugitive piece of Gertrude Stein’s to be so printed and it gave both her and Vollard a great deal of pleasure. Later on when Vollard wrote his book about Cézanne, Vollard at Gertrude Stein’s suggestion sent a copy of the book to Henry McBride. She told Vollard that a whole page of one of New York’s big daily papers would be devoted to his book. He did not believe it possible, nothing like that had ever happened to anybody in Paris. It did happen and he was deeply moved and unspeakably content. But to return to that first visit.

They told Monsieur Vollard they wanted to see some Cézanne landscapes, they had been sent to him by Mr. Loeser of Florence. Oh yes, said Vollard looking quite cheerful and he began moving about the room, finally he disappeared behind a partition in the back and was heard heavily mounting the steps. After a quite long wait he came down again and had in his hand a tiny picture of an apple with most of the canvas unpainted. They all looked at this thoroughly, then they said, yes but you see what we wanted to see was a landscape. Ah yes, sighed Vollard and he looked even more cheerful, after a moment he again disappeared and this time came back with a painting of a back, it was a beautiful painting there is no doubt about that but the brother and sister were not yet up to a full appreciation of Cézanne nudes and so they returned to the attack. They wanted to see a landscape. This time after even a longer wait he came back with a very large canvas and a very little fragment of a landscape painted on it. Yes that was it, they said, a landscape but what they wanted was a smaller canvas but one all covered. They said, they thought they would like to see one like that. By this time the early winter evening of Paris was closing in and just at this moment a very aged charwoman came down the same back stairs, mumbled, boa soir monsieur et madame, and quietly went out of the door, after a moment another old charwoman came down the same stairs, murmured, bon soir messieurs et mesdames and went quietly out of the door. Gertrude Stein began to laugh and said to her brother, it is all nonsense, there is no Cézanne. Vollard goes upstairs and tells these old women what to paint and he does not understand us and they do not understand him and they paint something and he brings it down and it is a Cézanne. They both began to laugh uncontrollably. Then they recovered and once more explained about the landscape. They said what they wanted was one of those marvellously yellow sunny Aix landscapes of which Loeser had several examples. Once more Vollard Went off and this time he came back with a wonderful small green landscape. It was lovely, it covered all the canvas, it did not cost much and they bought it. Later on Vollard explained to every one that he had been visited by two crazy americans and they laughed and he had been much annoyed but gradually he found out that when they laughed most they usually bought something so of course he waited for them to laugh.

From that time on they went to Vollard’s all the time. They had soon the privilege of upsetting his piles of canvases and finding what they liked in the heap. They bought a tiny little Daumier, head of an old woman. They began to take an interest in Cézanne nudes and they finally bought two tiny canvases of nude groups. They found a very very small Manet painted in black and white with Forain in the foreground and bought it, they found two tiny little Renoirs. They frequently bought in twos because one of them usually liked one more than the other one did, and so the year wore on. In the spring Vollard announced a show of Gauguin and they for the first time saw some Gauguins. They were rather awful but they finally liked them, and bought two Gauguins. Gertrude Stein liked his sun-flowers but not his figures and her brother preferred the figures. It sounds like a great deal now but in those days these things did not cost much. And so the winter went on.

Gertrude Stein, 1874-1946. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933

Published by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1933.

image: Paul Cézanne, 1898–1900, Bathers, 1898-1900; Oil On Canvas; 10 5/8 x 18 1/8. Baltimore Museum of Art

image: Ambroise Vollard, 1866-1939. Standing in front of Picasso, Evocación. El entierro de Casagema (Funeral at Casegamas), 1901.

Editor’s Note: Although described as a novel, it is an autobiography of Gertrude Stein’s life narrated through the external voice of her companion Alice B.Toklas. It is, however, a personal eye-witness account of people she met while in Paris between 1903-1907. This relates meetings with artists, including Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Apollinaire, and the purchase of paintings by Paul Cézanne from the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Virgil Thompson, who wrote music to Stein’s lyrics considered the book “in every way except actual authorship Alice Toklas’s book; it reflects her mind, her language, her private view of Gertrude, also her unique narrative powers. Every story in it is told as Alice herself had always told it…. Every story that ever came into the house eventually got told in Alice’s way, and this was its definitive version.” Leo Stein described it as a farrago of lies”.

George Orwell – Burmese Days, 1934

georges-bouche-1874-1941-nature-morte-aux-oranges-46x55cm

Elizabeth was just turned twenty-two, and was an orphan. Her father had been less of a drunkard than his brother Tom, but he was a man of similar stamp. He was a tea-broker, and his fortunes fluctuated greatly, but he was by nature too optimistic to put money aside in prosperous phases. Elizabeth’s mother had been an incapable, half-baked, vapouring, self-pitying woman who shirked all the normal duties of life on the strength of sensibilities which she did not possess. After messing about for years with such things as Women’s Suffrage and Higher Thought, and making many abortive attempts at literature, she had finally taken up with painting. Painting is the only art that can be practised without either talent or hard work. Mrs Lackersteen’s pose was that of an artist exiled among ‘the Philistines’ — these, needless to say, included her husband — and it was a pose that gave her almost unlimited scope for making a nuisance of herself.

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The inevitable crash came late in 1919. Elizabeth was taken away from school, to continue her education at a succession of cheap, beastly schools, with gaps of a term or two when her father could not pay the fees. He died when she was twenty, of influenza. Mrs Lackersteen was left with an income of £150 a year, which was to die with her. The two women could not, under Mrs Lackersteen’s management, live on three pounds a week in England. They moved to Paris, where life was cheaper and where Mrs Lackersteen intended to dedicate herself wholly to Art.

Paris! Living in Paris! Flory had been a little wide of the mark when he pictured those interminable conversations with bearded artists under the green plane trees. Elizabeth’s life in Paris had not been quite like that.

Her mother had taken a studio in the Montparnasse quarter, and relapsed at once into a state of squalid, muddling idleness. She was so foolish with money that her income would not come near covering expenses, and for several months Elizabeth did not even have enough to eat.

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It was a mean, beastly existence. In fact, it reached levels of ‘beastliness’ which Elizabeth had not previously known to exist. But the thing that most depressed her, most filled her with the sense of sinking into some horrible lower world, was her mother’s studio. Mrs Lackersteen was one of those people who go utterly to pieces when they are deprived of servants. She lived in a restless nightmare between painting and housekeeping, and never worked at either. At irregular intervals she went to a ‘school’ where she produced greyish still-lifes under the guidance of a master whose technique was founded on dirty brushes; for the rest, she messed about miserably at home with teapots and frying-pans. The state of her studio was more than depressing to Elizabeth; it was evil, Satanic. It was a cold, dusty pigsty, with piles of books and papers littered all over the floor, generations of saucepans slumbering in their grease on the rusty gas-stove, the bed never made till afternoon, and everywhere — in every possible place where they could be stepped on or knocked over — tins of paint-fouled turpentine and pots half full of cold black tea. You would lift a cushion from a chair and find a plate holding the remains of a poached egg underneath it. As soon as Elizabeth entered the door she would burst out:

Oh, Mother, Mother dearest, how can you? Look at the state of this room! It is so terrible to live like this!’

The room, dearest? What’s the matter? Is it untidy?’

Untidy! Mother, need you leave that plate of porridge in the middle of your bed? And those saucepans! It does look so dreadful. Suppose anyone came in!’

The rapt, other-worldly look which Mrs Lackersteen assumed when anything like work presented itself, would come into her eyes.

None of my friends would mind, dear. We are such Bohemians, we artists. You don’t understand how utterly wrapped up we all are in our painting. You haven’t the artistic temperament, you see, dear.’

I must try and clean some of those saucepans. I just can’t bear to think of you living like this. What have you done with the scrubbing-brush?’

The scrubbing-brush? Now, let me think, I know I saw it somewhere. Ah yes! I used it yesterday to clean my palette. But it’ll be all right if you give it a good wash in turpentine.’

Mrs Lackersteen would sit down and continue smudging a sheet of sketching paper with a Conté crayon while Elizabeth worked.

How wonderful you are, dear. So practical! I can’t think whom you inherit it from. Now with me, Art is simply everything. I seem to feel it like a great sea surging up inside me. It swamps everything mean and petty out of existence. Yesterday I ate my lunch off Nash’s Magazine to save wasting time washing plates. Such a good idea! When you want a clean plate you just tear off a sheet,’ etc., etc., etc.

Elizabeth had no friends in Paris. Her mother’s friends were women of the same stamp as herself, or elderly ineffectual bachelors living on small incomes and practising contemptible half-arts such as wood-engraving or painting on porcelain. For the rest, Elizabeth saw only foreigners, and she disliked all foreigners en bloc; or at least all foreign men, with their cheap-looking clothes and their revolting table manners. She had one great solace at this time. It was to go to the American library in the rue de l’Elysée and look at the illustrated papers. Sometimes on a Sunday or her free afternoon she would sit there for hours at the big shiny table, dreaming, over the Sketch, the Tatler, the Graphic, the Sporting and Dramatic.

Ah, what joys were pictured there! ‘Hounds meeting on the lawn of Charlton Hall, the lovely Warwickshire seat of Lord Burrowdean.’ ‘The Hon. Mrs Tyke-Bowlby in the Park with her splendid Alsatian, Kublai Khan, which took second prize at Cruft’s this summer.’ ‘Sunbathing at Cannes. Left to right: Miss Barbara Pilbrick, Sir Edward Tuke, Lady Pamela Westrope, Captain “Tuppy” Benacre.’

Lovely, lovely, golden world! On two occasions the face of an old schoolfellow looked at Elizabeth from the page. It hurt her in her breast to see it. There they all were, her old schoolfellows, with their horses and their cars and their husbands in the cavalry; and here she, tied to that dreadful job, that dreadful pension, her dreadful mother! Was it possible that there was no escape? Could she be doomed forever to this sordid meanness, with no hope of ever getting back to the decent world again?

It was not unnatural, with the example of her mother before her eyes, that Elizabeth should have a healthy loathing of Art. In fact, any excess of intellect — ‘braininess’ was her word for it — tended to belong, in her eyes, to the ‘beastly’. Real people, she felt, decent people — people who shot grouse, went to Ascot, yachted at Cowes — were not brainy. They didn’t go in for this nonsense of writing books and fooling with paintbrushes; and all these Highbrow ideas — Socialism and all that. ‘Highbrow’ was a bitter word in her vocabulary. And when it happened, as it did once or twice, that she met a veritable artist who was willing to work penniless all his life, rather than sell himself to a bank or an insurance company, she despised him far more than she despised the dabblers of her mother’s circle. That a man should turn deliberately away from all that was good and decent, sacrifice himself for a futility that led nowhere, was shameful, degrading, evil. She dreaded spinsterhood, but she would have endured it a thousand lifetimes through rather than marry such a man.

When Elizabeth had been nearly two years in Paris her mother died abruptly of ptomaine poisoning. The wonder was that she had not died of it sooner. Elizabeth was left with rather less than a hundred pounds in the world. Her uncle and aunt cabled at once from Burma, asking her to come out and stay with them, and saying that a letter would follow.

George Orwell, 1903-1950. Burmese Days, 1934, Chapter 7

Published by Harper & Brothers, USA, 1934; Victor Gollanz, GB, 1935

image 1: Georges Bouche, 1874-1941. Nature morte aux oranges, 46 x 55 cm

image 2: Louis Thevenet, 1874-1930. Nature morte, 1914. Oil on canvas, 38,5 x 46 cm

George Orwell’s novel, Burmese Days, describes the lives of the colonial civil servants and officials of the British Empire, based on Orwell’s observations while working in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma in the 1920s. Elizabeth Lackersteen epitomises the idle and under-educated ex-pat, with assumptions of superiority in her status due to her class and race, who yearns for the superficialities of English country life and sporting pastimes. A short episode in the novel describes the otiose life of Mrs Lackersteen, her mother and the indolent milieu of the cultivated bohemian artist. Elizabeth despises the dirt and poverty of the artistic dabblers and dilettantes, and it is her mother’s fate to die as a result of food poisoning associated with her socially corrupt lifestyle. The text suggests a beatific vision of Paris in the 1930s, conjured up by John Flory, an English civil servant in Burma: I’ve never even seen it. But, good Lord, how I’ve imagined it! Paris — it’s all a kind of jumble of pictures in my mind; cafes and boulevards and artists’ studios and Villon and Baudelaire and Maupassant all mixed up together. You don’t know how the names of those European towns sound to us, out here. And did you really live in Paris? Sitting in cafes with foreign art students, drinking white wine and talking about Marcel Proust?’ Burmese Days, Chapter 6.

F Scott Fitzgerald – Tender is the Night,1934

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His most interesting case was in the main building. The patient was a woman of thirty who had been in the clinic six months; she was an American painter who had lived long in Paris. They had no very satisfactory history of her. A cousin had happened upon her all mad and gone and after an unsatisfactory interlude at one of the whoopee cures that fringed the city, dedicated largely to tourist victims of drug and drink, he had managed to get her to Switzerland. On her admittance she had been exceptionally pretty — now she was a living agonizing sore. All blood tests had failed to give a positive reaction and the trouble was unsatisfactorily catalogued as nervous eczema. For two months she had lain under it, as imprisoned as in the Iron Maiden. She was coherent, even brilliant, within the limits of her special hallucinations.

She was particularly his patient. During spells of overexcitement he was the only doctor who could “do anything with her.” Several weeks ago, on one of many nights that she had passed in sleepless torture Franz had succeeded in hypnotizing her into a few hours of needed rest, but he had never again succeeded. Hypnosis was a tool that Dick had distrusted and seldom used, for he knew that he could not always summon up the mood in himself — he had once tried it on Nicole and she had scornfully laughed at him.

The woman in room twenty could not see him when he came in — the area about her eyes was too tightly swollen. She spoke in a strong, rich, deep, thrilling voice.

How long will this last? Is it going to be forever?”

It’s not going to be very long now. Doctor Ladislau tells me there are whole areas cleared up.”

If I knew what I had done to deserve this I could accept it with equanimity.”

It isn’t wise to be mystical about it — we recognize it as a nervous phenomenon. It’s related to the blush — when you were a girl, did you blush easily?”

She lay with her face turned to the ceiling.

I have found nothing to blush for since I cut my wisdom teeth.”

Haven’t you committed your share of petty sins and mistakes?”

I have nothing to reproach myself with.”

You’re very fortunate.”

The woman thought a moment; her voice came up through her bandaged face afflicted with subterranean melodies:

I’m sharing the fate of the women of my time who challenged men to battle.”

To your vast surprise it was just like all battles,” he answered, adopting her formal diction.

Just like all battles.” She thought this over. “You pick a set- up, or else win a Pyrrhic victory, or you’re wrecked and ruined — you’re a ghostly echo from a broken wall.”

You are neither wrecked nor ruined,” he told her. “Are you quite sure you’ve been in a real battle?”

Look at me!” she cried furiously.

You’ve suffered, but many women suffered before they mistook themselves for men.” It was becoming an argument and he retreated. “In any case you mustn’t confuse a single failure with a final defeat.”

She sneered. “Beautiful words,” and the phrase transpiring up through the crust of pain humbled him.

We would like to go into the true reasons that brought you here —” he began but she interrupted.

I am here as a symbol of something. I thought perhaps you would know what it was.”

You are sick,” he said mechanically.

Then what was it I had almost found?”

A greater sickness.”

That’s all?”

That’s all.” With disgust he heard himself lying, but here and now the vastness of the subject could only be compressed into a lie. “Outside of that there’s only confusion and chaos. I won’t lecture to you — we have too acute a realization of your physical suffering. But it’s only by meeting the problems of every day, no matter how trifling and boring they seem, that you can make things drop back into place again. After that — perhaps you’ll be able again to examine —”

He had slowed up to avoid the inevitable end of his thought: “— the frontiers of consciousness.” The frontiers that artists must explore were not for her, ever. She was fine-spun, inbred — eventually she might find rest in some quiet mysticism. Exploration was for those with a measure of peasant blood, those with big thighs and thick ankles who could take punishment as they took bread and salt, on every inch of flesh and spirit.

Not for you, he almost said. It’s too tough a game for you.

Yet in the awful majesty of her pain he went out to her unreservedly, almost sexually. He wanted to gather her up in his arms, as he so often had Nicole, and cherish even her mistakes, so deeply were they part of her. The orange light through the drawn blind, the sarcophagus of her figure on the bed, the spot of face, the voice searching the vacuity of her illness and finding only remote abstractions.

As he arose the tears fled lava-like into her bandages.

That is for something,” she whispered. “Something must come out of it.”

He stooped and kissed her forehead.

We must all try to be good,” he said.

F Scott Fitzgerald,1896-1940.   Tender is the Night,1934, Chapter 39

Image: Zelda Fitzgerald,1900-1948. Chrysanthemums, watercolour, 15 3/4 x 11 ½“

Image: Zelda Fitzgerald,1900-1948. Zelda Sayre surrounded by flowers while in ballet costume, representing “Polly” in “Les Mysterieuses” Ball, Montgomery, 1919

Iris Murdoch – The Bell, 1958

pp-rubens-portrait-of-susanna-lunden-ngl

Dora hadn’t especially intended to visit the National Gallery, but once she was there she went in. It was as good a place as any other to decide what to do. She no longer wanted any lunch. She wondered if she should try telephoning Sally again; but she no longer wanted to see Sally. She climbed the stairs and wandered away into the eternal spring-time of the air-conditioned rooms.

Dora had been in the National Gallery a thousand times and the pictures were almost as familiar to her as her own face. Passing between them now, as through a well-loved grove, she felt a calm descending on her. She wandered a little, watching with compassion the poor visitors armed with guide books who were peering anxiously at the masterpieces. Dora did not need to peer. She could look, as one can at last when one knows a great thing very well, confronting it with a dignity which it has itself conferred. She felt that the pictures belonged to her, and reflected ruefully that they were about the only thing that did. Vaguely, consoled by the presence of something welcoming and responding in the place, her footsteps took her to various shrines at which she had worshipped so often before: the great light spaces of Italian pictures, more vast and southern than any real South, the angels of Botticelli, radiant as birds, delighted as gods, and curling like the tendrils of a vine, the glorious carnal presence of Susanna Fourment, the tragic presence of Margarethe Trip, the solemn world of Piero della Francesca with its early-morning colours, the enclosed and gilded world of Crivelli. Dora stopped at last in front of Gainsborough’s picture of his two daughters. These children step through a wood hand in hand, their garments shimmering, their eyes serious and dark, their two pale heads, round full buds, like yet unlike.

Dora was always moved by the pictures. Today she was moved, but in a new way. She marvelled, with a kind of gratitude, that they were all still here, and her heart was filled with love for the pictures, their authority, their marvellous generosity, their splendour. It occurred to her that here at last was something real and something perfect. Who had said that, about perfection and reality being in the same place? Here was something which her consciousness could not wretchedly devour, and by making it part of her fantasy make it worthless. Even Paul, she thought, only existed now as someone she dreamt about; or else as a vague external menace never really encountered and understood. But the pictures were something real outside herself, which spoke to her kindly and yet in sovereign tones, something superior and good whose presence destroyed the dreary trance-like solipsism of her earlier mood. When the world had seemed to be subjective it had seemed to be without interest or value. But now there was something else in it after all.

These thoughts, not clearly articulated, flitted through Dora’s mind. She had never thought about the pictures in this way before; nor did she draw now any very explicit moral. Yet she felt that she had had a revelation. She looked at the radiant, sombre, tender, powerful canvas of Gainsborough and felt a sudden desire to go down on her knees before it, embracing it, shedding tears.

Dora looked anxiously about her, wondering if anyone had noticed her transports. Although she had not actually prostrated herself, her face must have looked unusually ecstatic, and the tears were in fact starting into her eyes. She found that she was alone in the room, and smiled, restored to a more calm enjoyment of her wisdom. She gave a last look at the painting, still smiling, as one might smile in a temple, favoured, encouraged, and loved. Then she turned and began to leave the building.

Dora was hurrying now and wanting her lunch. She looked at her watch and found it was tea-time. She remembered that she had been wondering what to do; but now, without her thinking about it, it had become obvious. She must go back to Imber at once. Her real life, her real problems, were at Imber; and since, somewhere, something good existed, it might be that her problems would be solved after all. There was a connexion; obscurely she felt, without yet understanding it, she must hang onto that idea: there was a connexion. She bought a sandwich and took a taxi back to Paddington.

Iris Murdoch, 1919-1999. The Bell, 1958 Chapter 14.

Published by Chatto & Windus Ltd, 1958

Image: Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640. Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?)(Fourment) – ‘Le Chapeau de Paille’, probably 1622-5, Oil on oak, 79 x 54.6 cm, The National Gallery, London

Image: Carlo Crivelli, c.1430/5–c. 1494, The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius, 1486, Egg and oil on canvas, 207 x 146.7 cm, The National Gallery, London

Image: Rembrandt, 1606-1669, Portrait of Margaretha de Geer, Wife of Jacob Trip, 1661, Oil on canvas, 5.3 x 63.8 cm, The National Gallery, London

Image: Piero della Francesca, 1415/20-1492, The Baptism of Christ, 1450s, Egg on poplar, 167 x 116 cm The National Gallery, London

Image: Sandro Botticelli, c.1445–1510, Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius, c. 1500
Tempera on wood, 64.8 x 139.7 cm, The National Gallery, London