Jean-Francois de Bastide – La Petite Maison, 1758

———————————————————————————————–Art in Fiction

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Mélite, struck by this coup d’oeil, began to praise attentively and lost the desire to tease Trémicour. As she had lived without coquetry and without lovers, she had applied herself to self-instruction, whereas other women learned to love and to deceive, and she really had taste and acquaintances; she appreciated at a glance the talent of the most famous artists, who themselves owed to her esteem for masterpieces that immortality which so many women often prevent them from deserving by their love for trifles.

She praised the lightness of the chisel of the ingenious Pineau [3], who had presided over the sculpture; she admired the talents of Dandrillon [4], who had employed all his industry to preserve the most imperceptible delicacy of carpentry and sculpture; but above all, losing sight of the importunities to which she exposed herself to Trémicour by raising his vanity, she lavished upon him the praises which he deserved by his taste and choice.

“That pleases me”, she said; that is how I like to employ the advantages of fortune. It is no longer a small house: it is the temple of genius and taste …

– That is how the asylum of love must be”, he said tenderly. Without knowing that this god, who would have created other miracles for you, you feel that, to inspire, we must at least appear inspired by him …

– I think as you do, ‘she said; but why then, as I have heard, do so many petites maisons display bad taste?

– It is because those who possess them have desire without love”, he replied; “It is because love had not stopped that you would one day come to them.”

Mélite listened, and still would have listened further, but a kiss pressed to her hand told her that Trémicour had come there to pay homage to all the agreeable things he would find occasion to tell her about. She rose to see other rooms. The Marquis, who had observed her so touched by the beauty of the salon, and who had better things to show, hoped that more tender objects would touch her more, and was careful to keep her from running to her destiny. He gave her his hand, and they went right into a bedroom.

This room is square and panelled; a bed of daffodil coloured Péquin cloth trimmed with the most beautiful colours is enclosed in a niche placed in front of one of the windows that overlook the garden. It has not forgotten to place mirrors in the four corners. This room, moreover, ended in vault that contains in a circular frame a painting where Peter [5] has painted with all his art Hercules in the arms of Morpheus, awakened by Love. All the panels are finished in a soft sulphur colour; the marquetry in the parquet floor is of amaranth and cedar woods, the marbles are turquoise blue. Delightful bronzes and porcelain are placed, with choice and without confusion, on marble console tables distributed under the four mirrors; And, lastly, beautiful furniture of various shapes and forms that relate to the ideas everywhere expressed in this house, obliging the most frigid minds to feel a little of the voluptuousness which they suggest.

Mélite dare not praise anything; she even began to fear her feelings. She said only a few words, and Trémicour might have complained of it; but he understood, and he had good eyes; he would even have thanked her for his silence if he had not perceived that marks of gratitude are a mockery as long as a woman can disavow the ideas which we thank her. She entered the next room, and found another unexpected. This room is a boudoir, a place that it is unnecessary to name to the one who enters there, for the mind and the heart divine the situation at the same time. All the walls are covered with mirrors, with their borders masked by artificial tree trunks and carved foliage arranged with admirable skill. These trees are disposed in such a way that they appear to form an ordered arrangement; they are strewn with flowers and laden with candelabra whose wax candles provide a soft light in the mirrors, by the care we took in the end of the room, to spread light fabrics more or less over these transparent bodies, magic that accords so well with the optical effect that one can believe that you are in a natural grove illuminated with the aassisatnce of art. The niche in which the Ottoman is placed, a style of bed sitting on a rosewood parquet floor, is enriched with gold fringes mixed with green, and furnished with cushions of different textures. The entire perimeter and ceiling of this niche are also covered with mirors; Finally, carpentry and sculpture are painted in a colour matching the different objects they represent, and this colour has been applied by Dandrillon [6] so that it radiates violet, jasmine and rose. All this decoration is placed on a partition wall that is not very thick, and around which there is a fairly spacious corridor in which the Marquis had placed musicians.

Melita was in an ecstasy of delight. For more than a quarter of an hour when passing this boudoir, her tongue was muted, but her heart is not silent: He murmured secretly against men that engage all the talents to express a feeling of which they are so little capable. She made the wisest reflections on this; but they were, so to speak, secrets that the mind deposited in the depths of the heart, and who were soon to lose themselves there. Trémicour would seek them there with his piercing gaze, and the dstroy them by his breaths. He was no longer the man to whom she believed she could reproach for this monstrous contrast; she had changed it, and she had done more than Love. He did not speak, but his eyes were oaths. Mélite doubted his sincerity, but she saw that he could at least pretend well, and she was sensible that this dangerous art exhibits everything in a charming location. To distract herself from this idea, she moved away from him a little, and approached one of the mirrors, pretending to put a pin in her coiffure. Trémicour stood before the mirror vis-à-vis, and by this artifice, being able to regard her fondly without her being obliged to look away, he found that it was a snare that she had made around herself. She also had this thought, and wishing to destroy the cause, ontemplating her power, she thought she succeeded in making jokes at Trémicour.

“Well ! said she, will you stop staring at me? In the end, it irritates me. “

He flew toward her.

“So you have much hatred for me? He replied. Ah! Marquise, a little less injustice for a man who does not need to displease you to be convinced of his misfortune …

– See how modest he is! she cried.

– Yes, modest and unhappy, he continued; What I feel tells me to fear, what I fear tells me to fear yet. I adore you and am no more reassured. “

Mélite joked again; but with what evil skill she disguised the motive that wore it! Trémicour had taken her hand, and she did not think to remove it. He thought he could squeeze a little; she complained and asked if he would maim her.

“Ah! Madame ! he said, feigning despair, I beg of you a thousand pardons; I did not believe one could be so easily crippled. “

The air he had just taken disarmed her; he saw that the moment was decisive: he gave a signal, and at that instant the musicians placed in the corridor made a charming concert. This concert disconcerted her; she listened only for a moment, and, wanting to get away from a place that had become become difficult, she walked and entered a new room more delicious than anything she had seen before. Trémicour could have taken advantage of her ecstasy and close the door without her perceiving it to force her to listen; but he wished to owe the progress of victory to the progress of pleasure.

This new room is a bathroom suite. Marble, porcelain, muslins, nothing was spared; the panelling is heavy with arabesques executed by Perot [7] on the designs of Gilot [8], and contained in compartments distributed with great taste. Maritime plants mounted in bronze by Cafieri [9], pagodas, crystals and shells, interspersed with intelligence, decorate this room, in which are placed two niches, one of which is occupied by a bathtub, the other by a muslin embroidered Indian bed, adorned with chains of tassels. Beside it is a dressing room with panelling painted by Huet [10], depicting fruit, flowers and foreign birds, interwoven with garlands and medallions in which Boucher [11] painted medallions of small galant subjects as well above the doors. One has not forgotten a silver toilette by Germain [12]; Natural flowers fill the big blue porcelain bowls embellished with gold. Furniture lined with fabrics of the same colour fabric, the wood has Aventurine quartz design by Martin [13], to make this apartment worthy of enchanting the fairies. The upper part of the room has an elegantly profiled cornice, topped by a golden bell-shaped campane sculpture that serves as border with the underside containing a mosaic of gold interspersed with flowers painted by Bachelier. [14]

Mélite was overwhelmed by so many wonders; she felt as it were suffocated, and was obliged to sit down.

“I cannot stand any more, she said; this is too beautiful. There is nothing comparable on earth … “

The sound of her voice revealed a secret disorder. Trémicour felt that she was deeply moved; but as an adroit man, he had resolved not to appear to speak seriously. He contented himselfwith playing with a heart that could still renege.

“You do not believe it, he said, and this is how we feel that one must not swear by anything. I knew very well that alll this would charm you, but women still want to doubt.

– Oh ! I doubt not, ‘she said; I confess that this is divine and enchants me. “

Jean-Francois de Bastide, 1724-1798. La Petite Maison, 1758, revised 1763

Publisher: 1758 in the second volume of Le nouveau spectateur, Amsterdam and Paris, pp. 2: 361-412;

An allegory of the sensuous fascination of art to overcome the heart. A libertine, the Marquis de Trémicour, determinedly sets out to seduce an art student, Mélite, in his Petite Maison – a maison de plaisance, or house of pleasure in the suburbs of Paris designed for assignations. In a miniature Musée des Arts Décoratifs the rooms provide pictorial foreplay as Mélite admires the erotic paintings and etchings, with the artists identified for the reader in footnotes in the text. She loses her wager that she will not give in to him and is seduced in a reverie of aesthetic ecstasy as she is she overcome with sensation on the final page.

Compare to: Robert Bage 1730-1801 Hermsprong: or, Man As He Is Not, 1796 https://artinfiction.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/robert-bage-1730-1801-hermsprong-or-man-as-he-is-not-1796/

Notes on the artists.

3. Pineau. A sculptor famous for the ornaments, and the greater part of the sculptures of the apartments of our hotels are the work.

4. Dandrillon. Painter who found the secret of painting the wainscot without odour, and apply the gold on the sculpture without white primer.

5. Pierre. One of our famous painters, who by the force of his colour deserved a distinguished rank in the French school.

6. Dandrillon. It is still to this artist that we owe the discovery not only of having destroyed the bad odour of the impression which was previously given to the panelling, but of having found the secret of mixing in its ingredients An odour that is considered appropriate, an odour that persists for several years in succession, as many have already experienced.

7. Perot. Artist skilled in the genre of which we speak, and who painted at Choisi the prettiest things in this taste.

8. Gilot. The greatest draftsman of his time for arabesques, flowers, fruits, and animals, and who surpassed in this genre Perin, Audran, & c.

9. Cafieri. Founder and chiseler esteemed for the bronzes of which all the apartments of our beautiful houses of Paris and the surroundings are adorned.

10. Huet. Other famous painter of arabesques, and especially for animals.

11. Boucher. The painter of the Graces and the most ingenious artist of our century.

12. Germain. Famous goldsmith and son of the greatest artist that Europe possessed in this genre.

13. Martin. Famous varnisher known to everyone.

14. Bachelier. One of the most excellent painters of the present day, of whom he has lately left to become the rival of Desportes and Oudry, and perhaps surpass them.


			

Wyndham Lewis – Beau Séjour,1927

h-brodsky_viewing-kermesse-1917

THE POLE. In pre-war Europe, which was also even more the Europe of before the Russian Revolution, a curious sect was established in the watering-places of Brittany. Its members were generally known by the peasants as ‘Poles.’ The so-called ‘Pole’ was a russian exile or wandering student, often coming from Poland. The sort that collected in such great numbers in Brittany were probably not politicians, except in the sentimental manner in which all educated Russians before the Revolution were ‘radical’ and revolutionary. They had banished themselves, for purely literary political reasons, it is likely, rather than been banished. Brittany became a heavenly Siberia for masses of middle-class russian men and women who made ‘art’ the excuse for a never-ending holiday. They insensibly became a gentle and delightful parasite upon the French. Since the Revolution (it being obvious that they cannot have vast and lucrative estates, which before the Revolution it was easy for them to claim) they have mostly been compelled to work. The Paris taxi-driver of today, lolling on the seat of his vehicle, cigarette in mouth, who, without turning round, swiftly moves away when a fare enters his cab, is what in the ancien régime would have been a ‘Pole.’ If there is a communist revolution in France, this sort of new nomad will move down into Spain perhaps. He provides for the countries of Europe on a very insignificant scale a new version, today, of the ‘jewish problem.’ His indolence, not his activity, of course, makes him a ‘problem.’

The pre-war method of migration was this. A ‘Pole’ in his home in Russia would save up or borrow about ten pounds. He then left his native land for ever, taking a third-class ticket to Brest. This must have become an almost instinctive proceeding. At Brest he was in the heart of the promised land. He would then make the best of his way to a Pension de Famille, already occupied by a phalanstery of ‘Poles.’ There he would have happily remained until the crack of doom, but for the Bolshevik Revolution. He had reckoned without Lenin, so to speak.

He was usually a ‘noble,’ very soberly but tactfully dressed. He wore suède gloves: his manners were graceful. The proprietress had probably been warned of his arrival and he was welcome. His first action would be to pay three months’ board and lodging in advance; that would also be his last action of that sort. With a simple dignity that was the secret of the ‘Pole,’ at the end of the trimestre, he remained as the guest of the proprietress. His hostess took this as a matter of course. He henceforth became the regular, unobtrusive, respected inhabitant of the house.

If the proprietress of a Pension de Famille removed her establishment from one part of the country to another, took a larger house, perhaps (to make room for more ‘Poles’), her ‘Poles’ went with her without comment or change in their habits. Just before the war, Mademoiselle T. still sheltered in her magnificent hotel, frequented by wealthy Americans, some of these quiet ‘Poles,’ who had been with her since the day when she first began hotel-keeping in a small wayside inn. Lunching there you could observe at the foot of the table a group of men of a monastic simplicity of dress and manner, all middle-aged by that time, indeed even venerable in several instances, talking among themselves in a strange and attractive tongue. Mademoiselle T. was an amiable old lady, and these were her domestic gods. Any one treating them with disrespect would have seen the rough side of Mademoiselle T.’s tongue.

Their hosts, I believe, so practical in other ways, became superstitious about these pensive inhabitants of their houses. Some I know would no more have turned out an old and ailing ‘Pole’ who owed them thirty years’ board and lodging, than many people would get rid of an aged and feeble cat.

For the breton peasant, ‘Polonais’ or ‘Pole’ sufficed to describe the member of any nation whom he observed leading anything that resembled the unaccountable life of the true slav parasite with which he had originally familiarized himself under the name of ‘Pole.’

Few ‘Poles,’ I think, ever saw the colour of money once this initial pin-money that they brought from Russia was spent. One ‘Pole’ of my acquaintance did get hold of three pounds by some means, and went to spend a month in Paris. After this outing, his prestige considerably enhanced, he came back and resumed his regular life, glad to be again away from the siècle and its metropolitan degradation. In pre-war Paris, ‘Poles’ were to be met, very much de passage, seeing some old friends (en route for Brest) for the last time.

A woman opened a smart hotel of about thirty beds not far from Beau Séjour. I was going over to see it. She advertised that any artist who would at once take up his quarters there would receive his first six months gratis. Referring to this interesting event in the hearing of a ‘Pole,’ he told me he had been over there the previous day. He had found no less than twelve ‘Poles’ already installed, and there was a considerable waiting list. ‘If you like to pay you can go there all right,’ he said, laughing.

The general explanation given by the ‘Pole’ of the position in which he found himself, was that his hosts, after six or nine months, were afraid to let him go, for fear of losing their money. He would add that he could confidently rely on more and more deference the longer he stopped, and the larger the amount that he represented in consequence. Ordinary boarders, he would tell you, could count on nothing like so much attention as he could.

That such a state of affairs should ever have occurred, was partly due perhaps to the patriarchal circumstances of the breton agricultural life. This new domestic animal was able to insinuate himself into its midst because of the existence of so many there already. Rich peasants, and this applied to the proprietors of country inns, were accustomed in their households to suffer the presence of a number of poor familiars, cousinly paupers, supernumeraries doing odd jobs on the farm or in the stables. The people not precisely servants who found a place at their hearth were not all members of the immediate family of the master.

But there was another factor favouring the development of the ‘Pole.’ This was that many of them were described as painters. They seldom of course were able to practise that expensive art, for they could not buy colours or canvases: in their visitors’ bulletins, however, they generally figured as that. But after the death of Gauguin, the dealer, Vollard, and others, came down from Paris. They ransacked the country for forgotten canvases: when they found one they paid to the astonished peasants, in the heat of competition, very considerable sums. Past hosts of the great french romantic had confiscated paintings in lieu of rent. The least sketch had its price. The sight of these breathless collectors, and the rumours of the sums paid, made a deep impression on the local people. The ‘Poles’ on their side were very persuasive. They assured their hosts that Gauguin was a mere cipher compared to them.—These circumstances told in favour of the ‘Pole.’

But no such explanations can really account for the founding of this charming and whimsical order. Whether there are still a few ‘Poles’ surviving in Brittany or not, I have no means of knowing. In the larger centres of villégiature the siècle was already paramount before the war.

The Russian with whom translations of the Russian books of tsarist Russia familiarized the West was an excited and unstable child. We have seen this society massacred in millions without astonishment. The Russian books prepared every Western European for that consummation. All the cast of the Cherry Orchard could be massacred easily by a single determined gunman. This defencelessness of the essential Slav can, under certain circumstances, become an asset. Especially perhaps the French would find themselves victims of such a harmless parasite, so different in his nature to themselves. A more energetic parasite would always fail with the gallic nature, unless very resolute.

Wyndham Lewis, 1882-1957 Beau Séjour, in, The Wild Body, A Soldier of Humour and Other Stories,1927

Image 1: Horace Brodzky, 1885-1969, Viewing Kermesse 1917, Drypoint, 11 x 9.5 cm. © The Estate of Horace Brodzky; Image supplied courtesy of the Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2011

Image 2: Wyndham Lewis, 1882-1957. Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro, a self-portrait, 1921. Oil on canvas, 73 x 44 cm. Ferens Art Gallery, Hull City Museums and Art Gallery. © The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis: The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust

Wyndham Lewis describes a particular group of resident ‘artists’ in Brittany, known as the ‘Poles,’ who were political and economic refugees, mostly Little Russians, Finns and Germans, who live modestly in auberges on the charity of the Breton landladies. As well-mannered êmigrês they found a niche in the social structure and are accepted as dilettantes adopting the role of poverty-bound artists.The Soldier of Humour, appeared in its original form in The Little Review (an American publication) of 1917-18. In it the showman, Ker-Orr, is, we are to suppose, at a later stage of his comic technique than in the accounts of his adventures in Brittany. Beau Séjour is the first hotel at which he stops. (This, except for the note at the end, is a new story.)” Foreward, Wyndham Lewis, July 6, 1927. Harcourt Brace,

Xavier de Maistre – Voyage autour de ma chambre, 1794 Voyage Around My Room

x de maistre madame elisabeth vigee lebrun

Chapter 7

Doesn’t that seem clear enough to you? Here’s another example:

One day last summer, I was making my way on foot to court. I had spent the whole morning painting, and my soul, enjoying its meditations on painting, left it to the beast to transport me to the Kings’s Palace.

“What a sublime art is painting!” my soul was thinking. “Happy is the man who has been touched by the spectacle of nature, who is not obliged to paint pictures for a living, and who does not paint merely as a pastime, but is struck by the majesty of a beautiful physiognomy and the admirable play of the light that suffuses the human face with a thousand subtle hues! He attempts to approach in his works the sublime effects of nature. Happy too is the painter whom the love of landscape leads out on solitary excursions, who is able to express on canvas the feeling of melancholy inspired in him by a gloomy wood or a deserted countryside! His productions imitate and reproduce nature; he creates new dark seas and dark caves on which the sun has never shone: at his order, green copses emerge from nothingness, and the blue of the sky is reflected in his pictures; he knows the art of fanning the breezes and making the tempests roar. At other times, he offers to the eye of the bewitched spectator the delightful landscapes of ancient Sicily: you can see panic-stricken nymphs taking flight through the reeds from some satyr in hot pursuit; temples of majestic build raise their proud heads above the sacred forest that encloses them: the imagination loses itself along the silent roads of this ideal country; the blue horizons merge gently into the sky, and the whole landscape, mirrored in the waters of a tranquil river, forms a spectacle that no lagoon can describe.”

As my soul was reflecting thus, the other kept right on going – God knows where! Instead of making its way to court, as it had been ordered to, it drifted away so far leftwards that, by the time my soul had caught up with it, it was already at the door of Mme de Hautcastel, half a mile away from the royal palace.

I will leave it to the reader to imagine what would have happened if the other had entered all by itself the home of such a beautiful lady.

——-

Chapter 10

Don’t get the idea that, instead of keeping my word and giving a description of my journey around my room, I am merely beating about the bush and evading the issue; you’d be quite wrong. No, my journey is really and truly continuing; and while my soul, withdrawing into itself, was in the last chapter exploring the tangled and twisted paths of metaphysics, I was in my armchair, in which I had leant back so that its two front legs were raised two inches above the ground; and by leaning forward, I had imperceptibly come right up to the wall – this is the way I travel when I’m not in any hurry. Here my hand had mechanically taken down the portrait of Mme de Hautcastel, and the other was diverting itself by breathing off the dust with which the portrait was covered. This occupation gave it a tranquil pleasure, and this pleasure communicated itself to my soul, even though the latter was lost in the best plains of the sky. It is worth noting observing in this respect that, when the spirit travels thus through space, it is still attached to the senses by some secret link; as a result, without being distracted from its occupations, it can participate in the joys and pleasures of the other, but if this pleasure increases to a certain degree, or if it is struck by some unexpected sight, the soul immediately reassumes her place as quick as a flash of lightening.

This is just what happened to me as I was cleaning the portrait.

As the cloth wiped the dust away and revealed curls of blond hair, and the garland of roses that crown them, my soul, although far away in the sun to which she had transported herself, felt a slight quiver in her heart, and emphatically shared the pleasure of my heart. This pleasure became less indistinct and more intense when the cloth, in one single sweep, laid bare the gleaning forehead of that enchanting physiognomy; my soul was on the point of leaving the heavens to come and enjoy the spectacle. But if she had been at the Champs- Élysées, or attending a concert of cherubs, she wouldn’t have stayed there for even half a second, when her companion, taking an increasing interest in her work, decided to seize a wet sponge that was handed to her and immediately proceeded to draw it over the eyebrows and the eyes – over the nose – over the cheeks – over the mouth – ah, God! How my heart beats! – over the chin, over the breast: it took no more than a minute; the whole face seemed to be reborn and to emerge from nothingness. My soul came sweeping down from heaven like a falling star; she found the other in a state of enraptured ecstasy, and succeeded in increasing its bliss by sharing it. This strange and unforeseen situation made time and space disappear for me. I existed for a moment in the past, and I grew again, against the order of nature. Yes, here she is, that adored woman, it really is her, I can see her smiling; she’s going to speak, she’s going to tell me she loves me. What a gaze! Come, let me press you to my heart, soul of my life, my second existence! Come and share my exaltation and my happiness! – This moment was brief, but it was ravishing: frigid Reason soon regained control, and in the space of the twinkling of an eye, I grew a whole year older: my heart became cold and frozen, and I found myself on the same level as that host of indifferent people who weigh down the globe.

Xavier de Maistre, 1763-1852            Voyage autour de ma chambre, 1794 Voyage Around My Room. Translation by Andrew Brown. Published by Hesperus Press Ltd, 2004.

The French writer and critic Charles Saint-Beuve, 1805-1869, admired de Maistre’s technique of storytelling by digression, or “manière de confession d’ailleurs”. In the first chapter de Maistre explains the subject of his story “I have undertaken and completed a forty-two day journey around my room. The interesting observations I have made, and the continual pleasure I experienced en route, filled me with the desire to publish it;…” His journey starts at the armchair, observes the pictures on the wall, walks to his desk and concludes by the fire. That is the physical plot of the novella, but the narrative concerns a love affair with a Madame de Hautcastel. The story resulted from an incident in Turin where he was imprisoned for forty-two days in the citadel in Turin following a duel with a Piedmontese officer. De Maistre admired Lawrence Sterne and the absurdity of the inversion of space and time in the Voyage autour de ma chambre is a parody of the traditional travelogue. De Maistre was an army officer and an aristocrat, and also a painter of miniatures and landscapes with a sophisticated understanding of artistic ideas. Inspired by the ideas of Rousseau, his separation of his physical self, the other, and his emotional self, the soul, illustrates how pictures were perceived as sensitive mirrors of emotional states.

Image: Madame Élisabeth, (Élisabeth of France) (Elisabeth-Philippe-Marie-Hélène) 1764-1794, sister of Louis XVI, was guillotined during the French Revolution. Engraving after a painting of Madame Élisabeth, 1782 by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755–1842, Musée National du Château de Versailles

Édouard Levé – Oeuvres,2002

Oeuvre1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being.
72. The eraser residues of all the students in a fine arts institute are collected for a year and reconstituted into a cube.
84. Photographs catalogue an inventory of destroyed works. Once its destruction is complete, what’s left of a piece is rubble and ashes. Damages are classified by type: fire, flood, submersion, earthquake, shock, fall, collapse, bombardment, assault, vandalism, poor conservation . . .
89. Soap bubbles are blown into a space where the temperature is 100°C. Keeping the shape that the cold surprised them in, they are exhibited in a refrigerated aquarium.
95. An artist creates ten paintings on his fingernails. Those on his left hand are painted with those on his right hand, and vice versa. The exhibit takes place in the home of the viewer. He is given a ten-sided die and asked to throw it. The artist shows him the fingernail corresponding to the number on the die for as he long as the viewer wants. He keeps his other fingernails hidden. The exhibition ends after ten throws of the die. The viewer has a chance of thirty-six out of a hundred million to see all ten nails in the same session.
110. The atelier of Frenhofer, the painter in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, as imagined by four readers, is shown as slideshow projections onto the walls of a room. The readers explain their visual interpretation to an artist, who draws the scene, dutifully complying with each reader’s amendments, in the style of an identikit. These drawings form the basis for the construction of four ateliers that are then photographed, the result showing four real versions of this fictive place.
113. The silhouette of a dog is cut out of a pornographic picture.
142. “POISONWOOD FAIRYLAND” is painted in orange block capitals on canvas woven from flax linen taken from a field peppered with poisonous plants.
143. A labyrinth is painted in skimmed milk on a museum façade is destroyed in bad weather.
179. In an enormous hall lies a valley between two mountainous slopes made out of white Styrofoam. At the far end is a crashed Airbus A 320 made out of kebabs. Smaller parts of the wreck, also made out of kebabs are scattered throughout the valley, making visible the trajectory of the accident. The ensemble is looked upon through a panoramic window piercing the wall.
181. The Aleph. A dull glass sphere floats in the middle of a dark room. Random video images taken from cinema and television archives are projected onto its surface from the inside. Landscapes, houses, animals, automobiles, supermarkets, books, news, images, scenes of family, love, war . . .
212. A naked man, seated on a chair. His testicles are two tiny globes: the one the earth, the other the moon.
228. A misty black ring against a white wall—trace of a motorcycle tailpipe.
238. Places are photographed by their reflections in spit bubbles.
247. The paragraphs of a novel are replaced by black rectangles whose surface area corresponds to the number of letters used in the paragraph. Spaces and line breaks are not counted. The top of each rectangle is aligned with where the corresponding paragraph started. The narrative is reduced to a sequence of geometric paintings.
358. The labels on a sound system—CD, Tape, Tuner, Aux—are replaced with new ones: Love, Break-up, Friendship, Depression.
359. A naked man standing upright is adorned with pockets of colour created by using a syringe to inject ink into the layer of silicone he wears on his skin.
372. The daily sounds made by a family in a house are recorded. The family then moves out and the house is emptied. Only the marks made by their furniture on the floors and walls remain. In each room, the sounds made there while the house was occupied are played back.
378. The paintings in a museum of fine arts are temporarily taken down and replaced by monochrome paintings of identical dimensions. The colour of each monochrome is chosen by a computer that analyses all the brushstrokes of the original painting and comes up with its average colour. With rare exceptions, such as paintings of the sky, or night scenes, the dominant colour is brown.
385. A stream disappears into the earth somewhere in a French park where visitors throw flowers into it. Somewhere in a garden in New Zealand, is a spring where the emerging water contains the same flowers.
449. The letterboxes inside an apartment building bear the names of famous dead writers and artists.
499. A human puddle lies on the floor, halfway between a bearskin and a pool of polyurethane. Head, hands, feet, nipples, genitals, buttocks, elbows, knees, and shoulders poke up here and there out of a shapeless mass of pink silicone.
471. Schopenhauer’s The Art of Being Right is read in the tone of a televised soccer commentary.
512. Museum of the Answering Machine. Chosen at random from the phone book, ten thousand messages left on answering machines are collected. Kept on CD-ROM, they can be consulted using a computer, either by typing in a number between one and ten thousand, or through searching for a keyword corresponding to a type of language or to a word used in the message.
520. A novel is shot with a revolver, resulting in a bullet hole piercing its core. The missing words are found in another copy. A short story called “The Hole” is written, using only these words.
530: A Philip K. Dick story is written in reverse. The last sentence is the first, the second to last is the second, and so on, right up to the first sentence, which is the last.
533. After having published a book describing works he has not brought into being, the author gives public readings. The audience is invited to say the number of the work they wish to have read to them, and the author complies by reading the corresponding description. The reading ends when no one asks him to continue.

Édouard Levé,1965-2007. Oeuvres,2002 Works,2014

Édouard Levé, Oeuvres. Published by P.O.L Editeur, France, 2002.

Édouard Levé, Works. Published by Dalkey Archive Press, 2014. Translation by Jan Steyn.

Édouard Levé’s Oeuvres is modular rather than a narrative literature, describing in the style of a formal catalogue, a potential list of 533 conceptual artworks conceived by the author. Many of the ideas appear odd, banal or ridiculous as isolated conceptual artworks, although they are often closely related to contemporary artists’ statements and projects, and verge on satirizing the content of contemporary art. The first project described in this book, 1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being is in fact the book Oeuvres. Some ideas were completed by Levé, in the books Amérique and Pornographie. Oeuvres emerges from the Oulipo group and post-1945 French experimental writing.

Gustave Flaubert – Sentimental Education,1869

Arnoux quickly re-entered the dressing-room, rubbed some cosmetic over his moustaches, raised his braces, stretched his straps; and, while he was washing his hands:
“I would require two over the door at two hundred and fifty apiece, in Boucher’s style. Is that understood?”
“Be it so,” said the artist, his face reddening.
“Good! and don’t forget my wife!”
Frederick accompanied Pellerin to the top of the Faubourg Poissonnière, and asked his permission to come to see him sometimes, a favour which was graciously accorded.
Pellerin read every work on æsthetics, in order to find out the true theory of the Beautiful, convinced that, when he had discovered it, he would produce masterpieces. He surrounded himself with every imaginable auxiliary—drawings, plaster-casts, models, engravings; and he kept searching about, eating his heart out. He blamed the weather, his nerves, his studio, went out into the street to find inspiration there, quivered with delight at the thought that he had caught it, then abandoned the work in which he was engaged, and dreamed of another which should be finer. Thus, tormented by the desire for glory, and wasting his days in discussions, believing in a thousand fooleries—in systems, in criticisms, in the importance of a regulation or a reform in the domain of Art—he had at fifty as yet turned out nothing save mere sketches. His robust pride prevented him from experiencing any discouragement, but he was always irritated, and in that state of exaltation, at the same time factitious and natural, which is characteristic of comedians.
On entering his studio one’s attention was directed towards two large pictures, in which the first tones of colour laid on here and there made on the white canvas spots of brown, red, and blue. A network of lines in chalk stretched overhead, like stitches of thread repeated twenty times; it was impossible to understand what it meant. Pellerin explained the subject of these two compositions by pointing out with his thumb the portions that were lacking. The first was intended to represent “The Madness of Nebuchadnezzar,” and the second “The Burning of Rome by Nero.” Frederick admired them.
He admired academies of women with dishevelled hair, landscapes in which trunks of trees, twisted by the storm, abounded, and above all freaks of the pen, imitations from memory of Callot, Rembrandt, or Goya, of which he did not know the models. Pellerin no longer set any value on these works of his youth. He was now all in favour of the grand style; he dogmatised eloquently about Phidias and Winckelmann. The objects around him strengthened the force of his language; one saw a death’s head on a prie-dieu, yataghans, a monk’s habit. Frederick put it on.
When he arrived early, he surprised the artist in his wretched folding-bed, which was hidden from view by a strip of tapestry; for Pellerin went to bed late, being an assiduous frequenter of the theatres. An old woman in tatters attended on him. He dined at a cook-shop, and lived without a mistress. His acquirements, picked up in the most irregular fashion, rendered his paradoxes amusing. His hatred of the vulgar and the “bourgeois” overflowed in sarcasms, marked by a superb lyricism, and he had such religious reverence for the masters that it raised him almost to their level.

Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1880  L’Éducation sentimentale, 1869 Sentimental Education. Chapter 4

Octave Mirbeau – The Diary of a Chambermaid,1900

DG Rossetti Veronica Veronese

Chapter X, November 3rd.

The topic of correctness in society being exhausted, there followed an embarrassing lull in the conversation, which Kimberly broke by telling of his last trip to London.
“Yes,” said he, “I spent in London an intoxicating week; and, ladies, I witnessed a unique thing. I attended a ritual dinner which the great poet, John-Giotto Farfadetti, gave to some friends to celebrate his betrothal to the wife of his dear Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton.”
“How exquisite that must have been!” minced the Countess Fergus.
“You cannot imagine,” answered Kimberly, whose look and gestures, and even the orchid that adorned the button-hole of his coat, expressed the most ardent ecstasy.
And he continued:
“Fancy, my dear friends, in a large hall, whose blue walls, though scarcely blue, are decorated with white peacocks and gold peacocks,—fancy a table of jade, inconceivably and delightfully oval. On the table some cups, in which mauve and yellow bonbons harmonized, and in the centre a basin of pink crystal, filled with kanaka preserves … and nothing more. Draped in long white robes, we slowly passed in turn before the table, and we took, upon the points of our golden knives, a little of these mysterious preserves, which then we carried to our lips … and nothing more.”
“Oh! I find that moving,” sighed the countess, “so moving!”
“You cannot imagine. But the most moving thing—a thing that really transformed this emotion into a painful laceration of our souls—was when Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton sang the poem of the betrothal of his wife and his friend. I know nothing more tragically, more superhumanly beautiful.”
“Oh! I beg of you,” implored the Countess Fergus, “repeat this prodigious poem for our benefit, Kimberly.”
“The poem, alas! I cannot. I can give you only its essence.”
“That’s it, that’s it! The essence.”
In spite of his morals, in which they cut no figure, Kimberly filled women with mad enthusiasm, for his specialty was subtle stories of transgression and of extraordinary sensations. Suddenly a thrill ran round the table, and the flowers themselves, and the jewels on their beds of flesh, and the glasses on the table-cloth, took attitudes in harmony with the state of souls. Charrigaud felt his reason departing. He thought that he had suddenly fallen into a mad-house. Yet, by force of will, he was still able to smile, and say:
“Why, certainly … certainly.”
The butlers finished passing something that resembled a ham, from which, in a flood of yellow cream, cherries poured like red larvæ. As for the Countess Fergus, half swooning, she had already started for extra-terrestrial regions.
Kimberly began:
“Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton and his friend, John-Giotto Farfadetti, were finishing their daily tasks in the studio which they occupied in common. One was the great painter, the other the great poet; the former short and stout, the latter tall and thin; both alike clad in drugget robes, their heads alike adorned with Florentine BONNETS, both alike neurasthenics, for they had, in different bodies, like souls and lily-twin spirits. John-Giotto Farfadetti sang in his verses the marvelous symbols that his friend, Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton, painted on his canvases, so that the glory of the poet was inseparable from that of the painter, and that their works and their immortal geniuses had come to be confounded in one and the same adoration.”
Kimberly stopped for a moment. The silence was religious. Something sacred hovered over the table. He continued:
“The day was nearing its end. A very soft twilight was enveloping the studio in a pallor of fluid and lunar shade. Scarcely could one still distinguish on the mauve walls the long, supple, waving, golden algæ that seemed to move in obedience to the vibration of some deep and magic water. John-Giotto Farfadetti closed the sort of antiphonary on the vellum of which, with a Persian reed, he wrote, or rather engraved, his eternal poems; Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton turned his lyre-shaped easel against a piece of drapery, placed his heart-shaped palette upon a fragile piece of furniture, and the two, facing one another, stretched themselves, with august poses of fatigue, upon a triple row of cushions, of the color of sea-weed.”
“Hum!” said Mme. Tiercelet, with a slightly warning cough.
“No, not at all,” said Kimberly, reassuringly; “it is not what you think.”
And he continued:
“In the centre of the studio, from a marble basin in which the petals of roses were bathing, a violent perfume was rising. And on a little table long-stemmed narcissuses were dying, like souls, in a narrow vase whose neck opened into the calyx of a lily, strangely green and distorted.”
“Impossible to forget,” said the countess, in a quivering voice, so low that it could scarcely be heard.
And Kimberly, without stopping, went on with his narration:
“Outside, the street became more silent, because deserted. From the Thames came, muffled by the distance, the distracted voices of sirens, the gasping voices of marine boilers. It was the hour when the two friends, giving themselves over to dreaming, preserved an ineffable silence.”
“Oh! I see them so clearly!” said Madame Tiercelet, in a tone of admiration.
“And that ‘ineffable,’ how evocative it is!” applauded the Countess Fergus, “and so pure!”
Kimberly profited by these flattering interruptions to take a swallow of champagne. Then, feeling that he was listened to with more passionate attention than before, he repeated:
“Preserved an ineffable silence. But on this special evening John-Giotto Farfadetti murmured: ‘I have a poisoned flower in my heart.’ To which Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton answered: ‘This evening a sorrowful bird has been singing in my heart.’ The studio seemed moved by this unusual colloquy. On the mauve wall, which was gradually losing its color, the gold algæ seemed to spread and contract, and to spread and contract again, in harmony with the new rhythms of an unusual undulation, for it is certain that the soul of man communicates to the soul of things its troubles, its passions, its fervors, its transgressions, its life.”
“How true that is!”
This cry, coming from several mouths at once, did not prevent Kimberly from going on with the recital, which thenceforth was to unfold itself amid the silent emotion of his hearers. His voice became even more mysterious.
“This minute of silence was poignant and tragic. ‘Oh! my friend!’ implored John-Giotto Farfadetti, ‘you who have given me everything, you whose soul is so marvelously twin with mine, you must give me something of yourself that I have not yet had, and from the lack of which I am dying.’ ‘Is it, then, my life that you ask?’ said the painter; ‘it is yours; you can take it.’ ‘No, it is not your life; it is more than your life; it is your wife!’ ‘Botticellina!’ cried the poet. ‘Yes, Botticellina; Botticellinetta; flesh of your flesh, the soul of your soul, the dream of your dream, the magic sleep of your sorrows!’ ‘Botticellina! Alas! Alas! It was to be. You have drowned yourself in her, she has drowned herself in you, as in a bottomless lake, beneath the light of the moon. Alas! Alas! It was to be.’ Two tears, phosphorescent in the penumbra, rolled from the eyes of the painter. The poet answered: ‘Listen to me, oh! my friend! I love Botticellina, and Botticellina loves me, and we shall both die of loving one another, and of not daring to tell one another, and of not daring to unite. She and I are two fragments, long ago separated, of one and the same living being, which for perhaps two thousand years have been seeking and calling one another, and which meet at last to-day. Oh! my dear Pinggleton, unknown life has these strange, terrible, and delicious fatalities. Was there ever a more splendid poem than that which we are living to-night?’ But the painter kept on repeating, in a voice more and more sorrowful, this cry: ‘Botticellina! Botticellina!’ He rose from the triple row of cushions upon which he was lying, and walked back and forth in the studio, feverishly. After some minutes of anxious agitation, he said: ‘Botticellina was Mine. Henceforth must she be Thine?’ ‘She shall be Ours!’ replied the poet, imperiously; ‘for God has chosen you to be the point of suture for this severed soul which is She and which is I! If not, Botticellina possesses the magic pearl that dissipates dreams, I the dagger that delivers from corporeal chains. If you refuse, we shall love each other in death.’ And he added, in a deep tone that resounded through the studio like a voice from the abyss: ‘Perhaps it would be better so.’ ‘No,’ cried the painter, ‘you shall live. Botticellina shall be Thine, as she has been Mine. I will tear my flesh to shreds, I will tear my heart from my breast, I will break my head against the wall, but my friend shall be happy. I can suffer. Suffering, too, is voluptuousness, in another form!’ ‘And a voluptuousness more powerful, more bitter, more fierce than any other!’ exclaimed John-Giotto Farfadetti, ecstatically; ‘I envy your fate, do you know? As for me, I really believe that I shall die either of the joy of my love or of the sorrow of my friend. The hour has come. Adieu!’ He rose, like an archangel. At that moment the drapery moved, opening and closing again on an illuminating apparition. It was Botticellina, draped in a flowing robe, of the color of the moonlight. Her floating hair shone around her like artificial fire. In her hand she held a golden key. An ecstasy was on her lips, and the night-sky in her eyes. John-Giotto rushed forward, and disappeared behind the drapery. Then Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton lay down again on the triple row of cushions, of the colour of sea-weed. And, while he buried his nails in his flesh, and while the blood streamed from him as from a fountain, the golden algæ, now scarcely visible, gently quivered upon the wall, which was gradually taking on a coating of darkness. And the heart-shaped palette and the lyre-shaped easel resounded long and long, in nuptial songs.”
For some moments Kimberly was silent; then, while the emotion that prevailed around the table was choking throats and compressing hearts, he concluded:
“And this is why I have dipped the point of my golden knife in the preserves prepared by kanaka virgins in honor of a betrothal more magnificent than any that our century, in its ignorance of beauty, has ever known.”
The dinner was over. They rose from the table in religious silence, but thrilled through and through. In the salon Kimberly was closely surrounded and warmly congratulated. The looks of all the women converged radiantly upon his painted face, surrounding it with a halo of ecstasies.
“Ah! I should so like to have my portrait painted by Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton,” cried Mme. de Rambure; “I would give anything to enjoy such happiness.”
“Alas! Madame,” answered Kimberly, “since the sorrowful and sublime event which I have related, Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton has been unwilling to paint human faces, however charming they may be; he paints only souls.”
“And he is right! I should so like to be painted as a soul!”
“Of what sex?” asked Maurice Fernancourt, in a slightly sarcastic tone, visibly jealous of Kimberly’s success.
The latter said, simply:
“Souls have no sex, my dear Maurice. They have….”
“Hair on their paws,” said Victor Charrigaud, in a very low voice, so as to be heard only by the psychological novelist, to whom he was just then offering a cigar.

Octave Mirbeau,1848-1917

Le Journal d’une femme de chambre,1900 The Diary of a Chambermaid. Chapter X, November 3rd

Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti,1828-1882 Veronica Veronese,1872. Oil on canvas. 1092 x 889 mm. Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935

Translation: Benj. R. Tucker. Octave Mirbeau, A Chambermaid’s Diary. Published by Benj. R. Tucker, New York, 1900. Source: http://www.gutenberg.org

Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Things Past,1913-27 The Captive 1923

Vermeer View of DelftThe circumstances of his death were as follows. A fairly mild attack of uraemia had led to his being ordered to rest. But, an art critic having written somewhere that in Vermeer’s `View of Delft’ (lent by the Gallery at The Hague for an exhibition of Dutch painting), a picture which he adored and imagined that he knew by heart, a little patch of yellow wall (which he could not remember) was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself, Bergotte ate a few potatoes, left the house, and went to the exhibition. At the first few steps he had to climb, he was overcome by an attack of dizziness. He walked past several pictures and was struck by the aridity and pointlessness of such an artificial kind of art, which was greatly inferior to the sunshine of a windswept Venetian palazzo, or of an ordinary house by the sea. At last he came to the Vermeer which he remembered as more striking, more different from anything else he knew, but in which, thanks to the critic’s article, he noticed for the first time some small figures in blue, that the sand was pink, and, finally, the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall. His dizziness increased; he fixed his gaze, like a child upon a yellow butterfly that it wants to catch, on the precious little patch of wall. “That’s how I ought to have written,” he said. “My last books are too dry, I ought to have gone over them with a few layers of colour, made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow wall.” Meanwhile he was not unconscious of the gravity of his condition. In a celestial pair of scales there appeared to him, weighing down one the pans, his own life, while the other contained the little patch of wall so beautifully painted in yellow. He felt that he had rashly sacrificed the former for the latter. “All the same,” he said to himself, “I shouldn’t like to be the headline news of this exhibition for the evening papers.” He repeated to himself: “Little patch of yellow wall, with a sloping roof, little patch of yellow wall.” Meanwhile he sank down on to a circular settee; whereupon he suddenly ceased to think that his life was in jeopardy and, reverting to his natural optimism, told himself: “It’s nothing, merely a touch of indigestion from those potatoes, which were undercooked.” A fresh attack struck him down; he rolled from the settee to the floor, as visitors and attendants came hurrying to his assistance. He was dead. Dead for ever? Who can say? Certainly, experiments in spiritualism offer us no more proof than the dogmas of religion that the soul survives death. All that we can say is that everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it carrying a burden of obligations contracted in a former life; there is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be kind and thoughtful, even to be polite, nor for an atheist artist to consider himself obliged to begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little to his worm-eaten body, like the patch of yellow wall painted with so much skill and refinement by an artist destined to be for ever unknown and barely identified under the name Vermeer. All these obligations, which have no sanction in our present life, seem to belong to a different world, a world based on kindness, scrupulousness, self- sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again beneath sway of those unknown laws which we obeyed because we bore their precepts in our hearts, not knowing whose hand had traced them there – those laws to which every profound work of the intellect brings us nearer and which are invisible only – if then! – to fools. So that the idea that Bergotte was not dead for ever is by no means improbable.

Marcel Proust, 1871-192      À la recherche du temps perdu, 1913-27 Remembrance of Things Past,  Volume 5: La Prisonnière, 1923  The Captive.  Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, 1922-31; 4 volumes, 1934

Image: Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft, c.1660-61, Oil on canvas. 98.5 × 117.5 cm (38.8 × 46.3 in), Mauritshuis, The Hague

Michel Houellebecq – La carte et le territoire, 2010 The Map and the Territory

la-carte-et-le-territoire

A little despite himself, he approached Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, which was standing on his easel in the middle of the studio, and dissatisfaction seized him again, still more bitterly. He realised he was hungry, which wasn’t normal after the complete Christmas dinner he’d had with his father — starter, main course, cheese and dessert, nothing had been left out but he felt hungry and so hot he could no longer breathe. He returned to the kitchen, opened a tin of cannelloni in sauce and ate them one by one, while looking morosely at his failed painting. Koons was undoubtedly not light enough, not ethereal enough — it would perhaps have been necessary to give him wings, like the god Mercury, he thought stupidly; there, with his pinstriped suit and salesman’s smile, he reminded you a bit of Silvio Berlusconi.

On the ArtPrice ranking of the richest artists, Koons was world number 2; for a few years now, Hirst, ten years his junior, had taken his place at number 1. As for Jed, he had reached 593 ten years ago — but 17 in France. He had then, as the Tour de France commentators say, ‘dropped to the bottom of the classement’, before disappearing from it altogether. He finished the tin of cannelloni and opened an almost empty bottle of cognac. Lighting his ramp of halogen lamps to the maximum, he trained them on the centre of the canvas. On closer inspection, the night itself wasn’t right: it didn’t have that sumptuousness, that mystery we associate with nights on the Arabian peninsula; he should have used a deep blue, not ultramarine. He was making a truly shit painting. He seized a palette knife, cut open Damien Hirst’s eye, and forced the gash wider; it was a canvas of tight linen fibres, and therefore very tough. Catching the sticky canvas with one hand, he tore it in one blow, tipping the easel over onto the floor. Slightly calmed, he stopped, looked at his hands, sticky with paint, and finished the cognac before jumping feet first onto his painting, stamping on it and rubbing it against the floor until it became slippery. He ended up losing his balance and fell, the back of his head hitting the frame of the easel violently. He belched and vomited, and suddenly felt better, the fresh night air circulating freely on his face, and he closed his eyes contentedly: he had visibly reached the end of a cycle.

Chapter 9.

Many years later, when he had become famous — extremely famous, if the truth be told — Jed would be asked numerous times what it meant, in his eyes, to be an artist. He would find nothing very interesting or original to say, except one thing, which he would consequently repeat in each interview: to be an artist, in his view, was above all to be someone submissive. Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages, that you would be led, for want of a better word and in the absence of any religious belief, to describe as intuitions, messages which nonetheless commanded you in an imperious and categorical manner, without leaving the slightest possibility of escape — except by losing any notion of integrity and self-respect. These messages could involve destroying a work, or even an entire body of work, to set off in a radically new direction, or even occasionally no direction at all, without having any project at all, or the slightest hope of continuing. It was thus, and only thus, that the artists condition could, sometimes, be described as difficult. It was also thus, and only thus, that it distinguished itself from other professions or trades, to which he would pay homage in the second part of his career, the one which would earn him worldwide renown.

Chapter 11.

Jed was not to remain faithful to the Sennelier brand, and his mature paintings are almost entirely made with Mussini oils by Schmincke. There are exceptions, and certain greens, particularly the cinnabar greens that give such a magical glow to the forests of California pine descending towards the sea in Bill Gates and Steve jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology, are borrowed from the Rembrandt range of oils by the firm Royal Talens. And for the whites he almost always used Old Holland oils, whose opacity he appreciated.

Jed Martin’s first paintings, art historians have later emphasised, could easily lead you down the wrong track. By devoting his first two canvases, Ferdinand Desroches, Horse Butcher then Claude Vorilhon, Bar-Tabac Manager, to professions in decline, Martin could give the impression of nostalgia for a past age, real or fantasised, in France. Nothing, and this is the conclusion that has ended up emerging about all his works, was more foreign to his real preoccupations; and if Martin began by looking at two washed-up professions, it was in no way because he wanted to encourage lamentations on their probable disappearance: it was simply that they were, indeed, going to disappear soon, and it was important to fix their images on canvas while there was still time. For his third painting in the series of professions, Maya Dubois, Remote Maintenance Assistant, he devoted himself to a profession that was in no way stricken or old fashioned, a profession on the contrary emblematic of the policy of just-in-time production which had orientated the entire economic redeployment of Western Europe at the turn of the third millennium.

In the first monograph he devoted to Martin, Wong Fu Xin develops a curious analogy based on colorimetry. The colours of the objects in the world can be represented by a certain number of primary colours; the minimum number, to achieve an almost realistic representation, is three. But you can perfectly build a colorimetric chart on the basis of four, five, six, or even more primary colours; the spectrum of representation would in this way become more extensive and subtle.

In the same way, asserts the Chinese essayist, the productive conditions of a given society may be recreated by means of a number of typical professions, whose number according to him (it is a figure he gives without any empirical evidence) can be fixed at between ten and twenty. In the numerically most important part of the ‘Professions’ series, the one that art historians have taken the habit of entitling the ‘Series of Simple Professions’, Jed Martin portrays no less than forty—two typical professions, thus offering, for the study of the productive conditions of the society of his times, a spectrum of analysis that is particularly extensive and rich. The following twenty—two paintings, centred on confrontations and encounters, classically called the ‘Series of Business Compositions’, themselves aimed to give a relational and dialectical image of the functioning of the economy as a whole.

The ‘Series of Simple Professions’ took Jed Martin a little more than seven years to paint. During these years, he didn’t meet many people, and formed no new relationship — whether sentimental or simply friendly. He had moments of sensory pleasure: an orgy of Italian pasta after a raid on the Casino hypermarket in the boulevard Vincent-Auriol; such-and-such an evening with a Lebanese escort girl whose sexual performances amply justified the ecstatic reviews she received on the site Niamodel.com. ‘Layla, I love you, you are the sunshine of my days in the office, my little oriental star,’ wrote some unfortunate fifty-somethings, while Layla for her part dreamed of muscular men, virile, poor and strong: this was the life, basically, as she saw it. Easily identified as a guy who was ‘a bit bizarre but nice, not at all dangerous’, Jed benefited with Layla from that kind of exception of extra-territoriality that has always been attributed to artists by the girls. It is maybe Layla, but more certainly Genevieve, his Malagasy ex-girlfriend, who is recalled in one of his most touching canvases, Aimée, Escort Girl, treated with an exceptionally warm palette based on umber, Indian orange and Naples yellow. At the opposite extreme from Toulouse-Lautrec’s representation of a made-up, chlorotic and unhealthy prostitute, Jed Martin paints a fulfilled young woman, both sensual and intelligent, in a modern flat bathed in light. With her back to the window, which opens onto a public garden since identified as the square des Batignolles, and simply dressed in a tight white miniskirt, Aimée is finishing putting on a tiny orange-yellow top that only very partially covers her magnificent breasts.

Martin’s only erotic painting, it is also the first where openly autobiographical echoes have been uncovered. The second one, The Architect Jean-Pierre Martin Leaving the Management of his Business, was painted two years later, and marks the beginning of a genuine period of creative frenzy that would last for a year and a half and end with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology, subtitled The Conversation at Palo Alto, which many consider his masterpiece. It is astonishing to think that the twenty-two paintings of the ‘Series of Business Compositions’, often complex and in wide format, were made in just eighteen months. It is also surprising that Jed Martin finally hit a snag on a canvas, Damien Hirst and Jefi Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, which could have, in many regards, matched his Jobs-Gates composition. Analysing this failure, Wong Fu Xin sees in it the reason for his return, a year later, to the ‘Series of Simple Professions’ through his sixty-fifth and final painting. Here, the clarity of the Chinese essayist’s thesis carries conviction: in his desire to give an exhaustive view of the productive sector of the society of his time, Jed Martin was inevitably, at one moment or another in his career, going to portray an artist.

Michel Houellebecq, 1956      La carte et le territoire, 2010 The Map and the Territory

La carte et le Terretoire, published by Flammarion, Paris 2010. © Michel Houellebecq ©Translation copyright by by Gavin Bowd, Published by William Heinnemann, London.

Mina Loy – Insel, 1937

m loy-richard oelze

18.

What am I to do with you? The Taxi metre is ticking, the surrealist’s waiting. Pull yourself together—quick! I’ll take you along.
“However did you get that hole in your trousers, its new—” I demanded, detecting, as we got into the taxi, a perfect round of perforation letting out a tiny light from his thigh. I suspected him of replenishing his beggar’s capital.
“It was there before,” said Insel sanctimoniously, as if referring to a halo earned by excessive martyrdom.
“You might as well come up and see Ussif with me,” I suggested.
“No,” said Insel, “none of the surrealists will have anything to do with me. They know only too well, if they did, I should try to borrow money.”
“I should have thought you’d be worth a little money to a surrealist. He might learn what supereality is about—you are organically surreal—”
“I don’t do it on purpose, said Insel dejected.
“I know you don’t,” I assured him warmly. You only do Kafka on purpose—you’re so much better in the original.
I kept my promise of going to his room on my way back. Strangely—the very name of the street he lived in had the sound of a ghostly exhaustion. His attic was on the seventh storey.
Along the narrow open passage with its bare iron railing the Chambres de Bonnes moved past me as I looked for his name on the doors, when, coming to a closed iron shutter fleeced with dust and cobwebs growing in patches like a moss of soot or hanging in gray festoons about its slits, I felt the liveness of the air decrease, and “Insel” written in the archaic hand of some automatic writings drew up my eyes—. To that darkened crack which outlines the magical versatility of a barrier measuring a yard across and with merely the touch of a hand diminishing to a strip three inches wide. That cover of a living book whose history may come to an end before you can get it open; or cut short your personal adventure by remaining shut; out of this oblong outline of Entrance and Exit there leaked a perceptible seepage of Insel’s torpor.
Noiselessly, indolently, the door vanished. I walked into its chasm and Insel led me to his painting set in the pacific light of a large attic window.
Das ist die Irma?” he said with the secretive in-looking twinkle that lit up his eyes with recurrent delights. And suddenly it dawned upon me that one thing about this man that made him so different to other people was that contrary to our outrunning holding-up-the-mirror self- consciousness, his was constantly turning its back on the world and tiptoe with expectancy, peeping inquisitively into its own mischievous eyes. Or, in some cerebral acrobatic recoil, that being who is, in us, both outlooker and window, in him, astonishingly, was craning back to look in at the outlooking window of himself, as if there were something there he might forget, some treasure as to whose existence he wished to remain assured, some lovely illusion inside him, he must re-see to insure its continued projection.
“Die Irma,” he repeated lovingly to introduce her to me, and the magnetic bond uniting her painted body to his emaciated stature—as if she were of an ectoplasm proceeding from him—was so apparent one felt as if one were surprising an insane liaison at almost too intimate a moment. He was glittering with a pleasure as dynamically compressed as the carbon of a diamond.
A narrow canvas, nigger-black, whose quality of shining obscurity was the effect of minutely painting in oil on some tempera ground, die Irma stood knee—deep on an easel.
To her livid brow, rounded like a half-moon, clung a peculiarly clammy algaeic or fungoid substitute for hair. Beneath it a transparent mask of horizontal shadow was penetrated by the eyes of an hypnosis; flat disks of smoked mirror, having the selfsame semblance of looking into and out of oneself as her creator.
Perhaps in a superfine analysis, this is what all men really do, but as a natural interplay; whereas Insel and his picture were doing it with alternating intent. Indeed the great thin uninscribed coins of her gunmetal pupils, returning his fascinated gaze, were tilted at such an angle as to give a dimly illuminated reflection of an inner and outer darkness.
Her hands, as if nailed to her hips like crossed swords, jutted out from her body which seemed to be composed of rippling lava that here and there hardened to indentations like holly leaves growing from her sternum—her male hands that hardly made a pair, for the one had the bones of the back marked all of equal length and the other, one finger too long with an unmodeled edge which curved like paper against the background.
He hung over die Irma like a tall insect and outside the window in the rotten rose of an asphyxiated sunset the skeleton phallus of the Eiffel Tower reared in the distance as slim as himself.
Beside the picture I noticed that the gutter of his upper lip was interrupted by a seam, a fine thread of flesh running from the base of the nose to his mouth that accentuated the compression of his lips in their continual retention of the one remaining tooth which, so thin as to be atavistic in an adult, was like a stump forgotten in a croquet ground, left over from the Game of Life. An incipience or reparation of harelip? And Irma? In this very same spot she puffed to a swollen convergence.
“But Insel,” I asked, “her upper lip is about to burst with some inavowable disease. You have formed her of pus. Her body has already melted.”
“Exactly,” he answered with mysterious satisfaction. “I don’t care for it,” I decided.
“And I,” said Insel, with the reverent intonement with which he accompanied his tacitly implied admittance of myself to his holy-of-holies, “thought that this picture would be just the one that you would like.”
Time hovered, suspended in the attic air as the powders of life in the noxious mist of the exhausted city below. When suddenly the soporific lure he sowed in his magnetic field—shattered. Insel was snatching at the emptied flesh on his face in the recurrent anxiety inspiring his wilder gestures.
“She ought not to be,” he cried out, “if you don’t like her, I am going to destroy her.”
His cerebral excitement seemed to inflate his head, rather as a balloon from which his wasted body hung in slight levitation.
“Come down to the floor, for God’s sake,” I said peremptorily. “What does my opinion matter? I ’m not the museum.”
“But you’re right,” he insisted. “I have been going in the wrong direction. Die Irmas out.”
“And don’t use me as a sop for your terror of working.”
“It’s really not that—but a technical question. Die Irma ist nass.”
“She isn’t, she’s bone dry. I felt her.”
“I assure you, underneath—”
“Every time I’ve come to Paris you’ve said the same thing. Pull yourself together Insel, you’ve got to finish this for the museum. For you it’s work or death. Can’t you figure it out?” I urged helpfully— “When you have money and can eat you paint a picture so as to have more money— when you haven’t any more money.”
“It’s more complicated than that,” he objected again, “die Irma is wet—”
I was getting exasperated— When the balls of our eyes caught each other, we both began to laugh.
“If you had heard the Lesbian’s synopsis of Frank Harris’s confessions, you wouldn’t even trouble to mention it—.”
“I shouldn’t care to read this Lesbian’s confessions—it is a Lesbian who has taken the love of my life away from me.”
“Well now, I wouldn’t mention that either. Of course, it does not matter with me—anybody can tell me anything—you know what I mean—when you surrender your arms, chuck them onto neutral territory. I know it’s a touch that modernizes your romanticism; all the same, I’d advise you never to make that particular confidence to a woman ‘ou connaît ça.’”
But Insel was past advice. With a look of dogged emptiness he recited for the nth time the story of those Mädchen who shut themselves into the house for a fortnight for fear he would shoot them.”
Mostly when speaking of his loves of the past he became quite normal; subnormal really, for his adventures in the actual world had been of an excruciating banality.
As I was also engaged for dinner, I asked the time. Insel who was sitting on a wooden stool stretched out his arm—it reached much further than its actual length would warrant.
Behind the curtain in the corner, carefully secreted under empty boxes, neatly stacked, was his wristwatch. He did not bring it out—his arm seemed in some Einsteinian contraction to shorten the necessary distance for focusing the hands.
It was seven o’clock. I took my leave. Insel, astonished as if this were the first break in a timeless conversation, snapped in half; or at least bowed like a poplar in a sudden gale; his dessicated limbs the branches.
Staring vainly towards the door I was opening—he choked in the voice of a Robot, “Morgen komm ich im Gericht. Tomorrow I go to court—I am going mad!”
Then don’t forget your little afternoon,” I reminded him— “I dote on madmen.”
As I was leaving, he seized his palette and dripping an enormous brush into a pile of ebony pigment painted with a heinous neigh of victory, “Die Irma—Out!”

Mina Loy,1882-1966  Insel, 1937. First published October 1st 1991 by Black Sparrow Press

Image: Richard Oelze,1900-1980

A novel that follows an autobiographical relationship between, the character of the Loy narrator, Mrs. Jones, and the painter, Insel, based on the German Surrealist painter Richard Oelze. Mrs. Jones, is a writer in Paris, who also collects art for a New York gallery. The ethereal narrative represents an attempt to create a surrealist non-linear way of seeing the world. “It was the evening outside the Lutetia I experienced its effects. A sort of doubling of space where different selves lived different ways in different dimensions at once. Sitting on the sidewalk—floating in an Atlantic Ocean full of skyscrapers and ethereal cars.” To a background of daily life in the artist’s studio in Paris Mrs. Jones’s attempts to understand and articulate the superreal thought process of the Surrealist mind.  “Insel,” I asked puzzled, “how does the world look to you? Like an Aquarium?”

Albert Camus – Jonas, ou l’artiste au travail, 1957 The Artist at Work

Albert Camus 1913-1960

The following day Jonas went out very early. It was raining. When he returned, wet to the skin, he was loaded down with boards. At home, two old friends, come to ask after him, were drinking coffee in the big room. “Jonas is changing his technique. He’s going to paint on wood!” they said. Jonas smiled. “That’s not it. But I am beginning something new.” He went into the little hall leading to the shower-room, the toilet, and the kitchen. In the right angle where the two halls joined, he stopped and studied at length the high walls rising to the dark ceiling. He needed a stepladder, which he went down and got from the concierge.

When he came back up, there were several additional people in the apartment, and he had to struggle against the affection of his visitors, delighted to find him again, and against his family’s questions in order to reach the end of the hall. At that moment his wife came out of the kitchen. Setting down his ladder, Jonas hugged her against him. Louise looked at him. “Please,” she said, “never do it again.” “No, no,” Jonas said, “I’m going to paint. I must paint.” But he seemed to be talking to himself, for he was looking elsewhere. He got to work. Half-way up the walls he built a flooring to get a sort of narrow, but high and deep, loft. By the late afternoon, all was finished. With the help of the ladder, Jonas hung from the floor of the loft and, to test the solidity of his work, chinned himself several times. Then he mingled with the others and everyone was delighted to find him so friendly again. In the evening, when the apartment was relatively empty, Jonas got an oil lamp, a chair, a stool, and a frame. He took them all up into the loft before the puzzled gaze of the three women and the children. “Now,” he said from his lofty perch, “I’ll be able to work without being in anyone’s way.” Louise asked him if he were sure of it. “Of course,” he replied. “I don’t need much room. I’ll be freer. There have been great painters who painted by candlelight, and . . .” “Is the floor solid enough?” It was. “Don’t worry,” Jonas said, “it’s a very good solution.” And he came back down.

Very early the next day he climbed into the loft, sat down, set the frame on the stool against the wall, and waited without lighting the lamp. The only direct sounds he heard came from the kitchen or the toilet. The other noises seemed distant, and the visits, the ringing of the doorbell and the telephone, the comings and goings, the conversations, reached him half muffled, as if they came from out on the street or from the farther court. Besides, although the whole apartment was overflowing with blinding sunlight, the darkness here was restful. From time to time a friend would come and plant himself under the loft. “What are you doing up there, Jonas?” “I’m working.” “Without light?” “Yes, for the moment.” He was not painting, but he was meditating. In the darkness and this half-silence which, by contrast with what he had known before, seemed to him the silence of the desert or of the tomb, he listened to his own heart. The sounds that reached the loft seemed not to concern him anymore, even when addressed to him. He was like those men who die alone at home in their sleep, and in the morning the telephone rings, feverish and insistent, in the deserted house, over a body forever deaf. But he was alive, he listened to this silence within himself, he was waiting for his star, still hidden but ready to rise again, to burst forth at last, unchanged and unchanging, above the disorder of these empty days. “Shine, shine,” he said. “Don’t deprive me of your light.” It would shine again, of that he was sure. But he would have to meditate still longer, since at last the chance was given him to be alone without separating from his family. He still had to discover what he had not yet clearly understood, although he had always known it and had always painted as if he knew it. He had to grasp at last that secret which was not merely the secret of art, as he could now see. That is why he didn’t light the lamp.

Every day now Jonas would climb back into his loft. The visitors became less numerous because Louise, preoccupied, paid little attention to the conversation. Jonas would come down for meals and then climb back to his perch. He would sit motionless in the darkness all day long. At night he would go to his wife, who was already in bed. After a few days he asked Louise to hand up his lunch, which she did with such pains that Jonas was stirred. In order not to disturb her on other occasions, he suggested her preparing some supplies that he could store in the loft. Little by little he got to the point of not coming down all day long. But he hardly touched his supplies.

One evening he called Louise and asked for some blankets. “I’ll spend the night up here.” Louise looked at him with her head bent backward. She opened her mouth and then said nothing. She was merely scrutinizing Jonas with a worried and sad expression. He suddenly saw how much she had aged and how deeply the trials of their life had marked her too. It occurred to him that he had never really helped her. But before he could say a word, she smiled at him with an affection that wrung his heart. “Just as you say, dear,” she said.

Henceforth he spent his nights in the loft, almost never coming down any more. As a result, the apartment was emptied of visitors since Jonas couldn’t be seen any more either by day or night. Some were told that he was in the country; others, when lying became an effort, that he had found a studio. Rateau alone came faithfully. He would climb up on the ladder until his big, friendly head was just over the level of the flooring. “How goes it?” he would ask. “Wonderfully.” “Are you working?” “It comes to the same thing.” “But you have no canvas!” “I’m working just the same.” It was hard to prolong this dialogue from ladder to loft. Rateau would shake his head, come back down, help Louise replace fuses or repair a lock, then, without climbing onto the ladder, say good night to Jonas, who would reply in the darkness: “So long, old boy.” One evening Jonas added thanks to his goodnight. “Why thanks?” “Because you love me.” “That’s really news!” Rateau said as he left.

Another evening Jonas called Rateau, who came running. The lamp was lighted for the first time. Jonas was leaning, with a tense look, out of the loft. “Hand me a canvas,” he said. “But what’s the matter with you? You’re so much thinner; you look like a ghost.” “I’ve hardly eaten for the last two days. But that doesn’t matter. I must work.” “Eat first.” “No, I’m not hungry.” Rateau brought a canvas. On the point of disappearing into the loft, Jonas asked him: “How are they?” “Who?” “Louise and the children.” “They’re all right. They’d be better if you were with them.” “I’m still with them. Tell them above all that I’m still with them.” And he disappeared. Rateau came and told Louise how worried he was. She admitted that she herself had been anxious for several days. “What can we do? Oh, if only I could work in his place!” Wretched, she faced Rateau. “I can’t live without him,” she said. She looked like the girl she had been, and this surprised Rateau. He suddenly realized that she had blushed.

The lamp stayed lighted all night and all the next morning. To those who came, Rateau or Louise, Jonas answered merely: “Forget it, I’m working.” At noon he asked for some kerosene. The lamp, which had been smoking, again shone brightly until evening. Rateau stayed to dinner with Louise and the children. At midnight he went to say goodnight to Jonas. Under the still lighted loft he waited a moment, then went away without saying a word. On the morning of the second day, when Louise got up, the lamp was still lighted.

A beautiful day was beginning, but Jonas was not aware of it. He had turned the canvas against the wall. Exhausted, he was sitting there waiting, with his hands, palms up, on his knees. He told himself that now he would never again work, he was happy. He heard his children grumbling, water running, and the dishes clinking together. Louise was talking. The huge windows rattled as a truck passed on the boulevard. The world was still there, young and lovable. Jonas listened to the welcome murmur rising from mankind. From such a distance, it did not run counter to that joyful strength within him, his art, these forever silent thoughts he could not express but which set him above all things, in a free and crisp air. The children were running through the apartment, the little girl was laughing, Louise too now, and he hadn’t heard her laugh for so long. He loved them! How he loved them! He put out the lamp and, in the dark-ness that suddenly returned, right there! wasn’t that his star still shining? It was the star, he recognized it with his heart full of gratitude, and he was still watching it when he fell, without a sound.

“It’s nothing,” the doctor they had called declared a little later. “He is working too much. In a week he will be on his feet again.” “You are sure he will get well?” asked Louise with distorted face. “He will get well.” In the other room Rateau was looking at the canvas, completely blank, in the centre of which Jonas had merely written in very small letters a word that could be made out, but without any certainty as to whether it should be read solitaire or solidaire.

Albert Camus, 1913-1960.    Jonas, ou l’artiste au travail, in, L’Exil et le royaume, 1957 The Artist at Work, in, Exile and the Kingdom

Originally published in France as L’Exil et le royaume, 1957 ©Librarie Gallimard. Translated by Justin O’Brien, 1957

Image: Albert Camus 1913-1960