Hannah Höch – Der Maler, 1920 The Painter

Stamp of Fantasy

Once upon a time there was a painter. He wasn’t called Dribble, or anything like that, as he might have been in earlier times. It was around 1920—the painter was a modern painter—so his name was Heavenlykingdom. Unlike the real painters of earlier times, he was not asked to work only with brush and palette. This was his wife’s fault: she thwarted the boundless flight of his genius. At least four times in four years, he was forced to wash dishes – the kitchen dishes. The first time, actually, there had been a pressing reason. She was giving birth to the baby Heavenlykingdom. The other three times had not seemed absolutely necessary to Heavenlykingdom, Sr. But he wanted to keep the peace—because after all God had created the male to do just that and so had no choice but to obey her Xanthippian demand. Yet the matter continued to weigh on him. He felt degraded as a man and as a painter under its dark shadow. On the days of crisis he would suffer nightmares. He kept seeing Michelangelo washing up the cups. He knew enough about psychoanalysis to confront the woman with the truth that such demands always arise out of the desire to dominate, no matter what other reasons there might be. As a modern person he felt that in theory he had to agree with the equality of the sexes—still, if one looked closely at the situation one could not—and then, especially in your own house—her demand seemed to him comparable to an enslavement of his soul …

Now one day he began to paint a picture. A dark force moved him, because he was full of dark forces. He wanted to represent, to cube really, the essential likeness between the nature of chives and the female soul. In theory the whole problem was solved. He saw the emptiness that fills both these objects precisely and with total intellectual clarity. There is more to genius than intellect, however, and, when he connected the herb’s snake-like form with the previously mentioned soul, his unusually developed instinct gave him mystical knowledge. No genius would deny a certain complement of mysticism.

Our Heavenlykingdom was deeply wounded by something he had also heard about from his fellow men: although these little women are often really tiny, they can still not be shaped and modelled into the form one needs for physical and psychic comfort. Had he been a writer, he would have been compelled to enrich literature with a ponderous work on the theme, “When you go to Woman, do not forget the whip.” But under the circumstances that you know about now, his painting was to be called, “The Chive and the Female Soul: A Comparison.” I think it was already announced for exhibition, while the canvas still shone blankly, spotlessly receptive. One has to do everything in good time. Gotthold—that was Heavenly kingdom’s first name—suffered under the female soul in the totality of his manhood. And we all need to confront what makes us suffer. No wonder, then, that Heavenlykingdom (secretly) began to think of himself as on a level with a redeemer—let’s admit it, with Christ—because of the likeness he has discovered.

But you have to imagine the painting properly—as it were, a scientifically dissected representation—the female soul, totally clear in a segmented cubist painting—so that everyone able to adopt an abstract point of view could read, there she is, that’s her innermost being. And next to that the analogy and parallel: chives. Wouldn’t everyone see it as clear as day? We also know that when we recognize what ails us, we are cured. So what perspectives would open up with the creation of this painting? Wouldn’t the most burning question of our time be solved? Yet we have had to admit too often that theory and practice don’t coincide. He had worked on his picture for two years and two days already. He laboured and laboured mightily, unable to advance beyond the chives. In the first place, the painting remained green. As soon as he used a different colour, the disturbance that resulted was so great that he covered it with green again. For a while he thought that the treacherous female soul (treachery no doubt its most important element alongside emptiness) could appear as a cubist lemon-yellow spiral among the green—a shape more or less like one of those sofa-springs that winds crookedly upward. But alas, painting is colour as well as form. The yellow refused to meld with the massive green of his chive allegory. He had no choice but to remove the winding spiral. A painter must remain enough of an aesthete to refuse to paint badly for the sake of his idea. The same thing happened with the composition. He tried and tried, even falling into trances, but nothing beyond the dull repetitive up-and-down of the chive motif would develop. Over and over again he hoped to fix the damnable female soul in a fluted doughnut-shape. But his eye remained objective and told him the truth without pity: this fretwork muddies the powerful melody of the chive movement. His most intimate friend, looking at the painting, remarked that it had the kind of power that liberated itself in an overwhelming sense of bore … No, that’s not what he said. He said, liberates itself in sameness. Then he decided with a heavy heart to abandon the female soul and to devote himself only to chives from now on.

A month later, and the President, who has just opened the exhibition, is propelling his presidential belly around the myriad chambers that display the works of all the painters of the realm. Suddenly he stops. His face displays emotion. His entourage observes closely. He begins to speak. “A masterpiece,” he stammers. “Has my administration ever produced anything better?” He questioned everyone around him. All that green – what can it remind me of? His adjutant (unless an assistant goes by another name in a Republic) suggested helpfully, “Of the revolution? Of the revolution, my President?”

Absolutely right. The revolution.”

They say the State bought the painting for the National Gallery. They say that when its creator was asked for the title, he omitted mention of the chives and proudly called it “The Female Soul. ” They say Gotthold Heavenlykingdom will be the next candidate for a Nobel Prize.

Hannah Höch, 1889-1978 – Der Maler, 1920 The Painter

Images; Hannah Höch.  Da Dandy, 1919. collage, 34.3 x 45.0cms. Bridgeman-Giraudon / Art Resource, NY © ARS, NY. Private Collection, Berlin

Hannah Höch.  Die Kokette 1, 1923-25. collage, 18.5 x 20.5 cms

In this bitter and amusing short story Hannah Höch describes the ego of the male painter, Gotthold Himmelreich, which translates as God-Beloved-Heavenly-Kingdom, who seeks to capture “the essential likeness between the nature of chives and the female soul” in a painting entitled, Das Schnittlauch und die Seele des Weibes (ein Vergleich) –The Chives and the Female Soul (a comparison).

Hannah Höch studied at the Berlin School of Applied Arts from 1912 and the Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin from 1915, where she met artist Raoul Hausmann. She contributed to the Berlin Dada Group and exhibited at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920. Höch’s work was defined as degenerate (Entartete Kunst/Degenerate Art) in Germany during the 1930s. Höch’s work has been exhibited internationally with a retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Berlin Nationalgalerie in 1976.

A A Milne – The Painter, 1912

MR. PAUL SAMWAYS was in a mood of deep depression. The artistic temperament is peculiarly subject to these moods, but in Paul’s case there was reason why he should take a gloomy view of things. His masterpiece, “The Shot Tower from Battersea Bridge,” together with the companion picture, “Battersea Bridge from the Shot Tower,” had been purchased by a dealer for seventeen and sixpence. His sepia monochrome, “Night,” had brought him an I.O.U. for five shillings. These were his sole earnings for the last six weeks, and starvation stared him in the face.

“If only I had a little capital!” he cried aloud in despair. “Enough to support me until my Academy picture is finished.” His Academy picture was a masterly study entitled, “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll,” and he had been compelled to stop half-way across the Channel through sheer lack of ultramarine.

The clock struck two, reminding him that he had not lunched. He rose wearily and went to the little cupboard which served as a larder. There was but little there to make a satisfying meal–half a loaf of bread, a corner of cheese, and a small tube of Chinese-white. Mechanically he set the things out….

He had finished, and was clearing away, when there came a knock at the door. His charwoman, whose duty it was to clean his brushes every week, came in with a card.

“A lady to see you, sir,” she said.

Paul read the card in astonishment.

“The Duchess of Winchester,” he exclaimed. “What on earth–Show her in, please.” Hastily picking up a brush and the first tube which came to hand, he placed himself in a dramatic position before his easel and set to work.

“How do you do, Mr Samways?” said the

Duchess.

“G–good-afternoon,” said Paul, embarrassed both by the presence of a duchess in his studio and by his sudden discovery that he was touching up a sunset with a tube of carbolic tooth-paste.

“Our mutual friend, Lord Ernest Topwood, recommended me to come to you.”

Paul, who had never met Lord Ernest, but had once seen his name in a ha’penny paper beneath a photograph of Mr Arnold Bennett, bowed silently.

“As you probably guess, I want you to paint my daughter’s portrait.”

Paul opened his mouth to say that he was only a landscape painter, and then closed it again. After all, it was hardly fair to bother her Grace with technicalities.

“I hope you can undertake this commission,” she said pleadingly.

“I shall be delighted,” said Paul. “I am rather busy just now, but I could begin at two o’clock on Monday.”

“Excellent,” said the Duchess. “Till Monday, then.” And Paul, still clutching the tooth-paste, conducted her to her carriage.

Punctually at 3.15 on Monday Lady Hermione appeared. Paul drew a deep breath of astonishment when he saw her, for she was lovely beyond compare. All his skill as a landscape painter would be needed if he were to do justice to her beauty. As quickly as possible he placed her in position and set to work.

“May I let my face go for a moment?” said Lady Hermione after three hours of it.

“Yes, let us stop,” said Paul. He had outlined her in charcoal and burnt cork, and it would be too dark to do any more that evening.

“Tell me where you first met Lord Ernest?” she asked as she came down to the fire.

“At the Savoy, in June,” said Paul boldly.

Lady Hermione laughed merrily. Paul, who had not regarded his last remark as one of his best things, looked at her in surprise.

“But your portrait of him was in the Academy in May!” she smiled.

Paul made up his mind quickly.

“Lady Hermione,” he said with gravity, “do not speak to me of Lord Ernest again. Nor,” he added hurriedly, “to Lord Ernest of me. When your picture is finished I will tell you why. Now it is time you went.” He woke the Duchess up, and made a few commonplace remarks about the weather. “Remember,” he whispered to Lady Hermione as he saw them to their car. She nodded and smiled.

The sittings went on daily. Sometimes Paul would paint rapidly with great sweeps of the brush; sometimes he would spend an hour trying to get on his palette the exact shade of green bice for the famous Winchester emeralds; sometimes in despair he would take a sponge and wipe the whole picture out, and then start madly again. And sometimes he would stop work altogether and tell Lady Hermione about his home-life in Worcestershire. But always, when he woke the Duchess up at the end of the sitting, he would say, “Remember!” and Lady Hermione would nod back at him.

It was a spring-like day in March when the picture was finished, and nothing remained to do but to paint in the signature.

“It is beautiful!” said Lady Hermione, with enthusiasm. “Beautiful! Is it at all like me?”

Paul looked from her to the picture, and back to her again.

“No,” he said, “not a bit. You know, I am really a landscape painter.”

“What do you mean?” she cried. “You are Peter Samways, A.R.A., the famous portrait painter!”

“No,” he said sadly. “That was my secret. I am Paul Samways. A member of the Amateur Rowing Association, it is true, but only an unknown landscape painter. Peter Samways lives in the next studio, and he is not even a relation.”

“Then you have deceived me! You have brought me here under false pretences!” She stamped her foot angrily. “My father will not buy that picture, and I forbid you to exhibit it as a portrait of myself.”

“My dear Lady Hermione,” said Paul, “you need not be alarmed. I propose to exhibit the picture as ‘When the Heart is Young.’ Nobody will recognize a likeness to you in it. And if the Duke does not buy it I have no doubt that some other purchaser will come along.”

Lady Hermione looked at him thoughtfully. “Why did you do it?” she asked gently.

“Because I fell in love with you.”

She dropped her eyes, and then raised them gaily to his. “Mother is still asleep,” she whispered.

“Hermione!” he cried, dropping his palette and putting his brush behind his ear.

She held out her arms to him.

. . . . . . .

As everybody remembers, “When the Heart is Young,” by Paul Samways, was the feature of the Exhibition. It was bought for 10,000 pounds by a retired bottle manufacturer, whom it reminded a little of his late mother. Paul woke to find himself famous. But the success which began for him from this day did not spoil his simple and generous nature. He never forgot his brother artists, whose feet were not yet on the top of the ladder. Indeed, one of his first acts after he was married was to give a commission to Peter Samways, A.R.A.–nothing less than the painting of his wife’s portrait. And Lady Hermione was delighted with the result.

AA Milne, 1882-1956

The Painter, (The Holiday Round), 1912

Image: Octave TassaertInterior of a Studio, 1845 © Louvre