Come here, beloved new fresh beautiful tale of a painter, let me pacify you. I should like to bring up certain sensitivities with you. I do expect to elicit indignation. The painter’s wife wore wondrously pretty little knickers and had the most enchanting wrists and kneecaps. Her limbs were of a shimmering smoothness, slenderness, and purity, and now this marvel of a painterly spouse encountered the lady of a manor. “Oh, my dear girl,” said the lady, “won’t you please show me your assuredly darling sweet knickers?” The wifey instantly responded to this request, displaying her knickers, whereupon the tiller of the soil took it upon herself to reciprocate, displaying in her turn that which had been carefully hidden. The two exhibitrixes and assuagers of curiosity threw themselves with expressions of delight upon each others’ breasts. The lady of the manor said to the painter’s wife: “Do introduce me to your husband so that he can paint me in all my manor-lady splendor.” As the painter, whose name was Zahler, beheld these two knickerbocktrixes knickering in his direction, it dawned on him at once that a commission might be forthcoming. The gran’dame threw herself imposingly upon a velvet armchair that, with its presence, adorned the painter’s studio. “Your so amiable wife,” said she, “will frequently be found in my vicinity, and you, my dear portraitist, will frequently be moved to sigh a bit on this account, to calm yourself.” At once the painter set to work, valiantly swabbing away, and one can certainly declare his picture of the manor lady eminently successful with regard to color and form. A knickers anthem rang out jubilantly in the agricultural soul. The painter patiently embraced the sound. And the charming specimen of painterly wifeliness smiled.
This piece appears in Robert Walser’s Looking at Pictures, out this month from Christine Burgin / New Directions. Walser wrote it in October or November 1924; it was unpublished in his lifetime. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.
The New Museum will host a celebration of Robert Walser on November 12.