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Posts Tagged ‘painters’

Come Here, Beloved
 New Fresh Beautiful Tale of a Painter

November 4, 2015 | by

Gustav Klimt, Die Freundinnen (The Girlfriends) (detail), 1916.

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 Walser wrote it in October or November 1924; it was unpublished in his lifetime.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.

Vermeer in Manhattan

August 4, 2015 | by

Johannes Vermeer, A Maid Asleep, oil on canvas, 1656–7, 2' 6" x 2' 10".

“Imagine you lost everything that really mattered to you, and then you had a dream, and in that dream you found out that you never really lost it, because it can’t be taken away from you. That’s how Vermeer makes me feel.”

The poet Michael White was trying to explain to me his obsession with Johannes Vermeer—with his psychologically charged interiors and enigmatic female figures. Michael’s fascination arose from a chance encounter with the artist’s work in Amsterdam, where he had gone to distract himself from a divorce so destructive that it had left him deeply depressed, feeling as if he would live out the rest of his life alone.

Though I was working with him at a university in North Carolina, I didn’t know him well enough at the time to understand the emotional hardship he was going through—or that his experience in the Rijksmuseum with Vermeer’s quietly ambiguous images had led him to travel the world on a quest to see every one of the master’s paintings. In fact, none of that was clear to me until I read his new memoir, Travels in Vermeer, a book that’s part travelogue, part meditation on the meaning of art. Read More »

Fell That Fairy, and Other News

March 10, 2015 | by


Richard Dadd, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (detail), 1855–64.

  • The Warburg Institute, which dates to 1900, is one of Britain’s most peculiar libraries; in its radically open stacks, astrological guides sidle up to astronomy textbooks and science lives with magic. “In the past several years, the Warburg’s future has been fiercely contested. It is in some senses a small and parochial struggle, right out of Trollope’s Barchester novels, and in others about something very big—about the future of private visions within public institutions, about what memory is and what we owe it, about how to tell when an original vision has become merely an eccentric one.”
  • Richard Dadd was a promising British painter who went insane in the 1840s. He made his painting The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke in an asylum. “It is an exhaustingly complex image, with a substantial cast of characters, none of whom are doing much … If the Fairy Feller were a work intended for critical interpretation, which it probably was not, then we might talk of the suspended action with which the seed was to be split; the deferred moment of sex; the mutual isolation of the groups of figures suggesting the impossibility of generating a family or a community; and we might connect these themes to Dadd’s awareness of his own position as a long-stay patient in London’s high-security lunatic asylum.”
  • The art of the continuation novel: Why do dead authors’ estates hire contemporary writers to imitate them? “The value of characters … often exceeds the value of an author’s original texts … In recent years Sebastian Faulks has written as P.G. Wodehouse, William Boyd as Ian Fleming, Sophie Hannah as Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz as Arthur Conan Doyle, and more … The literary brand, today, is a managed and controlled phenomenon. A dead author’s reach on social media (managed by their estate or publisher) can be vast. The person or people who control Socrates’ Facebook page have access to nearly 1.5 million people.”
  • “Good metaphors force you to think about the things they reference in fresh ways. There aren’t very many good ones, though. They’re mostly concocted for the purpose of coercing you into changing your opinion. They annoy and distract rather than illuminate.”
  • On the Underground Man, everyone’s favorite antihero: “Certainly, the author identified strongly with his protagonist, calling him the ‘real man of the Russian majority.’ Dostoevsky rejected the idea that people act in accordance to reason or their best interests and asserted the need for them to be able to behave as they choose, without fitting into Enlightenment ideas of ‘progress.’ ”

Entirely New Problems

May 6, 2014 | by


The Archers, 1935-37

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Snowy landscape_-_1930

Snowy Landscape, 1930

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Tavern 1909

Tavern, 1909

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_View_of_Basel_and_the_Rhine 1927-8

View of Basel and the Rhine, 1927-28

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Violett House in frront of a snowy mountain_-_1938

Violet House in Front of a Snowy Mountain, 1938

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Self portrait as a sick person_1918-1

Self-Portrait as a Sick Person, 1918-19


Sitting Woman, 1907


Naked Playing People, 1910-11


Landscape in Graubünden with Sun Rays, year unknown

Kirchner_-_Selbstbildnis_als_Soldat 1915

Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915


Vier Holzplastiken, 1912

Apropos Sadie’s piece about “degenerate art”: today marks the birthday of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of many German expressionist painters whose work the Nazis filed under that dread “degenerate” rubric. Kirchner, who was born in Bavaria, suffered a breakdown when he was serving in World War I; he was plagued with health problems for the rest of his life, and spent much of his time in Davos. In 1937, the Germans destroyed or sold more than six hundred of Kirchner’s works; from Switzerland, he wrote,

Here we have been hearing terrible rumors about torture of the Jews, but it’s all surely untrue. I’m a little tired and sad about the situation up there. There is a war in the air. In the museums, the hard-won cultural achievements of the last twenty years are being destroyed, and yet the reason why we founded the Brücke was to encourage truly German art, made in Germany. And now it is supposed to be un-German. Dear God. It does upset me.

In 1938, fearing that Germany would annex Switzerland, Kirchner shot himself. The Kirchner Museum, in Davos, offers a fifteen-page biography of the artist—a remarkable, if sorrowful, read, full of suffering and exile. I was struck foremost by this prefatory note—intended to introduce his 1922 exhibition in Frankfurt—which Kirchner wrote himself under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle. It finds the painter somewhat desperately planting the idea that he’s reinvented himself, that his illness, and his new life outside Germany, have only bolstered his work. He seems bent on convincing himself of his success as much as anyone else:

The bleak and yet so intimate nature of the mountains has had an enormous impact on the painter. It has deepened his love for his subjects and at the same time purged his vision of everything that is secondary. Nothing inessential appears in the paintings, but how delicately every detail is worked out! The creative thought emerges strongly and nakedly from the finished work. Kirchner is now so taken up with entirely new problems that one cannot apply the old criteria to him if one is to do justice to his work. Those who wish to classify him on the strength of his German paintings will be both disappointed and surprised. Far from destroying him, his serious illness has matured him. Besides his work on visible life, creativity stemming solely from the imagination has opened up its vast potential to him—for this the brief span of his life will probably be far from sufficient.