The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Le Pater

July 24, 2014 | by

4384259187_45afbd1809_o

In 1899, Alphonse Mucha, a progenitor of Art Nouveau, published Le Pater, an illustrated edition of the Lord’s Prayer embellished in his sinuous, faintly occult style. Mucha, who was born today in 1860, made only 510 copies of the book, which he considered his masterwork. According to the Mucha Foundation,

Mucha conceived this project at a turning point in his career … [he] was at that time increasingly dissatisfied with unending commercial commissions and was longing for an artistic work with a more elevated mission. He was also influenced by his long-standing interest in Spiritualism since the early 1890s and, above all, by Masonic philosophy … the pursuit of a deeper Truth beyond the visible world. Through his spiritual journey Mucha came to believe that the three virtues—Beauty, Truth and Love—were the ‘cornerstones’ of humanity and that the dissemination of this message through his art would contribute towards the improvement of human life and, eventually, the progress of mankind.

Whether or not you buy into Mucha’s spiritual ambition—and I must admit that I don’t—his illustrations are striking in their depth and detail, with a certain haunted, diaphanous quality that would be imitated, if never duplicated, throughout the twentieth century, right on up to those ponderous Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” black-light posters that continue to grace all too many dorm rooms. As the artist Alan Carroll explains,

in the 1870s and 1880s, so many American artists went to study in Paris (e.g. Sargent, Whistler, Cassatt, Eakins, Homer) because American academic training at the time was generally considered so inadequate. Combine this with a mesmeric American fascination with the Old World, and we can begin to see why Mucha’s early trips to the States were so rapturously received. And yet Mucha seemed reluctant to lap up the attention that the gentry and grandes dames of American Society were determined to bestow. Indeed, he was sick and tired of his obligations, as evidenced in a hilariously melodramatic letter he wrote in 1904: “You’ve no idea how often I am crushed almost to blood by the cogwheels of this life, by this torrent which has got hold of me, robbing me of my time and forcing me to do things that are so alien to those I dream about.”

Something of that crushed-to-blood quality comes through in Le Pater, whose fascination with the otherworldly is predicated on a kind of desperation: There must be something more, right?

You can see more of Le Pater on Carroll’s blog, Surface Fragments.

Lepatermucha005

NO COMMENTS

The Making of an American

May 14, 2014 | by

Carl Van Vechten shaped and burnished the legend of Gertrude Stein.

G Stein Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten’s iconic 1935 portrait of Gertrude Stein

This year marks the centenary of the publication of Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein’s collection of experimental still-life word portraits split into the categories of objects, food, and rooms, and which—excluding a vanity publication in 1909, which she paid for herself—was the first of Stein’s work to be published in the United States. Stein had hoped that this enigmatic little book would be her big break, the thing to convince the American people of her genius. That was not to be. Tender Buttons left critics bemused and made barely a dent on the consciousness of the wider reading public. There was no great clamor for more of her writing; Stein would have to wait another twenty years to become a household name. Nevertheless, the publication of Tender Buttons is now widely regarded as a landmark in American literary modernism, the moment when one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century first unfurled her avant-garde sensibilities before the American public.

That moment would never have arrived had it not been for the work of Stein’s most important champion, Carl Van Vechten, the man who arranged for the book’s publication. Little remembered today, Van Vechten was a pioneering arts critic, a popular author of tart, brittle novels about Manhattan’s Jazz-Age excesses, an acclaimed photographer, and a flamboyant socialite whose daring interracial cocktail parties were a defining part of Prohibition-era New York’s social scene. But his greatest legacy is as a promoter of many underappreciated American writers, artists, and performers who went on to gain canonical status. Names as diverse as Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and Herman Melville all felt the effects of Van Vechten’s boost. His first great cause was Gertrude Stein. He did more than anyone else to carve her legend into the edifice of the American Century, arranging publishing deals for her, photographing her, and publicizing her work, a task he continued long after her death.

Stein knew how crucial Van Vechten was to her career—not merely in the practical aspects of getting her work into print, read, and discussed, but in helping create and disseminate the mythology that surrounds her name. “I always wanted to be historical, almost from a baby on,” Stein freely admitted toward the end of her life. “Carl was one of the earliest ones that made me be certain that I was going to be.” Van Vechten and Stein were strikingly different, led wildly different lives. Hers was rooted in the domestic stability she enjoyed with her partner Alice B. Toklas; his was an exhausting whirl of binges, parties, and pansexual escapades. But they had two crucial things in common: the conviction that Gertrude Stein was an irrefutable genius and a love of mythmaking, an obsession with re-scripting reality until they became the central actors in the fantastical scenes that unfolded in their heads. When Stein played fast and loose with the facts in her memoirs, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, many were furious over her distortions. But Van Vechten understood that telling the literal truth about her life—or anybody else’s—was never Stein’s concern. Read More »

19 COMMENTS

All the Colors in One Convenient Location, and Other News

May 7, 2014 | by

colors-4

From A. Boogert’s Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau, 1692. Image via Colossal

  • In the late seventeenth century, long before the age of Sherwin Williams and Pantone, a Dutch artist known as A. Boogert (!) compiled Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau, an eight-hundred-page compendium of paint and color.
  • The literary critic Randall Jarrell also wrote five children’s books—several of them illustrated by Maurice Sendak. “The Bat-Poet is the sweetish story of a bat who longs to stay up during the day and sing the song of the mockingbird; to his delight, he discovers that he himself can be a songster … ‘on the willow’s highest branch, monopolizing / Day and night, cheeping, squeaking, soaring / The mockingbird is imitating life.’”
  • Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has acquired Harlequin, whose romances offer “empathetic insight into contemporary cultures.”
  • EBay is launching a “digital magazine” at “the intersection of retail and publishing.” The president of eBay marketplaces, Devin Wenig, says, “We’re now in the content business … for the first time, eBay has a voice. We’re telling stories. We have an editor. We have curators. And we have writers on-staff.  You’ll see that evolve to some longer-form stories, some really beautiful pictures... It’s media-like.” He adds: “We’re entering a post-mobile age now,” he said. “Mobile is so important that it’s almost silly to talk about mobile.” (By the way, did you know The Paris Review has recently unveiled our new mobile site?)
  • In Paris, to “lock in their love,” tourist couples put locks on the Pont des Arts and other bridges—which would be an innocuous tradition, as far as these things go, except it makes the bridges ugly and dangerous. Two unlikely Americans are trying to end the practice.

NO COMMENTS

Solitude & Company, Part 2

April 22, 2014 | by

Gabriel_Garcia_Marquez_12

Márquez in 1984. Photo by F3rn4nd0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the second of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.

III

JOSÉ SALGAR: Gabo came to El Espectador with a bit of fame, but when he arrived it was the same as any ordinary reporter. He was a bit uncouth; he was from the coast, a hick, and very shy. He would arrive with bags under his eyes and his hair uncombed because he had been writing that thing. I told him we couldn’t work like that. I would tell him to wring the swan’s neck—that literature was a hobby and what he needed to do was incorporate those things that he was making up into real journalism.

JUANCHO JINETE: He wrote something about the wreck of a ship that belonged to the navy, which was carrying smuggled goods and threw one of the young sailors overboard. He wrote an article that no one dared to write in this country, because it dealt with the armed forces.

GUILLERMO ANGULO: It must have been around 1955, I went to El Espectador looking for him and they told me he had left to be one of their correspondents in Europe and was going to study film at Centro Sperimentale in Rome. He has always had a love affair with film. It’s been disastrous. There isn’t even one great film or script by Gabo. His ideas are wonderful, but his writing cannot be used to make movies. It seems to me a bit much to ask Gabo to be a great filmmaker in addition to a great author. I was going to study at the same place, so when I arrived there I went to look him up. He had left me a letter in which he explained where to get a hold of him: I should go to the second floor and I would run into a lady who sings opera wearing a towel wrapped around her head. So I went there and sure enough the lady showed up and I laughed and she got angry. I laughed because she came out singing opera with her head in a towel. Then I asked her about Gabriel García Márquez. She said, Who knows him? And she was right. Who had ever heard of him? Then Gabo sent me a letter telling me that he had left Rome for Paris. He was at 16 rue Cujas. I wrote him that I was going to be in Paris for six months and that we would see each other there. Read More »

NO COMMENTS

Facts First: An Interview with Michele Zackheim

March 28, 2014 | by

last train to paris

From the cover of Last Train to Paris.

Michele Zackheim’s new novel, Last Train to Paris, follows the adventures of Rosie Manon, the fearless foreign correspondent for the Paris Courier. Spanning the better part of a century, from 1905 to 1992, the story takes us to the Paris and Berlin of the midthirties and early forties, during one of the most fascinating and shameful periods in modern history, the years leading to World War II. Zackheim was moved to write the novel following a strange discovery—in the thirties, her distant cousin was kidnapped and murdered in France by Eugen Weidmann.

I spoke to Zackheim via e-mail and telephone over a period of three months. Our conversations touched on her family history and writing methods, and the formidable research she brought to her new novel.

All of your books share a certain preoccupation with World War II. Why?

My family lived in Compton, California, an area that was declared vulnerable to an enemy attack. I was only four years old when World War II ended, but I remember small details—a brass standing lamp with a milk-glass base that was lit at night while my parents listened to the menacing news on the radio. The sound of night trains, which ran on tracks a block away. And of course—and this is hard to admit—my only sibling was born in 1944. Because I was the eldest, and because before her birth I had already experienced grim hardships, an intense sibling rivalry was born. I have to assume that she became part of my unconscious interest in war. These memories, along with the emerging news from concentration camps after the war, and my parents’ outraged and mournful whisperings in Yiddish, created an unconscious anxiety that I’ve been making work about all my adult life.

You wove the story of your cousin’s murder through your novel. Was the expansion and departure from the initial incident a natural progression for you?

I often start out writing nonfiction. But there’s a problem. It’s boring for me not to embellish—actually, it’s no fun. Read More »

1 COMMENT

“I’ve Lived Very Freely”

March 14, 2014 | by

Getting to know Mavis Gallant.

Mavis still

A still from Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant.

The first of a few unforgettable times I saw Mavis Gallant was in 2004 in Paris. She was eighty-two and had agreed to meet me for an interview at the Café Dome in the Boulevard Montparnasse, around the corner from the apartment where she had been living for decades. When I arrived at the old fashion “terrasse” of the Dome, framed by heavy red curtains, I found Gallant already sitting at the small table where we were to order our tea. I later discovered she must have arrived early on purpose so that I wouldn’t see her walk in—her spine was bent by osteoporosis, and the condition was most evident when she was walking. She was small and smartly dressed in a purple sweater and a checkered skirt, her hair dark red, her eyes lively with multiple shades of green. The first thing she said was: “Don’t ask me how I write. I wrote an introduction to this volume to avoid discussing such nonsense.” The volume was an Italian edition of her work that included some of her most memorable short stories, such as “The Moslem Wife” and “The Remission.

“Very well,” I said, taking her challenging attitude as an invitation to play. “What would you like to talk about? Men?” She gave me a scornful but not unfriendly look.

“That would certainly be a better choice,” she answered, not meaning it at all. But it was a start, and I was determined to put both of us at ease by being relaxed and polite. I asked her about her husband, John Gallant, to whom she’d been married before the war. “When he came back from fighting, I told him: I want to go to Europe. And he said: I just returned from there, it’s the last place I want to go back to. So the marriage was over. But for the rest of his life he took pride in seeing himself in most of my male protagonists. And it was never true!”Read More »

2 COMMENTS