Issue 15, Winter 1956
Eugene Berman, like many another individualist painter of this century (consider the case of Pierre Roy, whose trompe l'œil ribbon-and-rusty-nail became, to the artist's chagrin, a rallying-point) has at various times been appropriated by the Surrealists, and at other times been lumped with them by the casual gallery-goer. If Berman's paintings project a sense of suspended time, of mystery of place, and mystery of human personality—as his scenes of Venice or Mexico, for instance—it is expression of his intensely personal vision of the world, of a Slavic temperament (born St. Petersburg, 1899) constantly rediscovering the worlds of Italy. He began at the age of eight to draw and paint, to study architecture, to love the theatre, moving to Paris when he was seventeen.
Berman's paintings have in recent years tended to be overshadowed by his dazzling designs for the theatre (he may be said to have restored architecture to its rightful place in the grammar of theatrical decoration) so sometime this year, after a last grandiose assignment for the Metropolitan Opera, he will settle in Rome to work at his easel. His farewell to the theatre—if it prove to be so—caps twenty years of works such as the Paris production of The Threepenny Opera, ballets such as Devil's Holiday, Concerto Barocco, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, and the unforgettable now-vanished Stravinsky Danses Concertantes where dancers like jeweled beetles performed one of Balanchine's most enchanting choreographies against a black-and-grisailledrop. Each of these productions was preceded by literally hundreds of sketches and plans: a multitude of notebooks showing what industry, what versatility and devotion went toward making the brief glittering theatrical moment. His notebooks are now directed toward paintings; the recent pages reproduced here are taken from a series called Imaginary Promenades in Italy.