Tag Archives: painters

Simenon’s favorite of his many, many novels

Georges Simenon (1903-89) said that if he had to choose one of his approximately 400 novels to preserve, it would be the 1964 Le Petit Saint (The Little Saint). I find this a very odd preference (I’d choose Dirty Snow), since I found the first third or more of the novel boring. I find the title character, Louis Cuchas, unconvincing, especially as a extremely naïve child. He is dubbed “little saint” for not reacting to being beaten and robbed by bigger boys at school and not complaining or reporting these to the teachers. The docility/passivity strains belief, but what I find completely unbelievable is Simenon’s explanation that bullies tire of a particular victim. This is not what I observed during my own youth (during which I avoided being a victim and mostly avoided being one of the executioners).

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I guess I can believe that the shy dreamer is frightened by black pubic hair and avoids nudity and sex as much and as long as he can (he is acutely unhappy about having to strip with others for his draft physical during World War I). And I can suspend disbelief that Louis is the top of his class most of the way through school.

With no exposure to art, no training, and no bonding with others, Louis becomes a painter, eventually a famous one. He has no conscious program, not intellectualizations: he just does what he does without knowing why (or even how) he does it. This is believable in that I think Simenon was a hyper-prolific writer just did it (wrote his books) without knowing why or giving thought to method (craft). (Somewhere I read that Marc Chagall [1887-1985] was Simenon’s model for Luis, though it is hard for me to boil out the Jewishness, not least in subject matter, of Chagall; though the dreaminess and primacy of color are common to Luis and Chagall. Maybe Renoir?)

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Others seem to like the first half of the book more than the second, but I prefer the second, though neither half does much to account for genius or even artistry as Louis remains, not least in his self-image, a diminutive, dreamy child. When he was a child, he was oblivious to the squalor of sharing a room on Rue Mouffletard with five siblings, his mother (who sold vegetables from a pushcart as her mother did), and the succession of sexual partners of his mother.

I’m also not sure that I believe in the characters of the red-headed twins older than Louis. They are inseparable and resist school. Simenon conjures a later life for them that is revealed late in the 180 pages of text (the first third of which were a struggle for me to get through, fueled by my curiosity that this was Simenon’s favorite of his novels).

©2015,2019, Stephen O. Murray

 

Taschen’s/ Steiner’s Egon Schiele

Long ago  I  was intirgued by a 1918 portrait  Viennese) painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918: he survived army service during WWI and perished in the Spanish flu) painted of his friend Paris von Gütersloh that the Minneapolis Art Institute has (pictured below).

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Having been reading about Vienna and points down the Danube from it, it decided to read the Taschen Verlag 25th anniversary book.. Like most buyers of most art books, I bought the book for the pictures. Taschen has a well-deserved good reputation for the quality of its reproductions of art. Unlike in my other Schiele book, published by Cornell University Press, the Taschen one has no black-and-white reproductions of art done in color. And the pages are 12″x10″ so there are no postage-stamp-sized reproductions.

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There are some not large photographs included in the two-page chronology. Schiele does not look as wild or as tormented in the photographs as in his many self-portraits. From familiarity with his drawings and paintings of himself, I would not recognize him in any but one of the photographs (one with out-of-control hair).

I discovered that a smaller Schiele book that I also had was a 1991 version of the same text with the same illustrations (and promptly gave it away). Though I have no hesitation in recommending the Taschen book as an introduction to Schiele’s art (that is, the illustrations), I thought that the text by Reinhard Steiner was difficult, assuming more familiarity with the art of the late-19th and early-20th century than some readers intrigued by seeing this or that Schiele in a museum might have. The text by Simon Wilson in the university press (Cornell) book is better as an introduction, assuming less knowledge of the context, and is somewhat more biographical (though both books are organized into chapters by topic (kind of painting) rather than chronological).

Steiner begins with a discussion of Schiele’s self-portraits, then picks up the early engagement with Kilt and Viennese symbolism (Schiele became the leading younger painter in the Secessionist group and became its head when Klimt died, which was only a few months before Schiele did). The division between “The Figure as Signifier” (the next chapter) and “The Visionary and Symbolic Work” (the one following that) is strained in that however exaggerated (expressionist) and decorative (Secessionist) Schiele’s compositions were, they were always figurative and very often nude (or semi-nude with uncovered genitalia). The landscapes are less familiar to me, though I find them striking. They are the subject of the final chapter.

The illustrations are referenced in the text (and overwhelm it IMO). I thought Steiner was particularly good in explaining the 1912 jailing of the artist (not for posing children nude, but for allowing children to see his nude drawings and paintings). Schiele was convicted to a three-day sentence (having already been in jail a month awaiting trial) and one of his drawings was burned by the judge. Though outraged that an Artist could be so persecuted by the State, Schiele made a number of drawings and paintings of his martyred imprisoned self and the contents of his cell.

The amount of art Schiele produced in a ten-year career (of rising fame and patronage) is astounding, especially in that he was in the army for nearly three years of it. The shift from Symbolism to Expressionism in 1910 is not as clear in this volume as it might be, but there is a lot of art on display and some things about the life of the artist. A bargain at the list price of $14.99.

©2012, 2017, Stephen O. Murray