17 May 2011

Ingeborg Bachman: The Voyage Out

"Smoke is rising from the ground.
Keep an eye on the tiny fishing hut,
For the sun will set
Before you’ve put ten miles behind you.

The dark water, thousand-eyes,
Opens its white-foamed lashes
To peer at you, wide-eyed and long,
For thirty days,

Even when the ship pitches hard
And takes an uncertain step,
Stand steady on the deck.

They are seated at the tables now,
eating the smoked fish;
later, the men will kneel
and mend the nets;
nights, though, they will sleep,
an hour or two
and their hands will soften,
free from salt and oil,
soft as bread of the dream
they have broken.

The first wave of night hits the shore,
The second has already reached you.
But when you cast your gaze beyond,
You can still see the tree
Raising a defiant arm
-  The wind has already robbed it of another
-  and you wonder: how much longer

How much longer
Will the twisted timber weather these storms?
There is no land in sight;
You should have dug into the sandbank with your hand
Or tied yourself to the cliffs by a strand of hair.

Blowing into conches, sea monsters float
On the crests of waves, they ride and slice
The day to pieces with bare sabres, leaving a red trail
In the water, where sleep overcomes you
For the rest of your days
And your senses leave you.

Suddenly, something has happened to the ropes,
You are called, and you are happy
To be needed.  Best of all
Is to work on ships
That sail far away,
Tying knots in the ropes, bailing water
caulking walls and guarding the freight.

Best of all is to collapse in exhaustion,
When evening comes.  Best of all, at daybreak,
With the first light of dawn, to awaken,
To stand against an immovable sky,
Ignoring the impassable water,
And to lift the ship above the waves,
Sailing toward the ever recurring shore of the sun."

 - The Voyage Out by Ingeborg Bachmann, translated by Lilian M. Freidberg,  from Last Living Words, Green Integer Press, Copenhagen & Los Angeles: 2005.

Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) was born in Carinthia and began editing and writing scripts for Austrian radio. She  studied extensively, earning her doctorate in philosophy for work on Marin Heidegger’s thought. She was close to other poets and writers including, Ilse Aichinger, Paul Celan, and Max Frisch.  Bachmann died from complications as a result of a fire in her apartment in Rome, when she lived from 1953 on.   These facts, combined with her complex vision of 20th century historical events, lent an air of mystery to this feminist before her times.  Her poetry is infused with images from Art Nouveau and Surrealism.

Images: by Odilon Redon
1. The Path to the Sea, no date, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
2. Flower-Clouds, 1903, Art Institute of Chicago.
3. Underwater Vision, 1910, Museum of modern Art, NYC.
4. Nocturne, no date, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
5. Orpheus, c. 1903-1910, Cleveland Museum of Art.
6. Mysterious Boat, c. 1897, private collection.
7. La Coquille, 1912, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
8..Visionary Head, 1907, private collection.
9. The Yellow Sail,  c. 1905, Indianapolis Museum of Art.

10.Decorative panel for residence at Dommency, 1902, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.  

12 May 2011

The Gentle Art Of Leon Bonvin

Using graphite, and pen and ink, Leon Bonvin (1834-1866) created pristine lines and his watercolor technique produced colors both delicate and buoyant.  Bonvin, who live his life in poverty, felt keenly his inability to afford oil paints but I find no lack in the watercolors and charcoals he created. His hunger to create, to get it all down on paper, in spite of all difficulties, vibrates from the paper.

Life was hard for the Bonvins,  a large family.   Francois (1817-1997) was  the first child, born in Paris to a policeman and a seamstress.  After his mother died when he was four years old, the father remarried another seamstress and there were nine more children   Leon, the family caboose, grew up at an inn the family ran in the village of Vaugirard (now a suburb of Paris).  
Both boys showed an early desire to draw, but Francois, who grew up in Paris, was able to spend time at the Louvre, even though apprenticed to a printer at age thirteen.  Not especially healthy and never well to do, Francois helped his younger brother as he could, encouraging Leon to keep at his art.

The work of an innkeeper is never-ending, no matter how modest the inn, and the time that Leon Bonvin could devote to his art was limited to  early morning and sunset.  The figure in the garden, immersed as he is his surroundings, is surely Bonvin himself.  Less certain is the identity of the woman sweeping, alos with her back to us.
Interior of a House with an Open Door strikes me as being   autobiographical , contrasting a claustrophobic  interior  with lighted shining path.  Compressed here is the frustration of confinement and a glimpse of a wider world ,obscured by blazing sunlight, or so it appears to the one inside.  And always the implied loneliness, always the spectator waiting by the roadside.

Without wishing to take anything away from Francois Bonvin's lustre, it is painful to think that Leon's pictures brought him so little recognition - and the money that he needed so desperately to support his wife. 

On January 29, 1866, Bonvin,  desperate to earn money to support himself and his wife, carried a portfolio of his work to Paris where a short-sighted art dealer refused to place his pictures, telling the artist that they are "too dark, not gay enough."   I recoil from the thought of despair that accompanied him on his trek toward home.  What he thought can only be guessed at, but his conclusions were grim.
The next day Bonvin hanged himself from a tree in the forest of Meudon, a place that overlooked the plains of Issy that the artist depicted with such affection in his watercolors.  The little family inn, Bonvin's wife, and the dog and the cat were all left waiting in Vaugirard for his return.
In the charcoal of his little dog, Bonvin's chiaroscuro approaches abstraction, foreshadowing works by Seurat, like the dog guarding the baby carriage.

1. Francois Bonvin - Portrait of Leon Bonvin at His Easel, 1860s, private collection, Cleveland Museum of Art.
2. Leon Bonvin - The Rabbit Hutch, undated, Louvre Museum, Paris.
3.  Leon Bonvin - Woman Sweeping, 1860s, Walters Gallery, Baltimore.
4 Leon Bonvin - The Open Door, Louvre Museum, Paris.
5. Leon Bonvin - Moonlit Scene, 1864, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
6. Leon Bonvin - His Little Dog, undated, Louvre Museum, Paris.
7. Leon Bonvin -  A White Poodle, a Black Cat, and a Frying Pan,  no date, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Addendum:  During the original post of this article some text and images disappeared into the cloud, but have now reappeared.  My apologies for any confusion.