Posts Tagged ‘Auden’

Blackpaint 566 – Babes in the Wood

August 23, 2016

Bacon and Auden

I can never read Auden’s staggering poem “September 1st 1939” without remembering Bacon’s painting – and vice versa.  It’s the two men in hats, sitting in a bar(?) while the slaughtered body hovers to their left:

bacon crucifixion 1965

Bacon – Crucifixion 1965

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

Actually, Bacon’s triptych suggests another Auden poem as well; “Musee des Beaux Arts”.  The theme of this is how normal life goes on while momentous and/or tragic events unfold “next door”; Auden refers to Bruegel’s Icarus picture (below), in which the ploughman goes on ploughing as Icarus’ legs – see them? – follow the rest of his body into the depths.  The barflies in the Bacon are sort of parallel to the ploughman.



Bruegel the Elder – Icarus

Interestingly, Auden excluded “September 1st 1939” from his Collected Poems; maybe he regretted being in the USA as Great Britain went to war; maybe he changed his mind about the politics; “Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return” might be represented as an excuse for the rise of Nazism.  Whatever the reason for its exclusion, it has to be one of the best poems on a political theme ever written.

Z, dir. Costa – Gavras, 1969

I fancied something political and unequivocally left-wing to watch, maybe to readjust my parameters a bit, so I turned to the DVD of “Z”; I guess “Battle for Algiers” would have served, or a Franco Rosi, but I haven’t got them.  The film is about the murder of the politician Gregory Lambrakis in 1963, carried out, allegedly, on the orders of local police and army chiefs.  Marcel Bozzuffi (left, below, with Jacques Perrin as an opportunistic journalist) is the assassin and a brilliantly malevolent one he makes; he went on to kill again in “The French Connection” and judging by the titles of many other films, in those too.


I think Costa -Gavras might face accusations of homophobia if he were making the film today, since Bozzuffi’s character is shown to be both gay and predatory , with arguably little relevance to the plot; presumably the film is historically accurate on this point.  Bozzuffi is a great villain, though, and joins two other of my cinema icons, the wild men Gaston Modot (l’Age D’Or, La Regle du Jeu) and Franco Citti (Oedipus Rex, Canterbury Tales).

franco citti






Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (dir.Mat Whitecross, 2010)

Watching Andy Serkis as Ian Dury the other night, composing, or rather throwing together the words to “Spasticus Autisticus” in a stream of consciousness, I was reminded of Finnegans Wake.  I’m sure this is a trite, pretentious observation, made by many commentators before – but I’ve never shied away from triteness and pretension in the past, so why start now?

lost in the wood 1

Lost in the Wood



Blackpaint 240

January 7, 2011

Bruegel the Younger

The Procession to Calvary is staying at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, after £2.7 million was raised in a “Save it for the nation” appeal.  Its a beautiful, busy picture, browns more drained than those of the Elder, a threatening, cindery sky over Calvary in the top right.  As Maev Kennedy says in the Guardian, ” it shows a landscpe teeming with figures getting on with their lives…, too busy to notice Christ and his captors making their way to a bleak hilltop…”.  In this respect, of course, it echoes the elder Bruegel’s “Fall of Icarus”, the subject of Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts”.

Van Gogh

Reading his Letters and only up to 1880.  It’s noticeable that a different tone has been struck in the letter of 24th September 1880, which ends the longish gap in his correspondence with Theo.  In previous letters, the religious fervour and insufferable piety with which they were loaded has all but dispersed.  A letter or two before, Vincent recounted an entire sermon he had preached in Isleworth, much of which had to do with Pilgrim’s Progress.  Then, there was one in July 1880, full of anguish (and preachiness), in which Vincent tried to portray himself as a superior kind of “ne’er do well” – his words – not the kind that is lazy or immoral but a noble sort of “ne’er do well”, who just hasn’t found the right outlet for his talents.

Now, he has decided that painting is the thing and is obsessively training himself and developing fervent opinions on the subject.  God is still very much hovering about, but mercifully, in the background.

It seems clear to me that Van Gogh’s obsession with religion transferred to art wholesale; I was interested to see this in the letters, as there is currently a sort of revisionism going on with Van Gogh.  He is being presented as the “consummate professional” (see Blackpaint 230), a controlled, dedicated and focused seeker of artistic truth, whose mental problems were separate from his painting, in the sense that they had no influence over the technical process.  He did not paint in a frenzy, as was once popularly thought.

I’m sure this is correct, but I don’t think you can entirely separate the mental problems from the paintings.  I was quite surprised to read the letters and discover just how disturbed he appears to be.  He was surely an obsessive personality and suffered from depression; then again, a lot of artists do, and a lot are obsessive in their practice – Frank Auerbach comes to mind.  And times change; the tone of the letters may have seemed less strange in the 19th century.

Cass Art

I said in Blackpaint 226 that the staff at Cass in Charing Cross Road seemed to have changed and hoped there hadn’t been a mass purge; happy to report I was wrong – must have just picked a different shift to visit last time.

No pictures today  – I’m using my son’s Mac and don’t know how to load them.



Blackpaint 151

June 14, 2010


Looking at some of the snow scenes, I realised there was a slight resemblance to Lowry’s stuff, if only in the large numbers of little people going about their various businesses.  I suppose this is true of other Netherlands painters, such as Avercamp; probably a very trite observation – sorry.

Before leaving Bruegel, I feel I have to mention Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, in which you can just make out the legs of the falling boy  following the rest of him down beneath the ocean.  A galleon passes him on its way, a shepherd gazes in ignorance at the sky, a ploughman in the foreground continues ploughing his furrow.  The picture occasioned Auden’s poem,  Musee des Beaux Arts:

“…In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster: the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure….”

Think I’ll do paintings in poetry, when I can get round to the research.

Rude Britannia

Went round this yesterday, and it was great; will do it tomorrow, but just to remark on the critics briefly, who clearly don’t like it.  Laura Cumming in Observer and Richard Dorment in the Telegraph both criticised the excessive range, as they saw it, of stuff on offer, that didn’t somehow go.  The historical bits, the “bawdy” stuff, the conceptual art stuff… again, I think it’s because wide range and tenuous connections make an exhibition difficult to review, though they might make it more interesting for the punter.  Dorment commented that the Tate had mistaken a book for an exhibition.

Three other new things at the Tate worth seeing:

Anthony Wishaw  

80th birthday painting (actually called Landscape drawing, in acrylic with some form of composition); grey and black, like a Lanyon landscape in a Hitchens shape, beautiful and substantial.

Gillian Ayres 

Three big paintings, two of which can be seen through the archways of the other rooms; one at the end of the Fundamental Painting room, making a splash of reddish-brown and yellow colour at the end of a dark tunnel.  The best is Break Off (also  the earliest, 1961) in which, on an ochre/buff background, 5 or 6 floating objects resemble breakfast items, to me anyway.  Phaethon is a huge, crude, coloured plaque of pink and yellow and blue and white, with zig-zag patterns gouged in the thicknesses of the paint.  Sang the Sun in Flight is the one at the end of the tunnel. 

Francis Bacon, early works

From his “first career”, the period with Eric Hall and Roy de Maistre, paintings and furnishings.  There is a dark tree trunk like a Paul Nash (quite crudely painted); three Picasso-esque rugs; a screen with black, Leger-like shapes; a painting called Figures in the Park, with a tree, a very rudimentary dog(?) thing, and a squareish sort of figure; it’s alternative title is “Herman Goering and his Lion Cub” which, on close inspexction, makes sense.  It’s not clear whether this was Bacon’s idea or someone else’s interpretation.  On the end wall is the famous “figures at the foot of the crucifixion” tryptich.