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Posts tagged ‘Paintings’

Excerpt from THE PAINTER’S WOMEN by Fionnuala Brennan

September 30, 2015



The Duchess of Alba

Journal extract                                                      

San Lúcar, March 1797

There he is, the arrogant fellow standing in front of me holding his palette like a shield, wielding his brush like a dagger. Totally ignoring my displeasure. Who on earth does he think he is?

‘Excellencia, Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duchess of Alba,’ he is saying sarcastically, as if nothing has happened, ‘why so churlish this morning? Please assume your pose. Let us proceed with the portrait. You can stop stamping your dainty silver shoe and take your hands off your wasp waist if you please. It looks so aggressive. Surely you do not want to have the whole world see this side of you?’

Oh, how he infuriates me! I want to wipe that mocking smile off his face.

‘I am incensed Señor Goya because you are a treacherous snake. And an obtuse one. How can you think for one moment that I can pose for you who have spent the night disporting himself with one of my servants?’

Insolently he raises his penetrating black eyes and looks at me as at a child in a tantrum. Such a cool, detached, ironic, fearless look.

‘My dear Duchess, I am surprised. You are jealous! And you call me treacherous. You, who have more dalliances than all the ladies of the Court together. You, who have taken so many lovers; actors, toreros, young students even. You, who have invited me here to this secluded place, although you are so newly widowed.’

I could strike his podgy face. I want to wrench away his palette and brushes. I have a mind to throw a jug of water over that portrait. But I do nothing. I sit there with my mouth open and my eyes blazing. Why do I not order him to leave San Lúcar at once? Can it be that I am afraid to cross this impudent commoner who has vastly overstepped the bounds of his social position? Nobody speaks to the Duchess of Alba as he has just done. Especially not such an old and ugly man, who is as deaf as a bedpost.

‘Excellencia,’ he says dryly, ‘your face is twisted and sour. I shall paint you as a termagant if you so wish. Now, please readjust your mantilla. You should also tighten the sash. Good. Now place one hand on your waist and point the other to the ground.’

I obey but refuse to smile. He continues painting, a smug look on his face. I stand there like a sullen rebuked child and I ask myself once again how is it that I have allowed this man to become so familiar. To order me about like a servant. While I am standing in the pose he had commanded, I remember the first time I went to his studio in Madrid. I had heard of his liking for the bizarre, for the erotic. And I also knew that his work is admired by that old trout Maria Louisa, who fancies herself as an artist. So I had several motives for wishing to meet Don Francisco Goya. The portly creature, Maria Louisa, calls me a bag of bones. It was wonderful to hear how furious she was when I ordered a dozen copies of her latest French dresses and gave them to my servants to wear. Revenge is so sweet.

When I entered his studio he was standing at an easel with his brush.

He did not turn around. I remembered then that I had also heard that he had become deaf so I had to walk right up and stand in front of him and repeat myself. I told him to make up my face with the cosmetics I had brought with me. I did not fully understand why I wanted him to do that, to touch my face. It was not only because I had heard also that he was arrogant and I wanted to put him down, to show him my power. Commanding a great painter, so sought after, to be a lady’s maid. If he was surprised by such a request, he did not show it. I have learned since then that it not at all easy to read Don Francisco de Goya. He motioned me to repeat what I had said more slowly, then smiled in an annoyingly knowing way, as if he could also read the real reason. Without a word, he took the bag of cosmetics from me. He darkened my eyebrows like two black bridges, drew lines of kohl around my eyes, rubbed rouge into my cheeks, and dusted powder over my whole face until I sneezed. It was like he was playing with a doll. And all the time he held my face in his hands and a small smile turned up his full lips. He was humouring me, I realised, as a parent humours a silly child, or a lover cajoles a petulant woman. I, who had come to command him, had been reduced to childishness. It was then that I determined that I would have my revenge on him too, that I would enslave the insolent fellow. I would exercise the full strength of my charm and beauty on him. I realised that if I was to have power over this man, it could not be wielded simply because I am an aristocrat. However, I reassured myself that the task should not be too difficult. At that time I was still a beautiful woman of thirty-three, while he was low-born, at least fifty, rough-looking, and deaf. Not that it matters to me if a man is high or low born, as long as he is handsome and fascinates me.

After that first visit to his studio, I invited Señor Goya to Buenavista and commissioned him to paint a portrait of José and another of myself. For that portrait, I chose a deceptively simple white dress adorned with my favourite red – a deep wide sash to show off my waist, a red bow on my breast, and another pinned on my hair. I even tied a red ribbon on the leg of my little dog at my feet. I know about colour too. The meaning of red.

But my plan of entrapment did not work as smoothly, or as quickly, as I had thought. Most men on whom I cast my eye succumbed very quickly and I do not believe it was only because of who I am. I know that when I pass by in the streets of Madrid people run to their windows to catch a glimpse of me. I am not blind. But this Goya fellow seems blind to my charms. He continues to treat me like a spoilt child. I am not a silly woman without a brain in my head. The most influential and enlightened men in Spain, including the poet Don Manuel Quintana, and the poet and philosopher Don Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos are among my friends. The more indifferent he seems, the more determined I am to have him. In truth I am fascinated by this uncouth artist. I ask myself why this is so and have to admit that it is simply because he appears so impenetrable, contradictory and, most exasperating of all, unattainable. He has become my challenge.

 From The Painter’s Women by Fionnuala Brennan

Literature and Art: Jackie Mallon about “Painted Women”

October 1, 2014


Jackie Mallon

Augustus John by Michael Holroyd My current reading: Augustus John by Michael Holroyd published 1974

Immersed in research for my second novel, I stumbled upon the painter, Augustus John. He was an interesting type and no mistake but it is his women who truly fascinate. Upon reading descriptions of them, how they spoke and looked and thought, I sought out their portraits. Style mavens with names like Dorelia, Ida (surname Nettleship, no less), Alick, Euphemia, Estella, Arabella, Guilhermina, Ottoline, Clarissa, Caitlin, Amaryllis, Iris, formed a pageant of poetically monikered muses that fuelled his art. They would fuel my sketches too if I had a collection to design. Instead they will fuel my fiction.

Marchesa Casati Marchesa Casati by Augustus John

Known for “a compelling stare when he looked at a woman,” Augustus John’s quest for the next enigmatic face was a compulsion he made no apologies for. It was a congenital weakness. A coquettish voice emanating from…

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Richard Kalich and Bernard Piga: a Writer and a Painter

September 27, 2014


When we were designing the cover for “Central Park West Trilogy” with JT Lindroos, we were looking for a work of art that wouldn’t simply ‘illustrate’ the title but mirror Richard Kalich’s writing and vision. And we have found more than just one work of art: we have found the Painter. Bernard Piga’s expressionist paintings could have been inspired by Richard Kalich’s metafictions. The two artists have never met, and such an encounter is now impossible in the physical realm (Piga left us in 2008), but we are happy to have contributed to a spiritual reunion of a great Writer and a great Painter. To discover and re-discover.

More of Bernard Piga’s works:

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“The Nihilesthete”. Excerpt from the first novel of “Central Park West Trilogy” by Richard Kalich

September 26, 2014


“My studio apartment has all the features of an artist’s garret now. Everything careless, lackadaisical and purposefully strewn about. The only thing missing is the proverbial skylight, but I do have bay windows and a park view. Still, Montparnasse it’s not. There are canvases everywhere: rolls of canvas, stretched canvas, some stretched and mounted on canvas boards. Also a dozen paintbrushes, round and flat and long, and even more tubes of paint in all colours; Payne’s gray, burnt sienna, burnt umber, viridian, sepia, zinc white, Naples yellow, cobalt blue, yellow ochre, thalo green, venetian red. And an artist’s smock and easel, and roto tray, and turntable, and palette. Everything and anything that goes into an artist’s studio is here, plus all of Brodski’s own special equipment.

The little fellow doesn’t know what to make of it. He peers open-mouthed as I strap him to his artist’s chair—the relaxation chair with nineteen different seating positions and seventy more for the upper body—and commence attaching his arm and hand prosthesis. The occupational therapist I employed has taught me well and I know how to use each piece of equipment as well as how to staple the stretched canvas tightly to the canvas board so it won’t ripple. When he is seated at his workplace (easel) with the canvas before him and rivulets of paint already squeezed out on his plate positioner (palette), I say: PAINT.

He looks at me, at the canvas, at his surrounding, dumbfounded. Not paralyzed, but stricken in another way. As if in limbo. As if groping to understand, to come to terms with what lies before him. I am tempted to help him. It would be such a simple matter for me to demonstrate how to “finger” the paintbrush with his table writer, or, for more exact control, his pencil holder; how to, with what for him would amount to a Promethean effort, touch the canvas with his brush. But I do not. It wouldn’t be fair. The rules of the game do not permit it. The first stroke must be done by him. The discovery has to be his. The miracle must come from him alone. To be godlike, one has to create his own world. It is enough for me (now) to show him the way.

We sit there five, ten, twenty minutes; an hour passes, two. I do not say anything. Do not coax him on. Not so much as a word or hint passes from my lips. Absolute silence pervades the room. Then: he begins to move. Slowly at first, with imperceptible little stirrings of his body, followed by epileptic twitchings and wrigglings of his arms and hands.

What’s this? He’s stretching-reaching-picking up the paintbrush lying on the plate positioner in a glass cup, just begging for his use. He’s dipping it in a glob of paint. He’s . . . He’s . . . HE’S PAINTING!!! His first stroke is slow, halting, tenuous, as if a spanked child were reaching out for the object that caused him harm. He looks enthralled—no, terrified.

After his first stroke he jerks back; his paint brush drops from his utensil holder against the glass cup and pan holding the other brushes and tubes of paint, and the entire collection as well as the roto tray spills to the floor. He doesn’t even notice. Awestruck, he just continues to stare at the canvas. At a gashed slightly less than linear violet smudge: HE MADE!

A tiny wet spot wells up in his eye. A soft voluptuous half sigh, half groan, and then more tears, a sound that emanates from deep inside him, an indistinct murmur, a shriek, an ecstatic outcry, a crescendo of uncontrollable and involuntary body-racking shakes and sobs. He is crying. Really crying! Not his usual “cri du chat”; but crying like us. Like we humans do.

A half hour passes before he is able to start up again. This time by trial and error, each dip and dab of his brush reminiscent of a naked hand in a fire struggling to save a beloved object. After each new impression, he stops haltingly to examine it. Not for aesthetic reasons. He has no concern for that now. But for the sheer effect of it. The impression he is making on the canvas. ON THE WORLD! It is the first time he has ever been able to affect the world. Make his mark. HE IS PUTTING HIS STAMP ON THE WORLD!!!

After maybe another minute or two he falls back exhausted. I push his chair away from the canvas and together we look upon his creation. Grazing my hand ever so slightly on his utensil holder, as if touching the finger of God, I begin to cry. We begin to laugh and cry together. We stay there in tableau like that, both crying and laughing, the rest of the night.”



Painter’s Studio © Bernard Piga