Thursday, 13 March 2014

Photos & Quotes: Purely for My Pleasure (1962) by W. Somerset Maugham

As a frontispiece to this volume I have chosen a portrait of me painted by a Frenchman called Edouard MacAvoy. I have the idea that few people in a private station can have been drawn, painted or sculptured more often than I have. Artists have found me a patient sitter. They like to talk while they work and I am a good listener. But it is not only on that account that they have made so many portraits of me. When you are wandering through the rooms of an exhibition of pictures and come across a portrait, you may have the curiosity to glance at your catalogue in order to see the name of the person depicted. If the name is familiar to you it may well be that, should you be thinking of having a portrait painted of yourself, you may think that the artist who painted the portrait that attracted your attention will suit your purpose. Should then for one reason or another the sitter’s name become more and more familiar, it is not unnatural than artists should be tempted to paint, draw or sculpt the owner of it in the hope that on that account their work will attract attention and gain repute. I venture to claim that I have proved a pretty good advertisement.

Edouard MacAvoy, Portrait of W. Somerset Maugham.

When Edouard MacAvoy, with an introduction from a common friend, came to see me and said he would like to paint me, I asked him how he, a Frenchman, happened to have a Scottish name. He told me than an ancestor of his, a Scot, had come over to France in the suite of James II when that obstinate monarch, to the relief of his subjects, had fled his country. That seemed to me a sufficient recommendation and I told MacAvoy that I would gladly sit to him. He made a number of drawings and then told me that he had all the material he wanted and would paint the portrait in his studio in Paris. The Second World War broke out and I heard no more from him till it was over. Then I received a letter from him in which he said that he was dissatisfied with his painting of my hands and would like to make further drawings of them. I asked him to come and stay with me for two or three days and he made his drawings. I did not see the portrait till it was exhibited in the Salon. I must admit that I was startled, but I liked it and acquired it. Braque, I am told, saw it and thought highly of it. 'I only have one criticism to make,' he said, 'the left side of the face is slightly realistic.'



Henri Matisse, The Yellow Chair.

I made the acquaintance of Matisse. He was bed-ridden. He lay on a great old-fashioned double brass bed, with big brass knobs at the four corners – the sort of bed that fifty years ago husband and wife slept in as a mark of respectability and a proof of the amenity of the marriage state. Matisse liked me to come and see him so that he could ask how they were getting on with the chapel at Vence, for which he had designed the decoration, and each time I left him he begged me to go to Vence again and tell him exactly what the workmen were doing. On one of my visits, after he had greeted me, he said, ‘look what I did this morning.’ He had engaged a model, and on sheets of paper, about nine by twelve, had made line drawings of her head. He had had them pinned up in rows, one row above another, on the wall that faced his bed. I did not count them, but I guessed that there were at least forty. It was an amazing feat for an old man lying in bed to fashion these drawings with such assurance and such distinction. I praised him and he was pleased with my praise. ‘But you must look at them again and again,’ he said. ‘You must look at them and look at them, it’s only then you’ll see their power, the depth of thought in them, and their philosophy.’ I could only see forty lovely drawings, but I had lived long enough to learn that the artist, no matter what his medium, is apt to see more in his production than is evident to the beholder. I nodded and held my tongue.

I bought two pictures by Matisse. One is known as The Yellow Chair. It is one of the most engaging pictures he had ever painted. It gave one the impression that a happy inspiration had enabled him to paint it in a single morning. When I said so he told the middle-aged woman who looked after him to bring some photographs. He showed me photographs of the successive states of the picture and told me that he had scrapped his painting down to the canvas three times before he could get the effect he wanted. The colours were brilliant and I found it difficult to place; it made pictures close to it look rather drab and I had had to hang it by itself on a white wall. ‘Moi, vous savez,’ I said, ‘j’achète des tableaux pour fleurir ma maisson.’ Matisse gave an angry grunt. ‘Ça, c’est la decoration,’ he muttered. ‘Ça n’a aucune importance.’ I thought this nonsense, but was too polite to say so.


G. H. Barrable, Songs from Italy.

When I was eighteen I entered St Thomas’s Hospital as a medical student. I took two rooms, a bedroom and a sitting-room, on the ground floor of a lodging house in Vincent Square. At that time the illustrated weeklies at Christmas gave their readers a large coloured reproduction [G. H. Barrable, Songs from Italy]. I got one of them, and as a modest decoration pinned it up in my sitting-room. […] On one of my vacations I took a trip over to Paris where two brothers of mine, both several years older than I, lived. I had read, re-read and read again Walter Pater’s essay on the Mona Lisa and on my first visit to the Louvre I hurried, full of excitement, past the pictures, till I came to Leonardo’s famous portrait. I was bitterly disappointed. Was this the picture Pater had written about with such eloquence and in prose so ornate?[1] I spent my mornings in the Louvre. I had no one to guide me. One young man, whom I met somewhere, an aesthete, said to me: ‘There’s only one picture worth looking at in the Louvre, the Chardin. Don’t waste your time on all that rubbish they’ve got there. You’ll get much more art in the Folies Bergère.’ That was strong meat to set before a youth just turned twenty. I was too shy to tell the young man that I thought Titian’s Man with the Glove a beautiful portrait and that Titian’s Entombment had deeply moved me.


Roderick O'Connor, Still Life.


Roderick O'Connor, Still Life.


Roderick O'Connor, Still Life.


Time passed. I had abandoned medicine and was an impecunious author. I left London and took a tiny flat in Paris near the ‘Lion de Belfort.’ An intimate friend of mine, Gerald Kelly, one day to be President of the Royal Academy, took me to dine at a restaurant where painters, their wives or mistresses, dined every night at small cost in a room that was kept for them. There I made the acquaintance of a Canadian painted called Maurice. He was somewhat older than the rest of us and much better off. He was a quiet, friendly man and never entered into the heated arguments that enlivened our modest fare. He painted pleasant little pictures which the other members of our company praised as the amiable productions of a well-to-do amateur. He has been dead for many years and his pictures to-day are highly valued in Canada. The most interesting person in this little group was an Irishman, sullen and bad-tempered, called Roderick O’Connor. He had spent some months in Brittany with Gauguin, painting, and I, already greatly interested in that mysterious, talented man, would have liked to learn from O’Connor what he could tell me about him; but unfortunately he took an immediate dislike to me which he did not hesitate to show. My very presence at the dinner table irritated him and I only had to make a remark for him to attack it. I remember one violent altercation we had over the sonnets of Heredia. I forget, however, if I was praising or damning them.[2] One evening, out of bravado I think, I asked O’Connor if I might come to see his pictures. He could not very well refuse and so on the following day I went to his studio. It gave one an impression of abject poverty. He showed me his pictures. I had never bought a picture before and I am sure that O’Connor had never sold one. I chose two that took my fancy and told him I would like to buy them. He was taken aback. After a moment’s hesitation, with a sullen look on his face, he mentioned a price, a very modest one, and I took the money out of my pocket and went away with the pictures [the first two still lifes above] in my hands. A good many years later I saw a picture [the last still life above] of O’Connor’s at the Salon and bought that too. The Irish have produced some lovely poetry and some brilliant plays, but so far as I know they have never been painters of conspicuous gifts. O’Connor had talent, though not a great one, and it is good to know that now he is appreciated in Ireland. I don’t think, however, that this would have pleased him: on the contrary, I think it would have infuriated him. 


Wilson Steer, The Severn, Littledean.


Wilson Steer, Effect of Rain, Corfe.


Zoffany, Garrick and Mrs Gibber in Ottway's 'Venice Preserved'.


Samuel de Wilde, Bannister and Suett in
George Coleman the Younger's 'Sylvester 
Daggerwood' 


Time passed. Then, by a happy accident, a play of mine which had been refused by managed after manager was put on at the Court Theatre and was a success. It was followed by other plays, light comedies, with the result that I became in a modest way affluent. I had come to know Wilson Steer and used sometimes to go and see him. I bought two of his landscapes. Wilson Steer was extravagantly praised during his lifetime and to-day is unwarrantably depreciated. I was delighted with my two pictures. I had bought myself a small house in Chesterfield Street and one day, when I was in my sitting-room, quietly reading, Hugh Lane dropped in to see me. He told me that he had just seen a theatrical picture [Zoffany’s] at a dealer’s somewhere in Pimplico. ‘It’s good,’ he said. ‘You’re a dramatist, you ought to buy it.’ Next day I went to see it for myself and promptly bought it. Not very long afterwards there was a sale at Christie’s at which there was a theatrical picture that had belonged to Henry Irving [de Wilde’s], and because I had bought one I bought another. Thus began my collection of theatrical pictures. I frequented the sale-rooms, not only Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but less important ones as well. Nobody was then much interested in pictures of this kind and I was able sometimes to buy a full-length of an actor in costume for a pound. I bought watercolour portraits of actors for five shillings apiece. There was at the time an interest in a National Theatre. I was very much in favour of it. I thought it shocking that a great city like London, capital of a great country, should not have one. I was convinced that such a theatre need not only count on Shakespeare to attract an audience, but that there were in the English repertoire numbers of plays, known to-day only by scholars, which, adequately produced, people would be glad to see. I made up my mind to give my theatrical pictures to adorn the bare walls of the theatre and so give it a pleasant intimacy. The Labour Party happened to be in power and they were ready to provide a large sum to build it, but they were defeated at a General Election and the Tories, less interested in the arts than Labour, who took their place, were not willing to spend so much money. The plan was dropped.


Paul Gauguin, Eve with the Apple.

Time passed. I had long had in mind to write a novel founded on the life of Paul Gauguin and I went to Tahiti in the hope of finding people who had known him and whom I could induce to give me some useful information. I discovered presently that somewhere in the bush there was a hut where Gauguin, being ill, had spent some time, and during his convalescence had painted. I hired a car, and with a companion drove about till my driver sighted the hut. I got out and walked along a narrow path till I came to it. Half a dozen children were playing on the stoop. A man, presumably their father, strolled out and when I told him what I wanted to see asked me to come in. There were three doors; the lower part of each was of wooden panels and the upper of panes of glass held together by strips of wood. The man told me that Gauguin had painted three pictures on the glass panes. The children had scratched away the painting of two of the doors and were just starting on the third. It represented Even, nude, with the apple in her hand. I asked the man if he would sell it. ‘I should have to buy a new door,’ he said. ‘How much would that cost?’ I asked him. ‘Two hundred francs,’ he answered. I said I would give him that and he took it with pleasure. We unscrewed the door and with my companion carried it to the car and drove back to Papeete. In the evening another man came to see me and said the door was half his. He asked me for two hundred francs more which I gladly gave him. I had the wooden panel sawn off the frame and, taking all possible precautions, brought the panelled glass panes to New York and finally to France. It is very slightly painted, only a sketch, but enchanting. I have it in my writing-room.


Jean Joveneau, Still Life.


Jean Joveneau, Still Life.


Fernand Léger, Les Toits de Paris.

Time passed. I lived much in Paris and came to know a number of men interested in the Arts. One of them was Alphonse Kahn. He had taste. He had a fine collection both of pictures and of objets d’art. He was something of a dealer on the side, but saw at once that I was not a person of sufficient fortune to interest him. He suggested that I could do worse than buy two or three pictures by Joveneau, a pupil of Braque’s, who was starving. I went to see them and bought two. On another occasion Alphonse Kahn’s secretary took me to see the pictures of Fernand Lèger. He was a jovial, friendly man, but, like all painters then, desperately hard up. I bought an abstract picture which Lèger called Les Toits de Paris. My friends mocked and asked me why I bought that fantastic composition. It intrigued me. I could not but ask myself what was in the painter’s mind when he devised that intricate and elaborate pattern; I could not tell. I had a cook then, a good cook, economical, but with a filthy temper. I was surprised to see her constantly standing in front of the picture as though hypnotized, and one day I asked her what she saw in it that so affected her. ‘Ça me dit quelque chose,’ she answered. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, and repeated, ‘Ça me dit quelque chose.’ She could not explain. The picture gave her a mysterious emotion which I, more sophisticated, could not experience.[3]


Marie Laurencin, The Rowing Boat.


Marie Laurencin, Mother and Daughter.


Marie Laurencin, The Kiss.


Marie Laurencin, Young Girl With a Fan.


Marie Laurencin, Portrait of W. Somerset Maugham.

Time passed. I bought myself a house on the Riviera, the house I live in now, and brought my theatrical pictures from England. I hung some of them in my sitting-room and others on my staircase. For my dining-room I bought Provençal furniture and on the walls hung pictures by Marie Laurencin that I had bought some years before. The effect was pleasing and indeed was much admired. One day Marie Laurencin called me up and said that she had heard how I had used her pictures and would like to come and see them herself. I asked her to lunch and she came with a good-looking man who, I presumed, was then her lover. There were four pictures in the room. She looked at the first [The Rowing Boat] and smiled. ‘What a pretty little thing,’ she murmured. At the second [Mother and Daughter] she said but one word: ‘Exquisite!’ The third picture [Young Girl with a Fan] faced the door. She gasped. She turned to me as though I were responsible for it. ‘There can be no doubt about it,’ she cried. ‘It’s a masterpiece.’ At the last picture [The Kiss] she addressed her companion. ‘But it’s delicious,’ she told him. ‘Delicious,’ he replied. I suggested that we should have lunch. I have not related this in mockery of the artist’s vanity: on the contrary, I found Marie Laurencin’s ingenuous delight in her pictures touching. I liked her all the better for it. She was not a great artist, far from it, but a pleasing one.

Some years later I received a letter from her in which she said that she would like to paint a portrait of me. In reply I told her that I was greatly flattered by the suggestion, but felt it only right to remind her that I was not a young thing with a complexion of milk and roses and the lustrous eyes of a gazelle, with a sensual, scarlet mouth, but an elderly gentleman with a sallow, wrinkled skin and tired eyes. She wrote back to say that nothing of that mattered, but would be grateful if I would come in a dressing-gown as she did not know how paint a jacket. On this we fixed a day and, with a dressing-gown over my arm, I presented myself at her studio. She set to work. While she painted she told me the story of her life. She was very frank and I enjoyed myself. The great love of her life had been for an eminent politician who was so busy that he only could come to see her at eight o’clock in the morning on his way to office. ‘Wasn’t that an inauspicious hour to make love?’ I asked her. ‘Not for Philippe,’ she answered proudly. Marie Laurencin was a hard worker. For six days in the week she painted pictures and on the seventh, as a rest, spend the day with old friends, a man, his wife and their children, who lived on the fifth floor of a house in Montparnasse. On arrival she took off her dress and put on an apron, then, seizing a broom, swept the floor and washed the children. For the mid-day meal she cooked the food which she had brought with her, for her friends were very poor, and passed the afternoon washing up, mending clothes and gossiping till it was time to put the children to bed. Then she took off her apron, put on her dress and went home delighted with her day, tired-out and happy.

After I had sat for four afternoons Marie Laurencin put down her brushes and looked at the canvas. ‘Vous savez,’ she said, ‘people complain that my portraits are not a good likeness. Il faut que je vous dise que je m’en fou éperdument.’ Freely translated this would mean, ‘I must tell you that I don’t care a damn.’ She took the canvas off the easel and handed it to me. ‘It’s a present.’


Camille Pissarro, The Quai Saint-Sever, Rouen.


Eugene Boudin, The Banks of the River Loques, Calvados.


Time passed. The Second World War broke out. A French friend of mine put my pictures in a place of safety and I left the Riviera. When the war was won I happened to be in New York. I had written a novel that had had a large sale [The Razor’s Edge], and the movie rights were bought by Twentieth Century Fox. One day I received a telegram by Darryl Zanuck, Vice-President in charge of production, telling me that the script which had been made was not satisfactory and asking me to go to Hollywood to work on it. The job, Darryl Zanuck added, would not take me more than a fortnight and money was no object. I could name my own price. I wanted the film to be as good as possible and wired back to say that I would gladly come to Hollywood, but did not want to be paid for any work I might do. An old friend of mine, George Cukor, who was to direct the picture, asked me to stay with him. I made the easy journey. After a long conference with the persons concerned I went to work, but at the end of a fortnight I found that I had still more to do and before I could finish the task to my own satisfaction three months had passed.

I arranged to go back to New York. Darryl Zanuck had kept the telegram in which I had said I did not want payment for my work; I suspect that in his long experience no one had ever agreed to work for him for nothing. He sent for George Cukor and told him that he would like to make me a present. ‘Would he like some nice sleeve-links?’ he asked him. ‘He’s got some nice sleeve-links,’ said George Cukor. ‘Would he like a gold cigarette case?’ asked Darryl Zanuck. ‘He’s got a gold cigarette case,’ answered George Cukor. ‘Would he like a car?’ suggested Darryl Zanuck. ‘He’s got a car,’ said George Cukor. ‘Well, what the hell would he like?’ cried the Vice-President impatiently. ‘I think he’d like a picture,’ said George Cukor. ‘A picture?’ When Darryl Zanuck had got over his astonishment he suggested that George Cukor should bring me to see him. On the following day I was ushered into the presence and Darryl Zanuck told me that in return for the work I had done (none of which, incidentally, was ever made use of) he would be glad if I would buy myself a picture at the expense of Twentieth Century Fox. I told him that I would like it very much. ‘You can’t buy a picture for nothing,’ I added. ‘What would Twentieth Century Fox be prepared to pay?’ ‘Anything up to fifteen thousand dollars,’ Darryl Zanuck replied. I had never bought a picture at such a price before and I was thrilled. I thanked the Vice-President effusively and a day or two later set out for New York.

But once there I hesitated to go round the picture dealers by myself. I did not think they would trouble to show their best pictures to a rather shabby old party who did not look at all like a purchaser; so I asked a friend of mine, a director of the Museum for Modern Art, to come with me and advise me. We spent several delightful mornings looking at one picture after another. There was one picture that particularly attracted me. It was a scene of the harbour at Rouen by Pissarro. It may not have been such a fine picture as others I saw, but it pleased me. After all, Flaubert was born at Rouen and, when he was writing Madame Bovary he must often have paused to look at the lively view. It existed no longer, for Rouen had been badly bombed during the war. Finally, however, on the advice of my friend, whose judgment was sounder than mine, I bought a snow scene by Matisse. But I could not get the Pissarro out of my mind; I thought I should always regret it if I did not have it, so I exchanged the Matisse for it. A little later I bought a Boudin, not one of those charming little pictures of fashionable women on the plage of Trouville, which he painted to earn a living, but a picture of water and trees. It moved me because I recognized in it a little piece of France that tourists seldom visit, but which I have been familiar with since my childhood.


Camille Pissarro, A Winter Landscape, Louveciennes.


Henri Matisse, Lady with a Parasol.


Stanislas Lépine, View Outside Paris.

In 1946, having stored my two pictures, I returned to Europe. My house had been occupied first by the Italians and then by the Germans. It had been looted and not a single thing remained in it; so, before sailing for Marseilles I bought sheets, towels, blankets, pillows, mattresses, pots and pans, dishes, plates, glasses, chairs, knives and forks, spoons – in fact everything I could think of to make a house habitable. I had all this packed in twelve huge crates and put on board the ship that was to land me at Marseilles. It was a small ship and it took us well over a fortnight to reach our destination. When we arrived the passengers’ belongings were landed to be examined by the Customs. The inspectors were so staggered by my twelve crates that they sent for the head of the Customs to examine them. He raised his eyes when he saw them and asked to see my passport. He glanced at it and then with a charming smile looked at me. ‘An, you wrote Gone with the Wind, didn’t you?’ he asked. I thought this was no time to stick to the rigid truth, but I could not bring myself to tell a barefaced lie. I gave him the sort of shy, deprecating smile which an author gives when a reader of one of his works pays him a fulsome compliment. The head of the Customs took a piece of chalk, scratched a cross on each crate and told me I need not open them. ‘How pleasant is,’ I said to myself, ‘that the French have so great a respect for men of letters!’ I had my twelve crates put on a lorry and trundled back to Cap Ferrat.

During the war the British fleet, in an attempt to destroy a semaphore on the top of my hill, had shelled my house. It was uninhabitable so, with my friend and secretary, Alan Searle, I took a couple of rooms in an hotel at Beaulieu. It took three months for my architect, with a discreet use of the black market, to put the house in order. We moved in. My pictures were returned to me and I placed where they had been placed before. I resumed my interrupted life. A year or two later a friend brought me the two pictures which I had left in the United States. I was obliged to hang them in my bedroom since, with the theatrical pictures and the Marie Laurencins, I had no other place to put them.

I had not forgotten the pleasure I had in New York when I wandered from one dealer to another to buy the picture Twentieth Century Fox wanted to pay for and when I went to Paris I continued to haunt the dealers. I bought A Winter Landscape by Pissarro, the Lady with a Parasol by Matisse and a small Lépine [View Outside Paris]. 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Argenteuil.


Georges Rouault, Christ Crucified.


Pierre Bonnard, Grandmother and Child.


Then I went to New York – for no reason I can remember except that I enjoyed myself there and bought Renoir’s Argenteuil and Rouault’s powerful Christ Crucified. This, when I was home again, I hung in my dining room, but my guests complained that it took their appetite away, so I have to put it in my bedroom. Another trip to New York enabled me to buy The Yellow Chair by Matisse which I have already spoken of and a touching Bonnard of an old woman feeding her grandchild.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Trois Jeunes Filles en Promenade.


Claude Monet, Zaandam.


Maurice Utrillo, A Street in Conquet, Brittany.


Alfred Sisley, Le Loing à Moret.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Nude (Gabrielle).

A little later I was able to acquire Renoir’s Trois Jeunes Filles en Promenade, Monet’s Zaandam and a street scene in Brittany by Utrillo. In Paris I bought Sisley’s Le Loing à Moret and a small nude by Renoir [Gabrielle]. Renoir lived on the Riviera not very far from where I lived myself and the story went that his favourite model was his cook. When he had done his day’s work he would say to her, ‘Now run along and put your clothes on and get the dinner cooking.’

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Le Polisseur.

Some time later I bought Le Polisseur. It was a nude of a young man polishing a stone floor, and it appears this is such dirty work that the man who is given the job to do it strips to the skin. The dealer who sold it to me told me that he could have got three times the price he asked me if it had been the picture of a woman. Buyers jibbed at a male nude and I was able to buy it for a very reasonable sum. I often asked the experts who came to see my pictures whether they could guess who had painted it. Only one of them could. My old friend, Sir Kenneth Clark, looked at it for two minutes and then said, ‘No one could have painted that head or that foot but Toulouse-Lautrec,’ and of course he was right.


Pablo Picasso, The Death of Harlequin.

Pablo Picasso, Standing Woman (La Grecque)

At about that time there was a revival in England of the plan to build a National Theatre and, eager as I was to have it built, I wrote to the secretary of the Committee and offered to present my theatrical pictures to the enterprise. My offer was accepted and I packed them up and sent them to London. I was sorry to lose the picture I had collected for so many years, but the loss gave me more room in my house to hang other pictures. On my last visit to New York I had seen at a dealer’s Picasso’s The Death of Harlequin and was fascinated by it. It was a deeply moving picture. But it cost a lot of money and to restore my house had proved expensive. I could not afford and returned, disconsolate, to France. But I kept thinking of the picture; I wanted badly to possess it. It was a lovely thing. I felt I should regret it all my life if it was snapped up by somebody else. At last I said to myself, ‘damn the expense,’ and made the dealer an offer. I knew that he had a monumental picture of a standing woman, also by Picasso [La Grecque], which was not an easy object to dispose of and I was aware that he had had it for some time. I had the exact place in my hall to put it and, thinking it would tempt him, included it in my offer. To my delight he took it and the two pictures eventually reached me.


Stanislas Lépine, River Scene.


Edouard Vuillard, Still Life with Flowers.

Time passed. One morning I happened to be driving down Bond Street when Alan Searle, my companion, suggested that we should have a look at the pictures of a dealer whose premises were on our way. I agreed and, as we approached, a lorry drove up in front of my car. A picture wrapped in a sheet was carried into the shop. We parked the car and followed. There were two men there, younger partners in the firm and suitably dressed in black as though for a cocktail party, whose business, I presumed, was to look after the stock and be polite to a possible client. I watched while the picture was unwrapped. It was a Lépine [River Scene]. It was unframed and dirty. It badly needed a cleaning. […] ‘How much d’you want for it?’ I asked. The two men looked at one another with embarrassment. It was not for them, I suppose, but for the head of the firm to make a price; ‘theirs not to reason why.’[4] After some hesitation the elder of the two took his courage in both hands and mentioned a price which from the look of me he thought I would not give. He was mistaken. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘I’ll buy it.’ The picture, cleaned and framed, hangs in my bedroom. I have placed my bed so that I can see it when I awake in the morning and see it before I close my eyes for the last time. I have never bought another picture. A little while ago, however, an old friend gave me, or rather lent me, a charming Vuillard, with the proviso that on my death it should be passed on to my long-time friend and secretary, Alan Searle. It hangs by my bedside.


Stanislas Lépine, A View From Caen.
____________________________________________________


[1] See also the essay “Reflections on a Certain Book” from the collection The Vagrant Mood (1952):
Leonardo's 'Mona Lisa' is not a picture that everyone can care for now, but we know the communication it had to make to Walter Pater; it was not a purely aesthetic communication, but it is surely not the least of this particular picture's merits that it had it to make to a man of peculiar sensibility.

[2] This is a very fascinating reference. Compare with WSM’s hilarious description of his bohemian sojourns on Capri in The Summing Up (1938):
I listened with transport to conversations, up at Anacapri at the colonel's house, or at Morgano's, the wine shop just off the Piazza, when they talked of art and beauty, literature and Roman history. I saw two men fly at one another's throats because they disagreed over the poetic merit for Heredia's sonnets. I thought it all grand. Art, art for art's sake, was the only thing that mattered in the world; and the artist alone gave this ridiculous world significance. Politics, commerce, the learned professors - what did they amount to from the standpoint of the Absolute? They might disagree, these friends of mine (dead, dead every jack one of them), about the value of a sonnet or the excellence of a Greek bas-relief (Greek, my eye! I tell you it's a Roman copy and if I tell you a thing it is so); but they were all agreed about this, that they burned with a hard, gem-like flame. I was too shy to tell them that I had written a novel and was half-way through another and it was a great mortification to me, burning as I was too with a hard, gem-like flame, to be treated as a philistine who cared for nothing but dissecting dead bodies and would seize an unguarded moment to give his best friend an enema.
This must have been in the summer of 1897 if Maugham “had written a novel and was half-way through another”. Either Heredia’s sonnets were much discussed by young man with artistic inclinations in France and Italy in those times, or Maugham simply transferred to his own experiences in Paris incidents that had happened years earlier to other people in Capri.

[3] See again “Reflections on a Certain Book” where Maugham describes again his cook’s fascinating with this strange picture and uses the occasion to argue that artistic appreciation is accessible to everybody:
More than twenty-five years ago I bought an abstract picture by Ferdinand Leger. It was an arrangement of squares, oblongs and spheres in black, white, grey and red, and for some reason he had called it 'Les Toits de Paris.' I did not think it beautiful, but I found it ingenious and decorative. I had a cook then, a bad-tempered and quarrelsome woman, who would stand looking at this picture for quite long periods in a state of something that looked very like rapture. [...] It seemed to me that she was receiving as genuine an aesthetic emotion as I flattered myself I received from El Greco's 'Crucifixion' in the Louvre. I am led by this (a single instance, of course) to suggest that it is a very narrow point of view which claims that the specific pleasure of artistic appreciation can only be felt by the privileged few. It may well be that the pleasure is subtler, richer and more discriminating in someone whose personality is cultivated, whose experience is wide, but why should we suppose that someone else, less fortunately circumstanced, cannot feel a pleasure as intense and as fruitful? The object that in the latter gives rise to the pleasure may be what the aesthete considers no great shakes. Does that matter?

[4] Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854). The second stanza is:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
  Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death

  Rode the six hundred.

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