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kokoschka cried at the feet of st. christopher

Post #304 • June 22, 2004, 6:06 AM • 4 Comments

James Elkins, Pictures and Tears:

The most famous art historian of the second half of the century, Sir Ernst Gombrich, wrote me a long letter all about how other people have cried. He himself hasn't. "I see that you are going to disprove the passage in Leonardo's Paragone," he writes, citing a passage where Leonardo proposes, "The painter will move to laughter, but not to tears, for tears are a greater disturbance of the emotions than laughter." Gombrich adds that he has never wept in front of a painting, or even laughed, and he tells a little story about his friend, the painter Oskar Kokoschka, who once wept looking at a painting by Hans Memling that showed some bare feet in water. (The story about Kokoschka is wonderful, since he was a large man with big limbs, and the poeple in his later paintings often have outsized hands and feet. It is lovely to think of him bending over Memling's painting, crying at the delicate naked feet of St. Christopher immersed in water.)




June 22, 2004, 8:51 PM

I remember many years ago walking through MOMA, turning a corner and coming face to face with a painting that literally dropped me to my knees. Although there were no tears, the emotional power that the painting had had completely overwhelmed me. I sat there on a bench and stared at that painting for quite some time, as my companion continued on, only to have to double back and fetch me since I didnt have the desire to leave the painting on my own.

Subsequently I have had few experiences as profound, mostly since I am in the art business and see so much work that my senses seem to be dulled. I had noticed this trend a few years ago when recalling the story above to a friend. Since then I have made it a point to try to look at artwork with fresh eyes tin an attempt to isolate the bombardment of images that are put in front of us each day. It is very difficult, but every now and again those knees start to shake and that makes it all worth while. The only problem is that those experiances are too few and far between.



June 22, 2004, 9:06 PM

What was the painting, Otto? I need my knees to start shaking too, from somethong other than age and decrepitude.



June 23, 2004, 3:21 AM

It was Andrew Wyeth's "Cristina's World." It was the right painting that I needed to see at that time, and I knew of the painting, but when I tunred that corner and saw it face to face, that was a different story.



June 23, 2004, 10:24 PM

Oh. Well, maybe not exactly "face to face", inasmuch as the first thing you see is the lady's rear end.



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