At La Closerie des Lilas

closerie

At La Closerie des Lilas

That evening we spent
           with Ulyana and her friend
talking over a bottle of wine
           while the shades of Cézanne
and Oscar Wilde moved
           among the tables

There where the Surrealists
           once came to blows
with their opponents
           you talked of the politics
dividing the Ukrainians
           of Philadelphia
the egos and the rivalries
           the desire to control

there where back in the day
           Picasso and Modigliani
came calmly to chat
           and Joyce and Beckett
and on occasions
           Gertrude Stein

and Hemingway
           of course
in every bar

But I’d gladly return there
           with you if you would too :
would you ?

 

John Lyons

When you’re old – Paul Eluard

 

Eluard_Picasso
Paul Eluard, by Picasso

           I can’t do a thing, I can’t see a thing.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t go out
You should stay indoors by the fire,
With warm clothes and the day tempered
Each evening by the night and the lamplight.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t read anymore.
Words are bad and meant for other lives.
You should stay in, your eyes glazed, resigned
Motionless, in a corner.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t talk anymore
You mustn’t sleep anymore. . . You must remember
That others are constantly thinking:
“When you’ve seen it all, you’re miserable
And when you’re old, you’ve seen it all!”

Paul Eluard (1895-1952)

Translation by John Lyons

French text :

         Je ne peux rien faire, je ne peux rien voir.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus sortir
Il faut rester dans la chambre avec le feu,
Avec de chauds vêtements et le jour adouci
Chaque soir par la nuit et la clarté des lampes.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus lire.
Les mots sont mauvais et pour d’autres vies.
Il faut rester, les yeux perdus, l’air résigné
Dans un coin, sans bouger.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus parler
Il ne faut plus dormir. . . Il faut se souvenir
Que les autres pensent sans cesse:
« Quand on a tout vu, on est misérable
Et quand on est vieux c’est qu’on a tout vu! »

Paul Eluard (from Le devoir et l’inquiétude, 1916-1917)

 

Ceri Richards – Self-portrait (1934)

by Ceri Richards, oil on composition board, 1934
Ceri Richards, Self-portrait (oil on composition board) 1934

Ceri Richards (1903-1971) was born in a small village near Swansea. He and his younger brother and sister were brought up in a highly cultured, working-class environment. His mother came from a family of craftsmen; and his father, who worked in a tinplate foundry, was active in the local church, wrote poetry in Welsh and English, and for many years conducted the Dunvant Excelsior Male Voice Choir. The children were all taught to play the piano, and became familiar with the works of Bach and Handel. In later years music would be an important stimulus to Richards’s painting – as would his youthful sensitivity to the landscapes of Gower and the cycles of nature. Richards trained initially at the Swansea School of Art before completing his studies at the Royal College of Art, (where in later years he became a teacher).

In this beautiful self-portrait from 1934, the influence of the surrealists is quite apparent, particularly that of Picasso. Nevertheless, the portrait remains very much rooted in Richards’s Welsh background, with the dark earthiness of the colours capturing the tone of the valleys where the artist grew up. It is very much the ‘portrait of the artist as a young artist,’ but an artist emerging from a very specific landscape, which the rugged shapes and the simplicity of the composition evoke so well. It is an action painting in the sense that the subject is proudly presenting the tools of his trade, the palette and brushes which he carries as emblems. The thick black lines enhance the notion that the artist is an accumulation of elements, yet the eye is drawn to the bright complexion and the affirmative expression which underline the pride Richards took in his work and his vocation. This self-portrait is quite simply his coat of arms.

Richards wrote: “One can generally say that all artists — poets, musicians, painters, are creating in their own idioms, metaphors for the nature of existence, for the secrets of our time. We are all moved by the beauty and revelation in their utterances — we notice the direction and beauty of the paths they indicate for us, and move towards them”.

The beauty to which Richards refers is intrinsic in every detail of this self-portrait which so clearly and affectionately references his roots in the Welsh valleys —which he appears to be wearing about his shoulders— and his belief in the rugged powers of art. Former pupils have described Richards as a cheerful, boisterous teacher, and these traits come through in this marvellous celebratory painting which is there to be admired any day of the week in the National Portrait Gallery on Charing Cross Road.