Sunday 25th of September 2022

on the french riviera, the infinite mediterranean sea...

"I so would like to sleep, sleep for a long time, to forget."

So had said Nicolas de Staël, a few days before his suicide, to one of his neighbour. The woman did not know what he wanted to forget. He had never told anyone. No-one ever knew or found out. This is often the lot of people who misunderstand the relative value of life’s meaninglessness and hide their confusion — and/or suffer from bipolar depression in which we do not know how to manage our illusions and delusions. At some point, we cheat ourselves out of our own relative worth… We all do fantastic things and we miss a rung on the ladder. At the time, de Staël was famous, especially in America, for his paintings. But he had also commented, contemplating the shimmering sea:

What are glory and money to me? Both are vanity. They represent nothing…”… 

Possibly vanitously so, but they afforded him a (pretty) villa with a terrace, in Antibes, one of the most exclusive areas on the French Riviera, from where he could see the infinite Med. Was he lacking companionship?

Nicolas was well-known for his colossus body, his steely blue eyes, his eternal formidable laughter and his stamina that made him a powerhouse of the time. 

And yet.

Was he lonely? Sick?

His explanation was obscure: “all my life, I had a need to think painting, to paint in order to liberate myself from all the impressions, all the feelings, and all the anxieties of which the only solution I know is painting.” Obsession can twist our mind into non-genial knots.

He had spent his youth travelling throughout Europe like a lost gypsy. Born in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1914, he leapt from Rome to Budapest, from London to Brussels, possibly searching for solace or a solution for his evolving dark secret(s) should he had one. Our imagination added to some social silly notions such as sin, can plays tricks. In Paris, he stayed a bit longer. He befriended other artists such as Georges Braque and Robert Delaunay. 

The war, WW2, might have been confusing with humans destroying humans, while there was so much beauty and so many ideas to explore. Pain?

I understand. Many of us, especially creative minds, understand that one can pigeonhole oneself and the future becomes more of the same. Ideas run in circles and squares. Our sense of invention diminishes by repeats. A red boat becomes a red blob once more… It’s nice but it’s time to hit the road again. Paradise in Antibes is too good if one does not see the flaws. Paradise softens the brain, like perfection kills motivation, by right...

Have fun. Use your laughter again… Do what you can. Do. Escape… Find a companion. Share. Even if imperfect.


Much of what we consider contemporary painting today—including the Color Field movement—was predicted in his later canvases. Despite the fact that his paintings were in high demand in New York and Paris, De Staël’s lifelong battle with depression ended on March 16, 1955, when he leapt from his studio window to his death in Antibes, France. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Grand Palais in Paris, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others.
Read more:ël/

Picture at top: Nicolas de Staël (French/Russian, 1914–1955) Personnages au bord de la mer [Figures by the Seaside], 1952
oil on canvas
66 x 81 cm. (26 x 31.9 in.)

claude at antibes...

Nature imitates art!” proclaimed Oscar Wilde in front of Monet’s London paintings. Oscar explained that before Monet, nobody had noted the way the fog was eerily draping the bridges of London. After Monet, everyone thought of these bridges according to the paintings of Monet.

Before finding glory, Monet lived in misery. Nothing new for artists who have a vision of the world that is not yet appreciated. In Argenteuil, he spent his days at the end of a barge, under a canopy, painting. His young wife, Camille, had died… He had a young kid. Creditors were looking for him.

Then, in less than four years, he became famous. Here, Gus would suggest that it was the women who suddenly had fallen in love with the poetry, the fluidity and limpidity of Monet's paintings. His portrait of Renoir made women fret… Men only had to open their wallet. I had a win for an art prize one in the early 1980s… I was told in confidence that “it had been overwhelmingly chosen by the women”… Bless these strange creatures. 

Aged 15, Claude Monet was a truant. He skipped school and went around town, in Le Havre, where his father, a grocery wholesaler  had settled after escaping Paris with hasty hate, for whatever dark reason. All of town knew Claude's skills as a caricaturist. He went from café to café, where he would draw faces and charge according to the status of the person. He met Eugène Boudin at the art-shop where he was his buying charcoal sticks…

Boudin was twice his age and was already painting the Seine river, the beach of Trouville, the jetty at Honfleur, capturing the elegant women in long serralled dresses and sunbrellas… He owned and ran the art-shop.

"What you need to do, young man, is to draw 'en plein air’." Art people know “en plein air". You take your easel and your pain-box and set up near a tree by the riverside or in the middle of a field of wheat, to absorb the ambiance of the place at the moment… 

Later on in his life, Monet dreamt of capturing the same landscape at one hour increments, in winter, autumn, summer and spring. He wanted to capture the fog, the cold, the light, the wind. One day, he was by the side of a pond. He had arrived in his small car. Tall, upright with a long white beard, he had a small straw hat. His eyes were fading, possibly with cataract. In the back of the car he had some canvasses and his white painting overcoats impeccably folded… He looked at his enormous fob watch:

"I am half an hour too late, I need to come back tomorrow…

Boudin had been encouraged to become a painter at an early age by Jean-François Millet. We all know of the Angelus. Boudin had started early as a deckhand on boats as his dad was the pilot for the harbour. When his father retired, Boudin decided to become a painter. He studied briefly in Paris, where he admired the paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Back in Le Havre, Boudin began to paint the sea, his lifelong passion. He made annotations on the back of his paintings of the weather, the light, and the time of day. 

When one paints in plein air, one has to be careful as not to linger. Night can fall when the painting of the midday sun is still unfinished. You know what I mean… A couple of hours max, brushing away with precise strokes the imprecise wet juxtaposition creating the impression…

So, Boudin persuaded Claude Monet, barely 18, to become a landscape painter, helping him to discover the love of bright hues and the play of light on water, evident in Monet’s Impressionist paintings. One does not teach how to paint, one can explain what to see. 

But it was Paris that Monet went. His dad told him:

If you go to Paris to carry on with your “brushbillage” (barbouillage), you won’t get a cent from me…

His dad did not understand the keys to modern painting. He was a grocer. Monet arrived in Paris with some little cash given to him by a few friends.

From 1860 to 1865, fate was lucky for modern art. Monet become the friend of Pissaro, Renoir, Sisley and Bazille…

Bazille is often the forgotten retrograde genius of the lot. Who has not seen "The Pink Dress", the painting by Frédéric Bazille, aged 23, has seen nothing. The sky, the stone, her feet… Bazille was killed during the 1870 war, after taking command of his fighting unit, aged 28. As a painter’s painter, one wonders what sort of art would have developed from his meticulous, yet impressionistic, very observing mind…

After having made fame, Monet bought a place in Giverny, near Paris. This is where he painted the pond with the waterlilies, the “nénuphars”, the roses — a million times it seems. There he was capturing the fairies, the light and nature plus a Japanese wooden bridge that so many women fall in love with.

His paintings sold for hefty prices. He made a lot of cash. But he was becoming solitary, curling his spirit back within himself. He was not fast enough to capture the moment. he was exhausted by the “changing light”. Thus he painted the same things in series many times, at different times. 

The times were a-changing.

The younger painters became critical. “A painter cannot be one eye” had said Gauguin. The Cubists were saying: “a painter must not be one eye, but be the will of reconstruction” whatever this meant. In 1928, Monet died in a dream, somewhat prisoner of the past, as we all are. Monet wanted to be buried with simplicity, like a peasant…

Monet is the subject of many great exhibitions. Possibly more than all other painters. The women, you know, still love him… 


Monet at Antibes:

degas — dancing with the stars...

"Bugger this*! To copy Velasquez without making a sketch! You, one can say, are more than flippant!"

Degas turns around, furiously:

"And who are you, Monsieur?


So started a friendship at the Louvre Museum, where, on a small folding seat, Degas was engraving a copperplate, balanced on his knees, directly without having drawn the image as is usual in such a technique. Hence Manet’s astonishment.

Thirty years of Friendship, disputes, of painting given then taken back, sold, destroyed, followed — all discussed at Café Guerbois, where Impressionism was invented in the dying days of Manet.

Degas was weary of Impressionism… He only liked the “prune juice” dark paintings of Manet. He did not like the lighter ones — those that engaged in “impressions”.

To paint “en plein air” was heresy to Degas:

"One needs to shoot dead all these painters that one sees on the Seine riversides and those near a cliff with an easel. Painting isn’t a sport.” 

One day, his agent, Vollard, saw Degas in a country house, turning his back to a window and sketching something:

"What are you doing, Monsieur Degas?"

"Hey, can’t you see! A landscape

A few minutes later, Vollard was still intrigued:

But, you’re not looking at the trees, at nature?

Sometimes I do, from the door of a moving waggon…

At some stage, Degas had to give drawing lessons to kids… One day, a well-to-do woman introduced her “gifted” son:

"I say my son is only 15, and is already doing landscapes with great sincerity…

By then, Degas, halfway towards blindness, looked at her and said with fake interest:

So young and so sincere… Madam, your son is forever lost!”…

By the end of his life Degas was technically blind. He had to feel the steps of the staircase with his feet while climbing. Once inside his apartment he called:

“Hey Zoé, where’s the camomile?” A few weeks before his death in 1917, he called:

“Hey Zoé! So, where’s that war?”

Zoé was his house-maid that he liked because she made good jams. Unfortunately, Degas could not see the furniture in his own place. He had to "feel" his way through. Someone medical would say that his love of sugar brought on his blindness. Who knows. He then could not paint with oil, nor barely use pastels; he could not sculpt anymore. He spent his days touching a sensual piece of uncut ivory and he rolled a glass ball in his hands all day long. He once said:

All I’m good for now is to restore the straw seats of chairs…” Was he talking, I guess, of being seated in one, polishing the straws with his butt — because he could not do anything else. 

De Gas, Degas, was born in a rich Franco-Italian family of bankers. No-one in his family stopped him or tried to influence him away from becoming a painter. He loved the work of Ingres — who doesn’t (some people don’t) — and a friend of his father, the Marquis de Valpinson, took him to see the old man at his abode. After a short introduction, Ingres, an old frail man, collapsed, but the young Degas caught him before Ingres hit the floor. From then on, Degas became a favourite of the Academist. His painting future was assured.

Although pastels had been widely used since the Renaissance, with people such as da Vinci, as a sketching medium — Delacroix, Millet and Manet began to seriously use pastels in the middle of the 19th century. 

Edgar Degas made the medium his own with vital sensuous mastery in glowing colours. From 1875 onwards he made his most important works such as a suite of nudes, in pastel, shown at the Impressionist exhibition of 1886.

More than half of Degas' works depict dancers. Degas is well-known for his “danseuses”… some people think of him as a peeping tom. But his work was that of a superior sketch artist with an extra dimension. He loved the movement, the instant of a pas-de-deux… 

Degas's work was thus controversial, though generally admired for its draftsmanship. La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, or the Fourteen Year-old Danseur, which he showed at the Impressionist exhibition of 1881, was probably his most contentious piece for its "appalling ugliness” or its "blossoming”.

In our puritanical revival epoch, the #metoomoiaussi seasonal rebuke, he would be seen as a voyeur of young girls and young woman. All artists are perverts… It’s part an parcel of knowing humanity and its private parts. He was not the first one. see Gustav Courbet… It has been said often and for a long time that nude paintings, including those depicting events of the bible, were soft porn for the gentry, made acceptable to all by their mythical value.

At the beginning, Degas wanted to be a history painter, but in his early thirties, he became a "classical painter of modern life".

Degas believed that "the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown". He was known for his cutting wit, which often was cruel. He deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor.

Although Degas is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, he rejected the moniker, preferring being called a realist. 

Degas was full of prejudice and irritability which increased in his old age. He fired a model when learning she was a Protestant. His anti-Semitism was exposed in the mid-1870s. His 1879 painting Portraits at the Stock Exchange, had the facial features of banker taken directly from the anti-Semitic cartoons plastered in Paris at the time. He remained an anti-Semite and member of the "Anti-Dreyfusards" until his death.

Degas’ sculpture disregarded the smooth classical surfaces and contours, in garnishing his little statue with real hair and clothing made to scale like the accoutrements for a doll. These "real" additions heightened the illusion, but they also posed searching questions, such as what can be referred to as "real" where art is concerned.

Art is never real. Art is a form of deception — like politics and economics — using some individual invented variables, while the other two (politics and economics), plus religions, use socially invented variables.

Sciences could bamboozle the art dodgers who are quick on their feet to spread more porkies, thus leaving not enough room for sciences to exist in the mind of many people, us, the gross fudgers barbecuers from Boganville....

So what about Manet and his "Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe?”...

a picnic with a nude...

In the middle of the siege of Paris, 1870, as measles and famine is the main lot of town, Édouard Manet is amongst a group of patriots in charge of a gun… Degas, his friend, comes to visit this most famous painter in Europe, "more famous than garibaldi”, who is a soldier with no grade but acts like a general giving orders… ready to open fire on the German canailles (gangsters)… He carries with him a box of paint and paper-pads to make sketches from the nature around him...

Earlier, Manet's masterworks, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) and Olympia, both painted in 1863, when Manet was 31, had caused great controversy and had become rallying points for the younger painters who would pursue Impressionism. These works are the seeds that started modern art by breaking away from the stylistic and the subject conventions of the times.

Luncheon on the Grass was of course rejected by the Salon that only displayed works approved by the official French academy. The rejection would have been because of the nude in a modern setting, accompanied by bourgeois men in the garbs of the time, having a good old ordinary time. The situation suggested that the women were not goddesses, but possibly prostitutes.

For this painting, Manet also took his inspiration from the bottom-right group of personages (not the centre group as is often quoted), in the Marcantonio Raimondi engraving after Raphael's Judgement of Paris. This classical reference was soon destroyed by Manet's "mad boldness", with neither mythological nor allegorical meanings present.
Like many Impressionist works that followed, The Luncheon on the Grass featured an ordinary situation… Manet had re-contextualised and redefined what constituted fine art — with a hint of irony. We like a bit of satire…

So, they’d prefer me to do a nude, would they?” he wrote in a letter to French journalist Antonin Proust, in 1862. “Fine I’ll do them a nude . . . Then I suppose they’ll really tear me to pieces. They’ll tell me I’m just copying the Italians now, rather than the Spanish. Ah, well, they can say what they like.

Who, as an artist, has not had a stylistic tiff with officious academicians or art gallery patrons whose only knowledge of art is the cost of it? We cry with our colour pencils stirring a turpentine soup… We don’t know what we’re doing...

Born in 1832, in an upper-crust household with huge political connections, Manet rejected the posh future prepared for him. His mother, Eugénie-Desirée Fournier, was the daughter of a diplomat and goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince Charles Bernadotte, from whom the Swedish monarchs are descended — after having been installed by Napoleon Bonaparte... His father, Auguste Manet, was a French judge who expected Édouard to pursue a career in law… 

What upsetted his friends, including Degas, was that, despite his “revolutionary" paintings, Manet was always an incurable bourgeois. 

I always thought that the first spots are not given, they are taken.” 

Barely 17, he becomes a learner-pilot for the massive four-master “Le Havre et Guadeloupe”. On the jetty, his girlfriend cries as he walks on the deck of the boat as if glory is awaiting him, somewhere. He’s going to get there. 

In Brazil, "the women have magnificent eyes and hair to match, the black women are naked to the waist”. This is on a letter to his lovely mother, while to his dad, he begs him to “preserve a good Republic", as he thinks, rightly, that “Louis-Napoleon has dreams of grandeur in his head…” 

In the pampas, he is bitten by a venomous snake. The snake dies, Édouard survives. Back in Paris, at his parents' opulent place, he has a tryst with Suzanne Leenhoff, the piano teacher of his younger brothers, between two Chopin preludes… She becomes pregnant and this is annoying to a family of respectable judges who manage to keep the secret of the affair, but for Édouard, this is the end of the Law School… Too bad… Painting and fame, here we come...

Thus still in his teens, Édouard is like a young colt, “burning from a fire of ice”… He becomes a student of Thomas Couture, the old master… Édouard paints a monumental work, "The Roman Decadence”, that gets exhibited at the Salon of 1847. 

One does not learn how to paint in museums”. But this does not stop Manet from going to Italy and see Titian and Tintoretto in museums. He had met Degas at the Louvre, didn’t he? It’s not with the intent to copy but to "improve". He even asks Delacroix the right to “copy” (modify) one of this master’s work "La Barque de Dante” (Dante’s Boat)… The master tells him where to get off… By 1859, Manet paints his first real own work: "The Buveur d’Absinthe”. Submitted to the Salon, the work is rejected for its insanity and depiction of alcoholism. Only Delacroix voted for Manet. Manet is now 27 and is desperate (not for money but for glory).

Baudelaire comforts him:

"My dear Manet, you can’t take eight days sick leave because of a bad review in the press..."

Manet had met the author of “Les Fleurs du Mal” (Flowers of Evil) at a fashionable restaurant, below Montmartre… Baudelaire’s face is that of a hungry bright degenerate, with outrageous make-up. The make up is a thick coat, “but there is so much genius under this coat...” says Manet.

From there, Manet becomes obsessed with a full-on war against the academicians and the salon. He craves honours and recognition, and he will get them no matter what. He suggest to the count Lezay-Marnezia to get the "Imperatrice" to start a “Salon des Refusés” which she officially opens, with Napoleon III by her side, at the Industry Palace. 

Of course, The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, make the Imperatrice blush and Napoleon III just shrugs his shoulders… But the name Édouard Manet is now the infamous glorious scandal of the second empire.

Olympia is taken up by the salon of 1865, but the critics are torrid: “We don’t reproach at Monsieur Manet to have idealised mad virgins, but to show us dirty ones!” says one of them. Even Courbet is furious. Emile Zola takes Édouard's side, but is worried that nasty louts might use their slings to take potshot at Manet in the streets. 

Manet’s life is a huge storm in regard to his paintings and a whirlwind in regard to his private life. He marries Suzanne Leenhoff who lives in Holland with his son, now in his early teens. Yet Manet has affairs with all his models. One would say, it's nothing sentimental, but shear enthusiasm. Manet’s life is incoherent — with no chronology…

The leg where the snake had bitten him in Brazil is becoming very painful… He still carries on with the hol-poloi of the times. He is ready to capture Sarah Bernhardt in painting and in romance… but he has run out of time. On the day a client bought one of his paintings for a massive sum, the surgeons cut his leg off. One could suspect a nasty gangrene and possible blood-poisoning… He soon dies in the arms of his son, on the 30th of April 1883… The news travels through Paris like a trail of gun powder on fire. Many people cry at his burial, Degas arrives late but has the last word:

We did not know he was so great…"


All this exploration of art, with the contribution of Jules Letambour, was designed to help understand the motivations of artists. Many are revolutionary and leftist, others are a-political, some, like Édouard Manet are revolutionary yet bourgeois... Some have no ideas... and some repeat old tactics, like a good dog brings a stick back... Few deride our abysmal political class, except for cartoonists... Some of us thus become Jack of all trades... Playing the game by day, throwing grenades by night...