Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Rilke and a tale worthy of him
There's a long article about Rilke HERE
The picture is by Paula Modersohn-Becker, from whose work I first learned of Rilke's existence. The picture was in a book published in Dresden in 1929, part of a huge series tracing German art from 1400 to 1929. Dozens of volumes, thousands of paintings, each one reproduced in full colour on specially prepared luxury paper and then pasted into the volumes by hand. The reproduction was superb, a lot of love and expense went into making the prints state of the art.
What an enterprise it must have been! Later I discovered that it was a limited edition series, which makes sense - something so lovingly produced could not have been made in vast quantities. My father found some volumes in a second-hand shop in China after the war, presumably looted. People suffered so much in the war that houses were stripped to their bricks, and then the bricks sold on for pittances. Books were used as firewood. So how did these survive? Maybe they were looked after until the end, perhaps by "the enemy", who ended up losing them anyway.
As a kid, I'd sit and pore over the Durers, and Caspar David Friedrichs, even page after page of obscure Bavarian genre painters whose main subjects were dead animals and young dudes showing off their horses. Because the texts were in German, it seemed all the more mysterious.
The Modersohn-Becker pictures were in a special volume devoted to 20th century German painting - Franz Marc, Emil Nolde, Lyonel Feiniger etc. I was fascinated to think about a group of women artists living in a cold, windy place by the North Sea. Needless to say, many of those paintings no longer exist, destroyed by the Nazis, fire bombs and the deaths of their owners. "Degenerate art" – one picture was a rabbi. But a lot of the Old Masters would have been destroyed too. And the people involved in making the series, too, even the menials pasting each picture, one by one. What strange fate preserved those volumes? I'll never know but I'm grateful. Every now and then, in a museum, I'll spot a painting and chuckle, like meeting an old friend after years apart ."So you survived, huh?" "Yes", says the painting, "You've aged a bit, too".