Friday, February 14, 2014


 Wilhelm Leibl: 1844-1900

Letter to Baurat U. Wingen

 Munich,   October 14, 1867

     Kaulbach wants me to paint one of his cartoons (the encounter of Maria Stuart and Elizabeth) and to sign a contract with me for this purpose.  But I feel no desire for that.  I would rather express my own ideas and I don’t believe I could work according to the ways and manners of someone else—I believe this would hamper my progress to an essential degree, or even destroy it.  At the moment, I should like to paint a monk sitting at the window of his cell and playing the violin.  I should like to represent this single figure on a considerably large scale and try to see whether my strength is equal to the expressiveness with which I should like to endow it.  How welcome the stipend would be now!  I could do what I wanted and not what others wished.  I wouldn’t like to offend Kaulbach, but in no case would I like to comply with his wish.  I don’t want to be used.  And so I turn to you for advice.  Not only I, but everyone else wishes you were among us;  I often think of you even if I anger you a little with my slow answers; you well know this fatal habit of mine.

NOTE:  Home today (another major snow), I learned a little about the 19th  century German realist painter Wilhelm Liebl reading Linda Nochlin’s Realism and Tradition in Art: 1848-1900.   I also viewed some of his artwork, including the self-portrait above from 1862, Leibl's 18th year.  As the snow fell in buckets and sheets, and between arguments with the psychotic, potentially violent snow plower who adopted us ten days ago, I found it elevating to compare and contrast Leibl's virile ingenuousness, which several years later made him a favorite of Courbet, shown in this letter written as a 23 year old working artist in Munich to a mentor, with the scary, rotten, weakened pulse remarks published in today’s Swarthmore College Daily Gazette.  

Earlier this week, Swarthmore College hosted a kind of “odd couple” co-presentation on campus by Princeton University professors Robert George, a conservative lawyer and philosopher, and Cornel West, a prominent political leftist and activist.  The two men, who might seem to be polar, repelling figures, are friends as well as colleagues, and they decided to tour their “opposites attract” academic dialogue to liberal arts colleges in order to promote and provoke student analysis and debate and to open closed minds. Sounds ok to me.

Swarthmore students were vocally unreceptive to this and actively hostile to Professor George, who is a Swarthmore alumnus and an exceedingly polite person. 

One student told the Gazette: “What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion. I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society. We should not be conceding to the dominant culture by saying that the so-called “progressive left” is marginalizing the conservative.”

Another student, who was the only named, "on-the-record" contributor to a “zine” distributed on campus to protest George’s appearance, said:  “A group of students wrote this zine in response to Swarthmore’s decision to host Robert George. We spent the weekend writing, designing and producing this zine collectively. Those involved in the creation of this zine were not explicitly named anywhere within it.”

There exists on college campuses today a disgusting tendency to write and publish mean and crude literature anonymously, which goes beyond the student newspaper "comment sewers."  If I were a college admissions officer interviewing students, the first thing I would ask applicants would concern their views regarding this practice.  

If they answered affirmatively, i.e., that anonymous name calling was a good and laudable thing, I would reject their application on the spot, demonstrably and irrevocably, appending my own "John Hancock" to their foreheads in ineradicable ink.  This is my “litmus test” and my protocol.  
Even Kilroy signed his name. (He was an artist. That was the point. I made this.)

Leibl planned originally to title the 1877 painting below Latest News. He wrote to his mother: “My painting shows five peasants who have huddled together in a small rustic room, apparently to discuss some 
matter of village politics because one of them holds in his hand a piece of paper that looks like an old land-registry notice. They are real peasants, whom I paint as true to nature as I can; the room is real too, because I paint the picture while I am in it.” 
Leibl’s undated Two Hands With Walking Stick appears in the middle position.  His life proceeded basically in accordance with the tenor of his letter.  He had professional successes and quieter periods, but he was known for his honesty, integrity  and fierce independence.  I like his statement: “I paint people the way they are, their soul is already there anyway.” 
Speaking of virile ingenuousness, a fine artistic and personal quality, There's This (Link).  Happy Valentine's Day.



  1. So, I attended the collection at Swarthmore featuring Robby (a Swarthmore alum) and Cornel...and that is not exactly how it happened. In fact the audience was stunningly respectful, and moved. Their applause of both was explosive. Some were moved to tears. The presentation moved those in the audience BEYOND their partisan positions, and to a place of more compassion and courtesy, to fallibility and humanism. Not sure how it will stick, either at a college or in the world...but it was profound in the moment

    1. Good morning. That must have been interesting and I'm very glad you mentioned this. It just goes to show that you cannot trust things you read in the Daily Gazette. I guess I should move back to the Phoenix or just things out with you in advance. I did find the two students' remarks quoted above (which appeared in the Gazette -- I omitted their names because it seemed unnecessary to include them) appalling. Hope the snow treated you not too badly. I know Robbie very slightly, both from college days and since then. I think his and West's decision to go out together was fascinating. I tend to find West's public appearances (on tv mostly) buffoonish, but I imagine there is a large degree of self-conscious self-promotion there. And it seems to be working for him career-wise. Curtis