Wednesday, February 29, 2012



     About five years ago, I had a funny experience during a series of job interviews in Philadelphia.

  The organization doing the hiring was a large, prestigious non-profit, and although the position in question represented a potential change from my usual area of professional endeavor, I was very interested even though the salary was modest. 

   Initially I met and spoke to four or five subordinate attorneys in the department, all of them intelligent and pleasant, during the course of several hours, recounting my life story and reciting my resume skills in various characterless offices and conference rooms, regarding Philadelphia's gray-brown frost outside the windows. 

     Finally, I was ushered in to meet the General Counsel, a woman with a lot of presence who simultaneously gave an impression of accomplishment, joy and melancholy. 

     We had a good discussion about the position, the organization and both our careers and backgrounds.  She had been a nurse before going to law school which, given her field of legal specialty, was a valuable qualification in terms of both the analytical and affective components of her job. 

     Midway through our conversation, describing her approach to work, she said "I'm an alcoholic."  She quickly corrected herself, substituting the word "workaholic," looking surprised and embarrassed, but laughing. 
   It was an awkward and unsettling moment.  From the instant I met her, I had wondered whether she was an alcoholic. 

     I didn't get the job.  They told me that the funding required for the position never came through, something I'm happy to say I was able to confirm through other sources. (I'm distrustful by nature.)  This recession has been a brutal depression, really, a terrible long winter.


       "Incidentally, there are people who seem completely staggered when one talks about nonverbal referential processes – that is, wordless thinking; these people simply seem to have no ability to grasp the idea that a great deal of covert living – living that is not objectively observable, but only inferable – can go on without the use of words.  The brute fact is, as I see it, that most of living goes on that way.  That does not in any sense reduce the enormous importance of the communicative tools – words and gestures." 

Harry Stack Sullivan – 

The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, New York, Norton, 1953 

 *Paintings by Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin.  Upper:  Girl With Racket and Shuttlecock, 1737, Uffizi Gallery, Florence; Lower: The House of Cards, 1736-7, National Gallery, London.

** This post is dedicated to “half-Leapling” and badminton artist Jane Butler Roberts on her fourth half-birthday, 2-29-12.   It may be a matter of pure coincidence that Jane taught her parents, who were never great silent movie fans, to appreciate Charlie Chaplin’s early artistry when she was very young and still nonverbal.   In the nicest possible way, Jane still renders me speechless most of the time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"My Life Split" -- 117 Years Ago Today (Oscar Wilde)


MS. Clark

[28 February, 1895]                 Hotel Avondale, Piccadilly

Dearest  Bobbie, Since I saw you something has happened.  Bosie’s father has left a note at my club with hideous words on it.  I don’t see anything now but a criminal prosecution.  My whole life seems ruined by this man.  The tower of ivory is assailed by the foul thing.  On the sand is my life split.  I don’t know what to do.  If you could come here at 11:30 please do so tonight.  I mar your life by trespassing ever on your love and kindness.  I have asked Bosie to come tomorrow.

Ever yours.                                OSCAR

Monday, February 27, 2012

Eminent Domain Elizabethans: State Expropriation Of Manet Painting (from

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Madame Claus, 1868

     The Ashmolean Museum is mounting a campaign to save Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, 1868, for the nation. On the advice of the Reviewing Committee, the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has extended the temporary export bar on the painting until August to give the Ashmolean time in which to raise the funds in order to acquire the painting. The painting has been sold to a foreign buyer for £28.35 million but, under a private treaty sale, with tax remission it can be purchased by an approved UK public collection at a greatly reduced price. The Ashmolean is approaching public funding bodies, trusts and private individuals, and launching a public campaign to raise the required £7.83xmillion

    Dr Christopher Brown CBE, Director of the Ashmolean, said, “This is one of the most important pictures of the 19th century which has been in this country since its sale following the artist’s death. The painting is available to public bodies approved by the Treasury at 25% of its market value. The £7.83 million, though a substantial sum to be found, is a mere fraction of the picture’s actual worth and it would therefore be an enormous disappointment if it could not be saved for the nation. The picture’s significance is reflected in its history: it was hugely admired and then bought by another great artist, John Singer Sargent, in 1884. Its purchase would, at a stroke, transform the Ashmolean’s representation of Impressionist painting.” 

John Singer Sargent, Self-Portrait, 1906


     Manet was one of the greatest painters of the 19th century. During his lifetime he was controversial, but his work, though it shocked the public, was hugely admired by artists. His reputation grew rapidly in the 20th century and consequently his best works were acquired by major museums. There are now remarkably few Manets in private collections, almost all in France, and there are only a handful of important pictures by Manet in the United Kingdom – in the National Gallery and the Courtauld Institute in London, as well as other works in Cardiff, Birmingham, and Glasgow. Adding to the Museum’s permanent collections and the Pissarro Family Collection, the acquisition of this masterpiece would make the Ashmolean a world-leading centre for the study of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work.


         The portrait is a preparatory study for Le Balcon (1868–9) now in the Musée d’Orsay - one of the key images of the Impressionist movement. Initially inspired by the sight of people on a balcony, during a summer spent in Boulogne-sur-Mer with his family in 1868, Le Balcon famously draws on Goya’s Majas on a Balcony painted around 1810. It is also an important example of Manet’s work from the late 1860s onwards when he began to focus his attention on his family and close friends. The portrait’s subject is Fanny Claus (1846–77), the closest friend of Manet’s wife Suzanne Leenhoff. A concert violinist and member of the first all-women string quartet, Fanny was one of Manet’s favourite sitters and a member of a close-knit group of friends who also provided the artist with models. She married the artist Pierre Prins (1838–1913), another friend of Manet’s, in 1869, but died of tuberculosis just eight years later at the age of 30. 

Edouard Manet, Le Balcon, 1868-9

If acquired by the Ashmolean the Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus will be shown at a number of museums in the UK in a special exhibition. Having previously been exhibited only once since it was painted, this will be a great revelation both to the public and to Manet scholars. As a first sketch, the portrait has a spontaneous quality and a vibrant palette less evident in Le Balcon which was reworked a number of times by the artist as he refined the composition in his studio. Mademoiselle Claus reveals fascinating new information about the working methods of Edouard Manet, one of the greatest masters of modern art. 

Edouard Manet, Self-Portrait With Palette, 1879


        This article on the website caught my eye this morning, mostly because it paired the names of Edouard Manet, one of my favorite painters, with Oxford’s esteemed Ashmolean Museum.  However, when I read it and learned about the museum’s “campaign to save Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, 1868, for the nation”, it made me angry. 

    The general public usually pays very little attention to State expropriation of private property under the sanitized, clinical, and almost noble-sounding sobriquet “eminent domain.”  Eminent domain concerns are mostly the province of its unfortunate victims, their lawyers and the "compulsory takers'" lawyers. (By the way, anyone with any significant leasehold on real property should read their legal documents carefully on this point before signing.) 

     I don’t wish to overelaborate, spin this out, or ruin anyone’s day, but it is one thing (albeit a complicated one) if the State feels the desire and expresses the intention to put an essential road through privately-owned real estate by engaging in coerced taking.  But it is quite another when government abrogates a private, legal sale of personal property by a citizen (or otherwise legally authorized person) for any reason, let alone for such attenuated and specious ones as we find here.  

     I suppose I could understand – slightly – if the artwork in question were British, rather than French, or if it had been the property of a historically significant British collector, rather than a famous American painter who happened to purchase the work in Great Britain where he was then resident. Essentially, this painting’s heritage is as foreign to Britain as my own.

     I assume that the “private treaty sale, with tax remission” aspect of this horrendous exercise of State power is intended to lessen the ultimate tax consequences for the abused seller and restore some of his or her lost profit margin.  Possibly other emoluments (invitations to museum openings, blue ribbons and rosettes, fancy hors d'oeuvres) are also being offered in partial, paltry recompense.  In the end, however, the State will do what the State will do.

     Regularly reading about the totally screwed-up financial and social state of the United Kingdom today, I find it absolutely appalling that Prime Minister Cameron's government and the grabby Ashmolean director don’t feel that their priorities are totally misplaced. (Please see today's relevant Link Of The Day on this subject.)  I mean, it’s a lovely painting with an interesting history and connection to another famous Manet, but Who CaresThe painting belongs to its owners, not to the British government or people (who I hope would be in general agreement with that proposition).

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Madame Claus (detail), 1868