‘What does inspire me?’ – Adolphe Borie, American painter repeated the question once again as if he wanted to give himself more time to answer properly – ‘ One can say that the artworks of Manet, Renoir and Cezanne undoubtedly influenced and ‘matured’ my style. But only Mary Cassatt would be the very woman whose art seduced me and ‘reinvented me’ as a visual artist. Thanks to her at the age of 30 I was ‘shaped’ and knew what is the path I want to follow.
Reine LeFebvre Holding a Nude Baby, 1902-1903, by Mary Cassatt, Worcester Art Museum
‘Marys charm and enthusiasm have helped me to find the way to transfer my heart, my character and sensitivity, my intellectual curiosity and sincere admiration of colors into a canvas.’ – said the artist with a bright and confident voice.
I tried to tell Adolphe how much I admired the art of the feminist he has just mentioned when I’ve noticed that I should not interrupt him. The painter crossed his fingers, closed his eyes for a while like was looking for the right words.
‘My artworks are known as eclectic, sensitive and rich’ – he continued – ‘From what I’ve been told by some critics and close friends my creations are an open rebellion against the established order. During my studies at The Munich Art Academy I’ve been trained to use heavy brown overtones. But sadly enough for my German professors and art teachers – the colors brown and grey have never been my close friends. When you look at my ‘Woman in Red’, ‘The Black Hat’, ‘Woman Reading’, recently acquired by the Pennsylvania Museum of Art you’ll notice my admiration for colors. At the end of the day – we live in a beautiful, colorful world and my art would be like a lifeless and sick bird that pretends that he does not need any wings and that there is nothing spectacular about flying.
‘The world we live in is full of many beautiful colors, Mr. Borie.’ – I said without looking at Adolphe deeply touched by the metaphor he has just used. I played my role quite well knowing that a direct eye contact with a married man is something that a working-class girl living in 1924 should better avoid.
The painter was undoubtedly pleased to hear my words. They made him realize that I’ve understood his point. And in fact, I really did – since I’ve read a lot about his individualism, need for an experiment and intellectual curiosity.
‘I am known for the many portraits I’ve produced throughout my career as a painter. But don’t get me wrong’ – he continued – ‘deep inside I don’t want the others to perceive me as a portrait painter’. – While saying it I’ve noticed that the artists face turned slightly red which was most likely connected with the fact that hundreds of his ‘other works’ stacked deep in his studio have never been commissioned. There were so many nudes, still lives or landscapes that nobody has ever called ‘outstanding’ or ‘remarkable’. I took a look at the Bories works such as colorful bouquet of flowers hanging on the wall and I really liked it. I knew it is not that the artists did not try his best while painting objects or landscapes. Other styles were for him a relaxation, an amusing activity, an escape from the portraits, something one does purely for fun and not necessarily for money.
Adolphe Borie, ‘Flowers In An Urn’
Adolphe Borie, Seated Female Nude, 1900
‘You see dear Nelly’ – Adolphe carried on his amusing and extensive explanation– ‘It’s almost impossible to stay honest and sincere as an artists – when you make your living out of the art and always that you sell – and have to think of pleasing somebody. The reality is that you have to continuously look to satisfy the one who ordered the painting, the sitter or the onlooker, or everybody at the same time. Luckily there are still times when I truly enjoy the time spend with the one I paint. I love when my muse is more than just a beautiful woman in elegant clothes. It is much easier than to paint also the soul, the things that are “skin deep”.
Adolphe suddenly stood up, went to one of his drawers and brought a photography of Iris Tree. He shown it to me along with one of her first published poems from 1919, that I found most fascinating:
“You preach to me of laws, you tie my limbs
With rights and wrongs and arguments of good,
You choke my songs and fill my mouth with hymns,
You stop my heart and turn it into wood.
…Age creeps upon your timid little faces
Beneath each black umbrella sly and slow,
Proud in the unimportance of your places
You sit in twilight prophesying woe
So dim and false and grey, take my compassion
I from my pageant golden as the day
Pity your littleness from all my passion
Leave you my sins to weep and wine away!
1923, Photography by Man Ray, Iris Tree, the bohemian Poet
Adolphe Borie, ‘Iris Tree’
I enjoyed the conversation with the Bories so much that I forgot that I am just a “working girl” who came to borrow some gowns and I should not interrupt the very kind family for too long. On the other hand I was ‘hungry’ to find out more about Bories art. Therefore I thought it would be good to say something that would sound ‘clever enough’ so my hosts unfold more interesting facts.
‘To paint a portrait requires not only talent, but sympathy, insight and cultivation. Do you agree with that?
‘Yes, indeed dear Nelly. What you say is very interesting and intriguing. The human subject of a portrait cannot be regarded in exactly the same way as an arrangement of still life. Nowadays we have photography – and for this reason the people turn to the artist for something the photograph cannot give, since the fine portrait is never an exact copy of life. I believe you have not seen my portrait studies but actually I like them most. They alone express everything: line, color, form, my interest in human psychology or mood. I am not interested in creating ‘art for the arts sake’ opposite to the majority of American contemporary artists. The art could be purely critical and didactic. My art does not touch these themes. But my art would never get the chance to become “meaningful” if my heart wasn’t connected to the ones I paint. And this should not surprise anyone, I am not an ordinary, street painter that you can find behind every corner. I hate to say that but my ability to create striking portraits is both a blessing and course.
Adolphe Borie, ‘Portrait Of A Lady’
Everybody who orders a painting expects to get an excellent, moving, heart touching and stunningly beautiful creation. The biggest dilemmas of us, “painters on demand” is -how to avoid to ‘kitsch’ and triviality, moving in ‘shallow waters’ if you’re expected to achieve likeness rather than life. How to express an avid enthusiasm when none is felt? How to avoid a banal job when you could not care less about the one you paint?
Adolphe Borie, Untitled, 1900
For a while I was reflecting on the words I’ve heard. Adolphes questions were a perfect example of never-ending dilemmas that so many artists go through. Having his life completely devoted to the Art, being a son of an intellectually ignorant banker of wealth and social position – Adolphe truly hated to look at his paintings as at a marketable article, a product. I was aware that for family Borie sold artworks were the main source of incomes. What I learned from the conversation was that the real, artistic value of Adolphes paintings depended greatly on his connection with the sitter. The commissioned works of Borie, as it is with all artists, are the most overworked, the least colorful and the least successful side of his work. I thought of all the portraits by this painter that presented his wife Edith or son Peter -and it has become clear to me that similarly to other artist that I knew – the true emotions were the key, the ‘ success factor’. Painting something you love is reflection of your inner wish, the true tribute to the things that matter to the artist. This is where the big art begins.
While I was thinking of relation of the word ‘success’ to ‘the art’ I tried to reconstruct in my head words of Picasso that I’ve found few months ago on the Internet. Pablo -, however very successful and wealthy during his lifetime, understood better than anyone else the struggles and frustrations of many artists:
‘Well, success is an important thing! It’s often been said that an artist ought to work for himself, for the “love of art,” that he ought to have contempt for success. Untrue! An artist needs success. And not only to live off it, but especially to produce his body of work. Even a rich painter has to have success. Few people understand anything about art, and not everyone is sensitive to painting. Most judge the world of art by success. Why, then,leave success to “best-selling painters”? Every generation has its own. But where is it written that success must always go to those who cater to the public’s taste? ‘ (Picasso)
Through a large window in the specious salon I could notice that it was getting late. Knowing very well that all the good things in life have to come to an end, even if it’s a tea with wonderful artistic family. Edith informed me that the gowns I wanted to borrow were ready. Hearing that I thanked Bories for their hospitality and felt delighted account for the fact that I’ve just spend one of the most amazing hours of my life. On the other hand I was very curious of what shall happened next. Without any further delay I opened the door and said goodbye to my hosts. In the same second my head begun to feel very heavy like I was about to “black out”. When I opened my eyes I found myself back in my antique bed. Next to me there was my notebook with yellow roses that I use to write my diary and the art related poems.
I rubbed my eyes , still not really believing in my travel into the 1924. When I opened my notebook I was surprised to notice that there was a new poem about Adolphe Bories artwork. There was no doubt I must have written it during my journey. ‘If I tell anyone what has just happened to me – they’ll think I must be completely out of my mind’ –Instead of panicking, calling my best friend or Mum to announce them ‘the breaking news’ I decided to not tell anyone about my adventure. At least now. All I knew was that I need to figure out first – what was tat actually and secondly – if there is any chance to return to the “old times”. I never thought I’ll come to the point in my life when I’ll need to use the words of Scarlett O’Hara that will ‘say it all’. I took my notebook and wrote down words of my favorite character from “Gone With The Wind’ – “I can’t think about it now. If I do – I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow”.