Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Living Room, 1941-43
Balthus (France, 1908-2001)
Oil on canvas, 114 cm x 146 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York


The Living Room (1941-43): Balthus

- - - Music meant everything to the father, but his two daughters are sleepy now: one has dozed off on the couch and left the living room a mess: the brown felt tablecloth covers half the cocktail table and the bowl of fruit could tumble at any moment. The younger daughter is doing her best to study composition, but her eyes too are wandering inward; her daydreams are still simple, she thinks of ordinary things: of skipping rope in a schoolyard, teasing a girl friend about the length of a dress, the discipline of keeling in a shelter while bombers fly overhead.

- - - Mother is still working in the factory, well past dinnertime, and father will be home late, if at all. The piano, which was intended for their lessons and bought at a considerable expense, stands idle in the corner, hardly visible. After the first child was born mother promised father the melodies of Mozart would sweep through the house; now anything vaguely German must be whispered secretly, and the music played is mostly French, some faint impression.

- - - Earlier today there was a hint this household was not so intact. The older sister held the younger in her arms when she was frightened by a noise, there was the slightest hint of a caress, the reflection of a hand against a thigh. So much tenderness comes forth these days, this should not cause surprise. And when the parents arrive to collapse on that same couch, no words of passion will be expressed. The adults save their purest feelings for the enemy, and all they share is sleeping now, where everything is permitted, and nothing is quite done.


Ira Ladoff
Palm Reading in Winter
Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1978

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