4 April 2019

She came in through the bathroom window.....

High Windows.....

The Open Window, Yellow Wall, c 1919

I am in Tate Modern, that vast and powerless monument to control, peering through windows.... I am enjoying The Colour of Memory, the C C Land Exhibition. As the guide points out, The paintings of Pierre Bonnard (1867 - 1947) create a remarkable sense of intimacy. Many of them allow glimpses into a private world, depicting the domestic life that Bonnard shared with his companion, Marthe de Méligny.

La Fenêtre
(The Window)

 Pierre Bonnard
Photo © Tate
CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

There aren't many connections, perhaps, between Pierre Bonnard and Philip Larkin, but some link fizzes through my mind. Larkin, apart from anything else, may not be best remembered for his use of colour, but the records of daily life, and the way things are remembered and reimagined perhaps link the poet and the painter, as does the use of windows (and that's not pc).....

But, just maybe, one informs the other?

I think I see the poet leaning on the railings, looking down....

But it's a mistate (sic).....  Larkin wouldn't be seen dead in jeans....

Looking through windows is not necessarily voyeurism.  It's a way of framing experience, of playing with dimensions - even if only two.

In Nude in the Bath we see an out-of-focus figure in a dressing gown entering the frame. A Larkin-like Pierrot in his lover's bathroom, the light from the window filtering through the layers of their lives.  1925 was the year that Bonnard married Marthe, but it was also the year that Bonnard's other lover, Renée Monchaty, to whom he had proposed marriage in 1923, committed suicide.

The figure in the bath is not Marthe in 1925, but a younger Marthe, less tubercular, perhaps more as he wanted to remember her, to record their love....

While other people wore like clothes
The human beings  in their days
I set myself to bring to those
Who thought I could the lost displays.....

Sympathy in White Major
Philip Larkin

Nu dans la baignoire
(Nude in the Bath)
 Pierre Bonnard
Photo © Tate
CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

Paintings, especially framed ones, are windows onto other worlds.  Other times, other places.  People we never knew look back at us through openings in the walls, through glass, through time.  Again and again Bonnard's pictures step through a frame, and then through a window, colouring in lost days....

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full-grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The Trees
Philip Larkin

So similar.  So different.  A bottle of wine, half consumed.  A woman, half complete.....

The Open French Window, Vernon, c 1921

The Door Opening onto the Garden, c 1924

I am not alone.  These window frames are focal planes for all, and sundry (sun dried, sic). We gaze, refreshed, through the openings at worlds we missed, yet which we love.  

The woman in red here crouches as if to welcome the woman in blue, to invite her in; the seated man could almost be the painter, more aloof.....

Dining Room in the Country, 1913

And here, in southern France, the viewer watches over a reclining Bonnard, the roof of his house, Le Bosquet, in mid-canvas, the landscape of the distant Estérel mountains reflecting the shades of the viewer's clothing while Bonnard merges naked into the straw.....

Landscape at Le Cannet, 1928

Time for a drink.....

When I drop four cubes of ice
Chimingly in a glass, and add
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice,
And let a ten-ounce tonic void
In foaming gulps until it smothers
Everything else up to the edge,
I lift the lot in private pledge:
He devoted his life to others.

Sympathy in White Major
Philip Larkin

And I walk through the windows.....

Into another world....

Though, again, I am not alone.  There are windows all around, reflecting, shining, framing all we are....  

Or what we seem to be.

Way below, in the teeming Borough Market, the dance of life continues, the music indistinct, blurred by the shuddering of time. Nothing is fixed; nothing is certain; the actors play their parts, then disrobe, and, eventually, disappear.....

If Bonnard had had the absence of mind, he might have caught the scene, some years later. Larkin, too, could have gazed disconsolately upon the frantic antics of others more energetic than he, and, perhaps, have latterly written up a thought, and then we, the outsiders, the empty cataracts of existence, would have marvelled at what they saw.....

But it is quieter in the gallery.  In Normandy. I am drawn in by the blood red wall, the cat in the deckchair, the cat by the table, the jug on the shelf, the woman's red shirt against the distance, the simple meaningless of the moment. The meaningful moment of simplicity.....

I leave it...  I come back...  I do not let myself become absorbed by the object itself..... (Pierre  Bonnard.)

High Windows
by Philip Larkin

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s 

Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, 

I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives— 
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if 
Anyone looked at me, forty years back, 
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide 
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide 
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows: 
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Philip Larkin, 
High Windows
from Collected Poems. 
Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.

High Windows above the Empty Powerhouse

Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

Homage to a Government
Philip Larkin

Didn't anybody tell her.....

London Bridge

Didn't anybody see?

I am out of Tate Modern, a vast and uncontrolled monument to power, where I was peering through windows....  I very much enjoyed The Colour of Memory, the C C Land  Exhibition.  As the guide pointed out, The paintings of Pierre Bonnard (1867 - 1947) create a remarkable sense of intimacy.  Many of them allow glimpses into a private world, depicting the domestic life that Bonnard shared with his companion, Marthe de Méligny.

Now I am at London Bridge.....

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.

This be the verse
Philip Larkin

1 comment:

  1. Raymond Chandler came to mind as I read this. Dunno why but, perhaps, I was thinking of the High Window(s), and The Long Goodbye(s); and, when one gets a bit stuck to have someone come in (through a door, or, maybe, a window) with a device in hand? Pictures in mind and in the frame take you places, as you suggest, where you didn't expect to arrive. Brother Simon