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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Entries in ellen copperfield (46)

Thursday
Apr212016

In Which Edouard Manet Lives Like A Mollusk In The Sun

Gangrene

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Until the last years of his life, Manet never read novels.

Midway through the year 1876, Manet's left foot troubled him. The pain was intense, as was the frequent numbness. The symptoms of severe syphilis had not emerged until now, but they were out in full force. He wrote off the constant aches and pains to bouts of rheumatism. By the end of the year his only desire was to find a doctor that could abate whatever was wrong with him. Various homeopathic remedies were attempted without success; he tried hydrotherapy in order to restore nerve function in the limb.

He was not really able to leave his new Paris studio, so his friends had to come to him. Surrounded by the canvases of his career, it was easier for Manet to avoid work by socializing into the long hours. His legs could not carry him anywhere else by then.

Manet became fascinated by the daughter of Paris' finest jeweler, a girl named Isabelle Lemonnier. Her wrote her short messages with little sketches of things. In 1879 she was enraptured enough by his attention that she sat for six portraits. Manet's wife and mother were sick, and he needed a distraction.

Near the end of the year he collapsed in a Paris street from pain. His hair loss was often commented on, and he used up four to five hours a day at a clinic said to treat circulatory disorders. For the first time critics were giving his work the semblance of a proper appreciation, but his ill health soured everything, giving him the revolting idea that he would only become famous after death. He was 50.

Optimism was farfetched. He wrote to a friend in 1880, "As you put it so well, time is a great healer. And so I am counting heavily on it. I live like a mollusk in the sun, when there is any, as much as possible outdoors, but without any doubt, the country has charms only for those aren't forced to stay there."

Novels provided a welcome relief from his constant pain. His friend Antonin Proust suggested that "he did not seek in his reading literary pleasure but distraction from the pain of ataxia." He knew now that he was nearing the end. He was reduced to simple portraits of flowers; anything else was beyond his current capabilities. Against his better judgment, Manet began to feel sorry for himself.

His left leg turned entirely black. Doctors took a week to decide whether it was even worth operating on, but eventually they decided to amputate. The nails on his foot flaked off at the gentlest touch. All that was left were his deep blue eyes. He was barely aware of the operation occurring, but eventually seemed to grasp the absence of the limb, raising the sheet to observe that it was missing. He finally gave up on April 30th of 1883.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"Heading Home" - Julianna Barwick (mp3)


Tuesday
Mar082016

In Which We Cook By The Recipes Of Paul Cézanne

Switzerland and Lemonade

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

"Talking about art is almost always useless," Paul Cézanne told an interviewer near the end of his life.

Either you see a picture immediately or you never see it at all. Explanations don’t help a bit. What good does it do to comment on it? All those things are imperfect, imprecise things. We talk as we do because it’s amusing, like drinking a good bottle of wine.

In spring of 1859, Paul Cézanne fell in love for the first time. Unfortunately the woman in question, whose name was Justine, was already involved with a classmate. He wrote, “What fantasies I built, as mad as can be, but you see it’s like this: I said to myself if she didn’t despise me we should go to Paris together, there I should become an artist, we should be happy." She never took notice of him.

To make himself forget the girl, he spent all his time at the Free School of Drawing. While there, you were forbidden to ever go to the bathroom. Cézanne disdained the nude models, and at first he shied away from depicting the human form at all. He was far from the best of the group.

That honor went to a painter named Jean-Baptiste Chaillan, who was also fond of fucking the nude models. "The love of art veils any over-excitement at all the nudity," Paul told his friend Émile Zola. Instead of finishing law school, Cézanne went to Paris. Zola was ecstatic to have him friend in town. With only a modest allowance from his father supplementing this venture, Cézanne ate cheap meals and only splurged on cigarettes. 

Chaillon had made a similar journey to the big city. Much to Paul’s chagrin, Chaillon painting from six to eleven and spent the rest of the day lazing about the Louvre and talking to girls. Cézanne was not much more productive, to Zola’s disappointment. "Convincing Cézanne of something is like persuading the towers of Notre Dame to execute a quadrille," he complained.

"Don’t think I’m becoming a Parisian,” Cézanne said by way of a response. He applied to art school twice, but was not accepted either time. He was terrible with women, and found all new relationship risky and threatening at their core. It was the work of Édouard Manet which finally gave him a model for his own varied artistic inclinations.

"It’s because I can’t capture my sensation at the first go," he said, "so I lay in some color, I lay it in as I can. But when I start I always try to paint with a thick impasto like Manet, giving form with the brush." Manet also took note of Cézanne’s early work. He was just seven years older than his admirer, but it took over a year before Cezanne was back to not being impressed by anyone. (Zola’s critique of the artist helped in penetrating Cézanne’s heavenly view of Manet.)

Thereafter Cézanne had finished with idol worship; he was not content to sit in admiration of any except himself. Sometimes Cézanne when painting the countryside would leave his canvas there "to be reclaimed by the natural environment,” explained Renoir. “I wanted to copy nature,” Cézanne explained, "I couldn’t. I searched, turned, looked at it from every direction, but in vain. It's invincible, from all sides."

By 1866 he had developed this persona completely. "Paul looks superb this year," noted a friend, "with hair thin on top and extremely long, and his revolutionary beard."

The paintings Cézanne managed in the following years found their way into the collections of the biggest names in art. According to Paul's biographer Alex Danchev, Gauguin owned seven canvases, Degas had another seven, while Monet was in possession of fourteen Cézannes, including three that hung in his bedroom. Renoir exchanged paintings with Cézanne frequently, and his wife even cooked by Paul's recipes. 

Where Renoir and Cézanne eventually parted ways was in their view of Jews. Renoir was aghast at Cézanne's association with the Jewish painter Pissarro. In the wake of the Dreyfus affair both Renoir and Degas refused to talk to Camille Pissarro or any Jew, while Monet, Gauguin and Zola supported their friend. This political conflict turned into an aesthetic one, dividing a close community. Cezanne found himself in the middle – for the most part, he avoided the politics. But he never abandoned his mentor and comrade Pissarro. 

It was Pissarro who taught Cézanne that painting was more a profession than a dalliance, and that a great deal of work had to go into it. Pissarro's background was far from the privileged European life Cézanne was used to: he was the son of a nephew who married in his aunt in the Virgin Islands. Pissarro's politics were left of left, and he had no use for the institutions of the art world. "Pissarro wasn't wrong," Cezanne later wrote, "he went a bit far, however, when he said we should burn the necropolises of art."

The Parisian world was shattered when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. Paul had no intention of fighting in the conflict. Instead he had intercouse with a nineteen year old named Marie-Hortense, and she gave him a son, which they also named Paul. He took years before telling his parents about this state of affairs, and they found out first from other sources.

What Marie-Hortense liked most about Paul was his money. "My wife only likes Switzerland and lemonade," he explained. He must have been drawn to her dirty blonde hair, which soon went completely dark. Cézanne rented a small house where Marie-Hortense was both his maid and lover. Using Marie-Hortense as his model meant not only was he flattering her form, but Cézanne could have hours of silence to himself. She spent her free time reading tawdry romances and he dashed off to Provence whenever he grew tired of her.

He did paint his new wife quite a bit, and all indications are that their relationship suited him just fine. After his death, she sold off plenty of his work to raise funds. There were so many paintings when so few would have sufficed. She never had a particularly high opinion of her husband's oeuvre.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"Never Be Like You" - Flume ft. Kai (mp3)

Thursday
Feb252016

In Which We Have Bound Our Feet To Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

This is the first in a two part series on the life of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

Golden Lilies

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Upper class Chinese women suffered through a thousand years of foot-binding. The feet of young girls were swaddled tightly in gauze in order to bend the toes into the sole. The malformed paws were called orchid hooks, and prevented women from fleeing their husbands.

May-ling Chiang’s mother, avoided the fate of other aristocratic women. Her father was no less modern: he had been converted to Christianity in the American South. He hoped to become a doctor, but missionaries prevented this, telling the small Chinese teenager that they already had too many healers. They sent him back to China, and paid him so little he eventually quit the mission. He never lost his faith in Jesus Christ.

Ching-ling and husband Sun Yat-sen

They gave May-ling, their youngest daughter, a Christian name along with her Chinese one. It was Olive. “I used to think Faith, Belief, Immortality were more or less imaginary, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek later wrote. “I believe in the world seen, not the world unseen.”

As the youngest daughter, she did not suffer from the imprecations directed at older sisters Ai-ling and Ching-ling. She was intelligent enough to take just about the right amount of advantage of this.

Ai-ling with her husband H.H. Kung

For Ai-Ling, and eventually for his other children, their father purchased a passport stating that the girl had been born in the Portugeuse colony of Macao. This was the best way of avoiding restrictive U.S. immigration laws exclusive to the Chinese.

When Ai-Ling met Theodore Roosevelt, she asked him this: “America is beautiful, and I am very happy here, but why do you call it a free country?”

May-ling meeting with FDR

The three sisters went to America like their father before them. May-ling was just ten years old. She enrolled at a New Jersey boarding school, where she stayed until eighth grade. After that, she was sent to public school in Piedmont, Georgia. Many of her classmates were impoverished; some were adults who had saved for years in order to afford education.

When she graduated, she went to Wellesley to be close to her brother T.V., who was attending Harvard at the time. She only went out with Chinese boys, breaking off one egagement and spending a summer with her sister in Martha’s Vineyard. She had spent her entire adolescence in America, but she never, not even for a moment, thought of staying.

Returning to Shanghai, she was tasked with running the family home. Her mother was shocked by how much weight May-ling had gained on milkshakes alone. She joined a film censorship committee and avoided any serious committments. A change in diet brought about severe acne, and she became nervous, both for her future and for that of China, which was deep in an industrial revolution.

May-ling with Eleanor Roosevelt

Her middle sister married a powerful politican her oldest sister had rejected. Sun Yat-sen was the man who founded the Republic of China, but at thirty years her sister’s elder, he was fighting a losing struggle for his position in the government. Ching-ling was the first wife of a politican to appear in public with her husband. All the daughters had been trained to encounter different types of people throughout their time in America. “You know how I dread publicity,” she complained to a friend.

May-ling met Chiang Kai-Shek through her sister’s husband. At the time Chiang was a prominent general and statesman, and May-ling noticed his eyes first of all. He had been through three previous marriages, and was rendered sterile from a bout of gonorrhea from a concubine between wives. May-ling invited him to her mother’s birthday party.


Chiang asked Sun Yat-sen if May-ling would be interested in him sexually. Sun deferred to his wife, and Ching-ling explained, “I would rather see my sister dead” than married to a man who had already been married. Chiang didn’t let his attraction for young May-ling go: he brought up the subject again and again. The woman served so many of his purposes. She was beautiful, she spoke English, and she was highly connected.

Military campaigns separated the two for long periods, but May-ling and Chiang wrote each other letters. He was still married to his third wife, of whom the Soong sisters disapproved immensely. The sisters planned to end Chiang’s marriage. “No one,” Ai-Ling said later, “ was as clever as May-ling Soong.”

on the return from Chiang Kai-Shek's kidnapping, 1936

Ai-Ling demanded that Chiang Kai-Shek sent his wife Jennie away. Chiang mused on how to accomplish this and began referring to May-ling as his “third brother” in his private writings. Eventually, he settled on the idea of telling Jennie he would send her to America for seven years while he married May-ling for "political purposes." To his amazement, Jennie actually bought this story, and so did his wife's mother, who commented, “Oh my dear daughter, you are such a good wife.”

Jennie sailed for San Francisco on board the SS President Jackson. By the time she had crossed the Pacific, she was able to read for herself that Chiang was denying she was his wife at all. The Times wrote that “political enemies are blamed by Chiang Kai-shek for what he denounces as false reports concerning the young woman now in the United States who is said to be his wife.” Jennie went to the edge of the Hudson River to throw herself in, but could not bring herself to do it. 

May-ling on her wedding day

May-ling and Chiang were married during a public ceremony at the Majestic Hotel attended by 1300. A small Christian moment had preceded the traditional Chinese wedding. "When I saw my beloved wife slowly walking in just like a floating cloud in the glow of evening, I experience such an unprecedented feeling of love that I hardly knew where I was," Chiang later wrote.

The next day he reported, "Today I stayed at home, holding my beloved wife and chatting together. At that moment I realized nothing can compare with the happiness of being newly married."

Two months later, May-ling wrote, "I have been married almost two months, and just as I started this letter to you, again the question flashed across my mind whether marriage has made any difference to me." She explained it this way: "I do not think that marriage should erase or absorb one's individuality."

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She is a writer living in Los Angeles.

"Anatomic" - Opus Orange (mp3)