About this work
Watercolor on board
12 x 9 in.
In her own words...
–inscribed lower right
There was a day in July 1939 when I boarded a ship (the Nieuw Amsterdam) bound for France, last lap of that lifelong itinerary that had begun in Chicago. My pockets were full of letters of introduction to artists (and not much else), Tanguy, Max Ernst…and Picasso, too.
Of course, no one is at home. No Parisians are ever at home in August, if they can help it. Somnambulist concierges (they frown before you open your mouth, anticipating what?) shake their heads: ''He is in the country." They stare at me, doubtless wondering at this bizarre American who chooses to ring doorbells in August. An especially doomed August-a city paralyzed by anxiety, breathing painfully before the imminence of war. With a big lump in my throat I wander the wide deserted avenues, the gardens, the museums. I knock on mute doors, I get lost in the labyrinthine streets. I am hungry at the wrong times.
Back in my room, at loose ends, baffled and feeling insubstantial, I sit with my sketchbook, drawing Paris from the window. I draw the clouds that are so patently French, draw the roofs, the vanishing streets, the houses' patinas and their patience, draw them urgently as a spy would use a special camera, would hide behind a curtain just as I am lurking in my hotel room, to snap something fleeting, some evidence of heartbeat, a perhaps sad secret.
Outside there is nothing simple, not one person I know or a friend of a friend. There is only a firm resolve planted like a tree in my determined future: to come back. My artists? They too will come back some day, say the French clouds, the deserted cafes, the grisaille streets.
—from Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001, pp. 50-51.