The Quinces Again, A Pile of French Novels, and Other Rainy Day Pursuits

I could not seem to leave van Gogh’s Quinces alone, particularly after my friend Curt* alerted me to abstracts by Serge Poliakoff. I intended to do more with the Quince collage above, but a Poliakoff cut-out admonished me that it wished to stand alone.

In addition to the Poliakoff abstracts to which he’d alerted me, and after we’d had an exchange about van Gogh’s Quinces, Curt wrote:

“Yes, you can almost see Vincent waking up and noticing that it’s raining, deciding it will have to be an indoor still life that day, and wondering what would he do for subjects? And often magic ensued.

“I think this was one of those improvisations, with the least promising of subjects, the novels he read almost compulsively. He likely just piled them up and painted. Very unpromising. But this happened:”

“This” is a painting van Gogh made of Piles of French Novels (1887). As described on the van Gogh Museum website:

“This still life is an ode to modern French literature. The books with yellow covers are not immediately identifiable to 21st-century viewers. But Van Gogh’s contemporaries recognised them as modern French paperbacks.

“Van Gogh was an avid reader and an admirer of novelists such as the Goncourt brothers and Emile Zola. They offered a realistic, unvarnished perspective on modern life. The open book in the foreground invites the viewer to come and read.”

Below, a sideways glimpse of van Gogh’s piles of books peaks out from beneath the Poliakoff abstract from which the cut-out above also came:

And yet I was not done with Poliakoff’s abstracts. I spent some time trying to figure out with what to pair the one below—trying this, this, this, this, and even this—but always found myself coming back to Paul Serusier’s The Talisman (1888) (which makes its appearance here upside-down):

*While certainly the art Curt sent on provided my motivation for embarking on this project, he is in no way to blame for the results.

And here, to accompany on your journey, is Kristian Bezuidenhout, on the fortepiano, performing Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K.333:

I. Allegro

II. Andante cantabile

III. Allegretto grazioso

7 thoughts on “The Quinces Again, A Pile of French Novels, and Other Rainy Day Pursuits

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Ha! and your reply sent me off wondering how many words rhyme with quince. As in:

      You must not wince
      At the mincing of the quince.
      So give the knife a rinse, already,
      And commence to mince the quince!

      1. Curt Barnes

        Maybe the angularity of Vincent’s books melds well enough with Poliakoff’s shapes that your 3rd entry here seems as elegantly resolved as any formal painting. In any event, Sue, these are a delight to see! Not to mention Kristian B’s Mozart, always a win.

          1. Susan Scheid Post author

            Curt: You have contributed much, much more artistic intelligence and knowledge to this post than I come close to possessing, which makes me particularly grateful for your willingness to puzzle over my cut-and-paste efforts and, beyond that, take the time to write here with what you found. Since you wrote your first comment, I have gone back over the Serusier/Poliakoff collage to try and figure out what determined my choice there. What I focused on at the time was primarily color, whether complimentary or contrasting, and shape/line only secondarily, though relevant. But now I see, from those I looked at and rejected in favor of the Serusier, that angularity had to have figured in in making the final choice much more than I realized. Needless to say, none of this was by conscious design!

            1. Curt Barnes

              Sue, I really think “artistic intelligence” is what created these collages; analyzing WHY they do what they do is arbitrary and maybe useful, but not necessarily for anybody! Even I was thinking I used the wrong terms, that what the last one did was achieve a CLOSER harmony than the others, something more common in painting than in collage, not to say better or worse. Analyzing while one is working can lead to poor results as well as better ones (I can provide plenty of examples of the former from my own work!), so who knows? Keep being intuitive!

              1. Susan Scheid Post author

                Haha! Well, as intuition is all I have, I guess I will have to go with that–and I take heart that even real artists go back and look at some of their output and ask “What was I thinking?” May the muse be with you . . .

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