Last year, shortly after painting Making a World in honor of Earth Day, the Rilke poem which inspired this painting (and the 2011 adaptation shown at left) surfaced in a book I had just purchased by Michael Kimmelman, The Accidental Masterpiece, in a chapter about Pierre Bonnard. Bonnard lived what some would call a cloistered life largely due to his partner Marthe’s illness. It is from this circumscribed world that he created his fantastical interiors.
Comparing the abstract painter Joan Mitchell’s own self imposed exile to Vetheuil in her later years to Bonnard’s claustrophobic existence, Kimmelman points out the traces of wistfulness in the ecstasy they both brought to the canvas. He says, “silence and warmth pervade the pictures of both, the warmth and silence of a partially dreamed-up past, which seems sweeter and more precious because it is gone or never was. Nathan Kernan, a poet who collaborated with Mitchell on a portfolio of prints she made at the end of her life, has recounted an episode, shortly before she died, when she asked him to select poems to read at a friend’s funeral. When he read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Entrance to her, she said, “Save that one for me.” So he did, for her memorial. And it also speaks to Marthe’s effect on Bonnard.”
Making a World (Entrance)
Whoever you may be, step into the evening Step out of the room where everything is known Whoever you are your house is the last before the far off With your eyes, which are almost too tired to free themselves from the familiar You slowly take one black tree and set it against the sky slender, alone. And you have made a world. It is big and like a word, still ripening in silence And though your mind would fabricate its meaning Your eyes tenderly let go of what they see.