I owe the information about Edward Hopper and Arthur Rimbaud in this post, re-transmitted in August 2019, to France Culture and the art historian Karin Müller.
As to France Culture: à tout seigneur tout honneur!
Soir Bleu, 1914, oil on canvas, and details below.
Edward Hopper, 1882-1967, American. Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, NY
Edward Hopper, a Francophile from his childhood when he learned French, was raised an American Baptist, in strictness. He visited Paris when he was 24 and several times later.
The life in Paris was revelation and initiation into the freedom and pluckiness the artist exercised for the rest of his life.
This poem by Arthur Rimbaud was the basis of this painting and Hopper knew its lines by heart.
I am so fond of these lines of Rimbaud: directives by a free man, a precocious youth of 16, to himself.
Directive and dream.
An insouciance amounting to courage, a devotion to self-expression a presentation of himself as he chose, and a joie-de-vivre.
Sensation, March 1870
Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891, French
On the blue summer evenings, I shall go down the paths,
Getting pricked by the corn, crushing the short grass:
In a dream I shall feel its coolness on my feet.
I shall let the wind bathe my bare head.
I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:
But endless love will mount in my soul;
And I shall travel far, very far, like a gypsy,
Through the countryside – as happy as if I were with a woman.
Sensations, 1870. Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891
Par les soirs bleus d’été, j’irai dans les sentiers, Picoté par les blés, fouler l’herbe menue : Rêveur, j’en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds. Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.
Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien : Mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’âme, Et j’irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien, Par la Nature, – heureux comme avec une femme.
The painting – the largest of the artist’s paintings – was first put on exhibition in 1915 in the United States. The clown is a reference to Watteau’s Pierrot for Hopper’s attachment to Watteau’s work.
Edward Hopper said that he painted this ‘for France’ which he loved, on the verge of a war larger than any in her history.
The painting was fiercely criticized by American critics for its French title and for the supposition that the artist did not support the USA now that the Great War had begun.
The artist was so stung by this misunderstanding that he took the painting down and never showed it again. It was bequeathed by his wife to the Whitney Museum.
Nor can it give an Ethiopian, forever trying to weave the threads of her life into a semblance of coherence, anything but pleasure to see a French carafe in a painting for the love of a poem by Rimbaud.
It was Rimbaud who, during his time in the city of Harar (1880-1891) imported carafes into Ethiopia (Abyssinia):
Gift from a friend, an Ethiopian carafe, 2017
something not seen before and still in widespread use there,
painted here with the iconography of my mother’s people:
the eyes of watchfulness and of blessing of the angels of northern Ethiopian Christianity
watching the poet and the artist and me on a blue summer day in a luminous gallery of the Whitney on the Hudson River.