The painstaking path of a mourning transmuting into a quiet effervescence

 

 

The Mirror of Life, and detail below, 1946, oil on composition board.

  Henry Koerner, 1915-1991, American born and died Austria.  Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, New York

 

 

The artist, an Austrian Jew, escaped in 1938 when Adolf Hitler invaded Austria.  He finally settled in New York in 1940.  

 

In 1945, he was assigned by the American Army to sketch the Nuremberg trials.  In Austria, he learned that his parents had died in the Holocaust.

 

Many of his paintings reflect the themes shown in this painting. 

 

Even domestic intimacy cannot keep him from a passionate attachment to and curiosity about the activities of life.

 

Life in the past and present.  Life.

 

 

 

 

It was summer.

 

We were at the Met in New York at an exhibition of the works of Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, 1908-2001, French, expatriate Polish).

 

After a while, I sat down.

 

Next to me a woman – probably in her early 80s – wearing a matching blouse and multiply pleated skirt.  Not a straightforward match of colours and patterns but exquisite.

 

Polish, I thought, for having been exposed a little to Poland’s sophisticated graphic traditions.

 

 

 

 

I greeted the lady sitting next to me.   We spoke about the paintings for a moment. 

 

The Poles have a very sophisticated tradition in the graphic arts, I said, and a history of survival as a nation which is incredible.

 

Instantly, a ripple of immense sadness passed over her face and she bowed her head briefly.

I waited a moment.  Then I asked her: Are you a Jew?  Yes, she said. I was born in Poland.

 

 

 

 

 

I am sorry, I said.  Of course, I could not have known this before you told me.  But still I am sorry.

 

 

 

 

We talked a little more.

 

Her entire family died in the Holocaust.  Everyone.

She was still alive when her camp was liberated.

 

 

 

 

In due course, she left for the United States.

 

Married.  Settled in Queens, NY.

 

Now widowed.  Often came to the Met.

 

 

 

 

We spoke a little more. 

 

After a while I said, It is time for me to go back to Philadelphia.

 

 

 

 

May I kiss you goodbye? she asked.

 

Of course! I said.  We  kissed each other and I left the galleries. 

 

She was not smiling but the rippling sadness had not returned to the surface of her face.

 

 

 

 

There are those, I thought, whose path is a painstaking one through mourning

 

 

 

 

slowly, slowly towards a quiet effervescence showing like new leaves on old boughs.  For some.

 

 

 

 

Effervescence:

from a proto-Indo-European root meaning to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn,

 

with derivatives referring to cooking and brewing.  

 

 

 

 

Cooking and brewing. Means of life. Means life. 

 

 

The Mirror of Life, and detail below, 1946, oil on composition board.

  Henry Koerner, 1915-1991, American born and died Austria.  Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “The painstaking path of a mourning transmuting into a quiet effervescence

  1. Beautiful post, wonderful painting, dissected as a surgeon would do in a class, and accompanied by a moving story,
    Thanks for this nice gift, and happy Sunday

    1. Thank you for your always generous comment, Luisa. I have forgotten so many people but not this lady that day in the art museum. Never could I forget her. And yet there are still concentration camps of several kinds on the earth! Sarah

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