Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
This is rare footage of French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir at work, which is from Sacha Guitry’s patriotic World War I-era film Ceux de Chez Nous, “Those of our Land”. Renoir suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis during the last decades of his life. By the time this film was made in June of 1915, the 74-year-old Renoir was physically deformed and in constant pain. The painter’s 14-year-old son Claude is shown placing the brush in his father’s permanently clenched hand.
After watching this footage of Renoir, the American poet Gary Margolis wrote these lines:
After Rare Footage of Renoir, 1915
I didn’t know I could read
lips, until I stood outside
his studio. Father of clawed
hands, stained teeth.
Of paint and brush.
His son inserting the brush
in his father’s hand. Pierre-
Auguste. It looks as if he was
pecking, making peck marks
on the canvas. Between puffs.
Between saying things
to the other man—a curator,
a neighbor, a doctor who thought
he could straighten his fingers.
Whose lips I’ve come to read
long after the first war.
Renoir can’t escape. His perfect
reds. His body’s fate.
Those rooms of mothers and girls,
their straw hats. How I would step
inside time, if I could. If I knew enough
to read his lips, to light his cigarette
in French. To brush off the ash.
copyright 2015 Gary Margolis