Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

This month I have the pleasure of translating an art book about Rodin’s erotic drawings, and so I’m enjoying a glimpse into the art world of Paris in the early 1900s.

Research (mostly checking quotations from art critics and famous people about Rodin’s work) has thrown me into many a delightful rabbit hole, looking at the originals and any existing translations of a number of art books as well as The Goncourt Journal, which is mentioned several times in what I’m translating.

While looking for several quotes, I came across a few interesting anecdotes. One of Jules Goncourt happening upon Sarah Bernhardt wandering around in an art warehouse. It’s pouring down rain and she’s bundled up, musing over different art objects. And then she passes him and he describes her:

It is curious how this Sarah Bernhardt reminded me on this gray and rainy day of one of those elegant and emaciated convalescents who pass you in a hospital at about five o’clock, in the twilight, to attend prayers at the end of the hall.

There are also many mentions of evenings out or evenings in with Alphonse and Julia Daudet, as Edmond de Goncourt was great friends with Alphonse. The section I came across was one of Edmond spying a moment between the couple when Alphonse shows Julia the dedication of one of his newly printed editions.

We go down to the publishers; Daudet shows his wife the dedication, of which only a few copies have been printed, and which she has not yet seen. And Mme Daudet, reading it, denies her husband’s acknowledgments of her talent in words which have almost the emotional sputtering of a disappointed woman in love: “No, no, it’s too much. … I don’t want it … no, I don’t want it!”

(Both quotes are from an English (translator uncredited) edition published sometime in the first half of the 20th century.)

I’m so curious about this. Julia wrote and wrote, and I translated one of her beautiful short stories “The Unknown Woman” a few years ago for Spolia Mag, but she refused credit for all the editing and perhaps even writing she did of her husband’s manuscripts. It makes me think about Meg Wolitzer’s novel The Wife, and wonder how much “editing” Julia may have actually done.

I spent a good portion of yesterday looking for an article on a exhibition that Rodin did in Holland in 1899, of some drawings that were inspired, in part or in whole, by Octave Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden. I found myself, quite at random, stuck reading through all April editions of La Presse (Parisian newspaper) and found myself reading the listings of duels – who was hurt, why they fought, whether it was swords or pistols. It was hard not to laugh, and yet how sad this is. We disagree, we fight to the death (or near death). Albeit, no one listed in these April 1899 duels actually died! Many of the fights were about literary disputes – that made me smile.

This book I’m translating also talks about how Rodin (like so many other artists) was heavily influenced by Japanese woodblock prints – and while checking for the correct spelling of one of the artists who influenced him, I fell into a lovely hour of browsing Hokusai, Utamaro, Hiroshige and many others.

I love woodblock prints of Kyushu, a place that is lesser known for anyone traveling to Japan – even today — and Mt. Sakurajima in Kagoshima was a big inspiration for many artists.

This one is Kawase Hasui:

Kawase Hasui

This is another Hasui that I have always loved….

Kawase Hasui 2

And probably my favorite artist was one who came a bit later – Kiyoshi Saito. If you do an image search for him, you’ll see that his work was darker, more gray scale, and more modern than many of the woodblock artists of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Kiyoshi Saito

And finally, to finish, here is Hiroshi Yoshida’s Matterhorn. He was born on Kyushu but travelled extensively, so here we have Japan and Switzerland from 1925.

Yoshida Matterhorn


3 Responses to “Research rabbit holes”

  1. Edna

    Your title captures the unifying theme of these musings perfectly. I love the Hansui print with the rain – despite the medium, it almost comes to life – but all of the prints are exquisite. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Michelle

      Thanks, Edna. It was amusing how many different subjects came up in my research checking yesterday. But I never need an excuse to browse through ukiyo-e prints – even the ones which have become nearly kitsch, they’re so lovely

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Researching anything (even on a casual basis) can be such a wormhole – particularly now we have the internet to get lost in. And thank you for sharing those prints – just lovely! 🙂

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