Musings on Modigliani

You can blame my friend Iris. If she hadn't started passing on to me her copies of "The Spectator" I wouldn't have read Craig Raine's review of "The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 6, 1932—1933" in the 12th March 2016 issue, would I?

Letters of TS Eliot

Had I not been sufficiently amused by one of the anecdotes therein (in the review, not the letters) I would not have ordered a copy that is even now on its way to me from "Speedy Hen". And I would not have been presented by Amazon with a set of "Recommendations" based on your "recent order history". These included a Graham Swift1 title with a delicious lady on the cover:

Mothering Sunday

Although I recognised the lady — instantly, in fact — it's perhaps amusing to see that the visual cue filed in my memory was, erm, bushier. The same lady appears on the front cover of a Naim Attalah "Quartet" book in its 1978 paperback edition...

Aphrodisiac Front cover

... (translation: one I could afford, at £4-95) of the 1976 original.2 It's only when you turn to the back cover that the lady becomes more recognisable, perhaps:

Aphrodisiac Back cover

Amedeo Modigliani's "Nu couché"...

... or, sometimes, "Red nude" was painted in 1917-1918 and sold at Christie's New York on 9th November 2015 for $170,405,000 to the Long Museum in Shanghai run by a chap the New York Times described as "a former taxi driver3 turned billionaire art collector".

Nu Couché

In the winter of 1918-19, a desperate Modigliani offered to sell the entire contents of his Paris studio — which may well have included Christie's "Nu Couché" — to the British writers Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, for £100, or $300 (roughly $4,700 today). According to John Pearson's 1978 book, "Facades: Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell," the aristocratic brothers could not raise the cash.

Robin Pogrebin and Scott Reyburn in NYT

That anecdote?

It introduced me to two new meanings of the phrase "A June bride":

John Haffenden has garlanded the letters with copious, lengthy footnotes. In one such, he says that Auden, in 1965, remembered using the phrase "a f****d hen" but that, back in 1932, Eliot (his publisher, of course) had suggested a more cautious substitution, namely "A June bride". Auden was (as I would have been) baffled at this.

Eliot explained that in an election the defeated candidate said he felt like a June bride: "sore but satisfied". The victor meanwhile had said he (also) felt like a June bride: "I knew it would be big, but I didn't think it would be that big."

Out of respect for Valerie Eliot's feelings, the anecdote remained under wraps until Humphrey Carpenter used it in his 1981 biography of Auden — at which point Mrs Eliot wrote to him: "The anecdote about TSE and the June bride is delicious!"

My summary of Craig Raine, from his review of "The Letters"


1  I've never actually read any "Swift" (apart from Jonathan) though Christa and I very much enjoyed the film "Last Orders", which I notice won the Booker Prize. (It remains a proud boast of mine that I have largely managed to read my way through Life without straying on to that particular field.)
2  The drawings by John Boyce, by the way, are generally slightly more 'erotic' than the accompanying prose by Anaïs Nin. Your mileage may vary.
3  Somewhat wealthier, it seems, than even the chauffeur that Tom Watson Sr. employed. On 10th March 1969, TJ Watson Sr's chauffeur John Persson (who was then aged 84, and had been retired in Sweden for 40 years) "gives $2m to cancer research, and still faces an income tax bill of around $30,000 this year". He bought 100 IBM shares in the 1920s...
Isn't capitalism wonderful?! :-)