THE STATUE OF LIBERTY — the stormy visage

I have never seen the Statue of Liberty, though, in a strange way, it is part of my world as are the Pyramids of Giza, the Colosseum of Rome, the Eiffel Tower of Paris and Table Mountain of Cape Town.

Given to the United States in 1886 by France 21 years after the divisive Civil War, it has been a reminder to all — in America and beyond — of political freedom … at certain times more than others.

Nine Eleven

I recently saw two 19th-century photographs of the Statue, close-ups of the face that one is not necessarily aware of, from a distance.  These photographs were taken as the Statue was being erected in 1886.

What struck me about the expression of the face was its severity,  dare I say, even moodiness, touching on inner turmoil.  Could there even be resentment and anger lurking there?  And yes, maybe I’m doing a Rorschach test.

Some might say the expression is one of determination, the quality needed when political liberty is in question.  In France, I see many portrayals of Liberty, from the painting of Liberty leading the People by Eugene Delacrois (1830), to the ubiquitous images on official letters.  The expression here is closer to serenity and even angelic radiance.  Perhaps the French sculptors of the time still had the coppery taste of French Revolution blood in their mouths, one hundred years on, when they carved this visage.

Perhaps the Statue of Liberty is only a political gesture and that the sphere of politics is fragile, needing warriors.  There is no inner resolution or happiness in this expression for me, the by-product of liberty.  For that I have to seek out an image of Nelson Mandela’s face.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2017



Nine Eleven – source lost







Musée Peynet

The drawings of Raymond Peynet (1908-1999) interested me as a child – the little man with his round black hat (a Chaplinesque bowler?) and spikey hair and his girlfriend, demure and lovely – the essence of romance, a mix of innocence and risque.

The artist came to live in Antibes, acquiring a place for him and his wife in the neighbouring town of Biot.  He and his wife, people say with envy, were married for more than 50 years and her name, appropriately, was Damour.  And there is greater affection for his memory than for that of Picasso. A small museum to honour him was set up on the Place de la Republique.  Hand in hand, Claudie and I did our pilgrimage to it.

Les Amoureax

Most people associate Peynet with the commercialising of his work.  It is often seen as sentimental, saccharine, cute, but it’s more subtle than that.  Les Amoureux (The Lovers) are the chief focus and the variations on this theme since the 1930s are bewildering – he’s even done a series on the astrology icons with the lovers!

Les Remparts drawn by Peynet

In the museum they had an exhibition too, with the work of other caricaturists – Ronald Searle; Honoré Daumier and others.  One painted caricature that really impressed me was of different types of cheese in the uncanny form of Charles de Gaulle’s profile.  The idea, of course, comes from Acrimboldo.  This caricature probably refers to De Gaulle’s statement as the president that it is difficult to govern a nation that has more than 246 cheeses!

Humour conquers all, a wall legend in the museum by Paul Klee tells us.  What strikes me with Peynet is that all he does is inhabited by a smile.  With the pain, anguish and tragedy of life, there is someone who will relentlessly seek out human warmth.

Raymond Peynet

On the way back, strolling through the Saturday crowds, I saw what I had previously missed when I went that way out of the vieille ville – the monument to the martyrs of the French Resistance, an image that touches, but it couldn’t quite banish Peynet’s doves that alight on the little man’s black hat as he cradles his beloved.

What remains with me too, is the plaque in the museum informing us that, in 1995, with the 50th annual memorial service of Hiroshima, the Japanese unveiled a bronze depicting The Lovers at the site of one of humanity’s greatest desolations.

© Will v.d.Walt

Samedi  14 Janvier 2012

Image Sources: by Will and

Reflecting on Buildings at L’Arenas, Nice

Returning to L’Arenas, the showcase of post-modern architecture, I was struck again by the achievements of the place.  And the reflections in the acres of glass cladding.   I share some of what I saw.

( I didn’t note what the buildings are, so there are no captions.)

L'Arenas 113.jpg

L'Arenas 112.jpg

L'Arenas 115.jpg

L'Arenas 114.jpg

L'Arenas 116.jpg

L'Arenas 117.jpg

L'Arenas 118.jpg

© Will v.d. Walt

Vendredi  1 Fevrier 2013

Images: Will



Picasso’s “War and Peace”, Vallauris

Adjoining the Vallauris museum with Picasso’s pottery, there is a stone chapel (probably deconsecrated) that has been given to Picasso’s painting  “La Guerre et la Paix” (War and Peace).   The nave of the chapel is starkly empty with only the museum attendant on her chair.  Light pours in from a high single window in the gothic apex.

I went through a low entrance to the next chamber whose walls are concave.  On the left, there are panels on which Picasso depicted war and on the right, peace.  At the head of the chamber perhaps five or six metres in length, is a depiction of four human figures, painted in white, black, red and yellow, holding up a dove that is carrying an olive branch.

My immediate thought was of Guernica, which was painted in 1937 savagely lamenting the bombing of the Spanish city.   And there are elements that do recall Guernica, but it is different in conception, having been executed in 1952, perhaps when the horrors of the Second World War were receding.

The War panels centre on the silhouettes of five killers linked in a right-to-left sequence of movement. This action happens before a serene grey-tinted figure with a dove on his shield.  To the right of these depictions is the image of a faun or satyr (see horns) with a bloodied sword and a bag of human heads slung over his shoulder.  He is conveyed in a vehicle that looks like a coffin.  The images are framed in clouds of grey, dark brown and – near the peace warrior – deep blue.

The Peace panels centre on marvellously distorted, voluptuous women dancing while a young boy has harnessed a Pegasus-like horse.    On the far left, a faun plays a split flute.  (It is interesting that Picasso remarked that, once he had left Paris and settled on the Côte d’Azur, that he began to paint more satyrs and fauns, implying that he was closer to the ancient forests where they had mythologically lived.)  Above these figures, – you have to crane your neck to see this – there is a strange sun-like mass radiating olive branches.

Seeing this work, I was moved by the deep longing for peace in what he did, amidst the most destructive century in history, for human beings to be confronted here with a universe of their own making, the pain and the healing.

Picasso’s “War and Peace” is amply worth the pilgrimage that one may want to make to Vallauris to see it.

Will van der Walt ©

Mercredi  12 Decembre 2012

Images Sources:  Succession Paris et R.M.N. Paris, Photo Patrick Gérin

Vallauris: Pots, Paintings and Picasso

The moment you see the welcoming sign to Vallauris, 15 minutes’ drive from Antibes, you know that this place will have the stamp or brushstroke of the 20th-century’s best-known artist.  From the mid-1940s Picasso developed an interest, even passion, in extending his ceramic skills and found a warm welcome in Vallauris, a village with a long, though indefinite, history of potters and ceramicists.

Hopping off the ‘bus, I was confronted by a little ionic temple oddly framed in a street of nondescript buildings.  It had been constructed in 1900 by Clement Massier in honour of his daughter.  The pediment was crumbling.  I couldn’t help noticing that with a kind of romantic glee.

Avenue Georges Clemenceau is the main street through the village, remarkably unremarkable.  One shop displays a large photograph of Picasso having a haircut in a local salon.  There are a few pottery and ceramic shops with wares that did not really appeal to me.  In a small gallery shop I met an artist whose work, interesting and imaginative, was on display.  I was given access to an inner sanctum where the proprietor presided over a collection of art for sale – lithographs by Dali, Chagall and César, amongst others.  The one Dali was going for a mere €2,600 (close to R30,000).

I wandered up to the baroque cathedral with its mellow, caramel-coloured façade dominating the place where there is a monument to the fallen in the two world wars.  The figure in the monument holds his own head in anguish as a benign angel of death supports him.  The flowers and wreathes on the pedestal were fresh.

In a building rather grandly titled Le Chateau, I visited the museum that houses ceramics that Picasso fashioned from the mid-1940s to the late-1960s.  It is an experience that refreshes – the bright colours, the humour and the playfulness.  Comic faces, owls, scenes from bullfights, fish, on plates and pots of intriguing design.  It was his enthusiasm, his creativity and promotion of the medium that brought about what has been called L’âge d’or de Vallauris (the golden age of Vallauris).  He joined a momentum that had begun in the 1930s with potters, ceramicists and sculptors of note.

Something of this momentum was seen on the ground floor where several contemporary ceramicist-sculptors were exhibiting their work, often strange and startling.  It left me with an ache for this creative climate to manifest to a greater degree where I come from.

As always with travel, there comes the surprise. On the upper floor was an exhibition by Alberto Magnelli (1888-1971), an abstract painter I had never heard of.  I was swept by the gratifying juxtapositions, strong forms and august colours. Each work is memorable.   It was difficult to tear myself away.

As I left the museum, I saw, on a wall above the parking area, a large close-up of two passionate eyes  – the citoyen d’honneur of Vallauris burning his gaze into history.

Will van der Walt ©

Mercredi  12 Decembere  2012

Image sources:  Massier temple, monument figure, Picasso eyes –  Will

Ceramic faces –

Ceramic pot –

Magnelli –  Editions S.M.D.

Marina Bay of Angels

Marina Baie des Anges, Côte d’Azur 

Claudie and I motored out to the bay east of Antibes called Baie des Anges, The Bay of Angels.  The point of interest here is the Marina, a series of interlinked apartment blocks that must be of the most remarkable in the world.  It was completed in 1960 and the designer was André Minangoy.  It was the time of other historic achievements – the Guggenheim Museum in New York (Lloyd Wright, 1959); Brasilia in Brazil (Niemeyer, 1960).

Marina 4

What is so striking when viewing the Marina from a little distance is, that, like four flattish pyramids, their upper line takes the eye on a wave-like motion.  As you get closer you see that each one is S-curled in itself!  I have seldom, if ever, seen such organic design.  When you’re walking near them, next to them, the wave motif becomes even more pronounced.

Each block has about 17 floors and people have made their own little gardens on the terraces.  The bay itself has forests of yacht masts and judging from the car models parked there you realise that this is the territory of the Income Bracket.  The place was empty of people, though – a slightly unreal overcast and deserted world.  The beaches were ruins of driftwood and twisted grey seaweed, the remains of a savage storm some weeks before, desolation at the feet of splendour.

Will van der Walt ©

Mercredi 30 Novembre 2011

Image and Will 

La Seine, Champs Elysee,Tour Eiffel

It is Sunday, and Claudie and I take the Metro from the outer reaches of Paris where we are staying with Simone.  In her area the streets are named after the Revolutionaries – Robespierre; Raspail; Marat.  Communiste, she calls them and it sounds sharper in French.  I can’t help wondering what Jean-Paul Marat would think to see his name up with Carrefour, the French answer to Pick ‘n Pay.

At the Seine, we take a boat tour.  Up front is our guide, a sweet young woman (are there any unattractive women in Paris?) who struts her stuff and there is a lot to say – a depth of history here.  But the tourists laugh and talk.  It becomes difficult to hear what she’s saying.  I feel like getting up and shouting “Tula Wena!” in Zulu.  But I don’t think they would understand, for a number of reasons. We move closer to the front.

And it’s wonderful.  Every bridge has a story that stretches back into that rich past – this one is oldest bridge across the Seine; that one was built in honour of Alexandre III; this one honours the arts.  And the buildings…  La Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette spent her last hours, a palace turned into a prison;  the building where the Legion d’Honneur is bestowed on deserving recipients and where those histories are stowed; the Louvre; the Eiffel Tower; Notre Dame; the headquarters of the Arabic nations, a rectangular glass block; the monument of the millennium change.  They float in a dream.

Then, with rain nudging us, I do something that I have thought about for many years.  In his book, Kenneth Clarke writes on the first page “I am standing on the Pont des Arts.  I cannot tell you what I am looking at, but I know it’s civilization.”  The Pont des Arts couldn’t be reached with encroaching rain, so I settled for the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge over the Seine.  I stand there; I can’t tell you what I’m looking at, but I know it’s civilization.
Two tourists in civilization

Then the rain came down and we hotfooted to a restaurant where we had crepes and coffee and a bill a little shy of R300…

In the evening having travelled all the way back, Simone brought us to the Champs Elysée to see the Christmas lights.  It’s an experience, with the traffic bumper-to-bumper and the pavements flooded with visitors poking through the long line of stalls selling all you can imagine.  The lights are hypnotic, blue spirals on every tree, swelling and shrinking.

We pass through Place de la Concorde where there is the Obelisque du Luxor, a gift of antiquity from the Egyptians, and the Big Wheel, a kaleidoscope of scattering and gathering light – two bewilderingly different worlds.
Place de la Concorde á Noël

It’s worth all the effort, as is everything on this continent.  We drive past Madeleine, a classic Greek temple that was a catholic church before the Revolution and then fell into disuse, later to be restored.   And then we approach the well-lit Arc de Triomphe, ponderous and striking.  The Unknown Soldier is buried under that arch.  Under that arch the Nazis marched singing Erika with triumphant voice… And it is so much more than those specifics.  This place breathes the kings of France, Napoleon; the piano accordion under spring poplars, street cafés, Piaf, Becaud and Aznavour;  it breathes endless romance;  it is the heart of Paris, probably the most loved city on earth.

Then Simone parks in a place where the traffic is less dense.  This is Trocadero, a lookout point over Paris.  Broad, shallow steps are flanked by modern buildings serving as a portal.  Huddled against the cold, Claudie and I walk up through the humming evening.

In front us is Paris, falling away down to the Seine, and filling the night about 700 metres from us, is the Eiffel Tower.  A vision of gold light, a luminous miracle, above the strangely dark city.  I can hardly believe what I am looking at.  Every crisscross steel beam is unusually bright against eyes.  The scene is overwhelming.  I take pictures, realising soon that they will never capture what I see.  Against the low scurry of clouds above the highest point of the Tower there is an unearthly glow.  I stand astounded.
A spectacle beyond words

This is the greatest thing I have ever seen.

Will van der Walt ©

Dimanche  11 Decembre 2011

Image Sources: Photographs by Will

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