There is a remarkable painting in the Picasso room at the Kunstmuseum in Basel: a full-length portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire with his muse, Marie Laurencin. It was Henri Rousseau who painted this wonderful picture. Only I had remembered it as a self-portrait of Rousseau with Madame Rousseau. Marie Laurencin was Apollinaires muse, Clémence Rousseau was Rousseaus muse.
As it happens, Franz Marc painted a portrait of Rousseau for Der Blaue Reiter. And Picasso also had a self-portrait by Henri. Theres a quite intimate photograph, tak-en by André Gomés, of Picasso holding Rousseaus self-portrait in his right hand and the portrait of Rousseaus wife in his left hand.
Picasso, that constructor of novel objects and audacious paintings, loved Rousseau, the painter of things in rigidified grace. Even Rousseaus gaze in his self-portrait is stiff, directed at his own work, in which objects that we ourselves are familiar with look different Gothic, Byzantine, somehow not the way we are used to seeing them.
It wasnt just the Egyptian Picasso, other image constructors Kandinsky, for instance also had pictures of Rousseau. Vasily had the little canvas The Painter and His Wife (1899). De Chirico drew Picasso and friends sitting beneath Rousseaus self-portrait with palette. And didnt Beckmann paint Rousseaus hot-air balloon and his street? I myself have Rousseaus red lithograph The War (c. 1895), which was also done by Ensor and by Uccello; theres something similar by Böcklin and also by Stefano della Bella.
I have painted a lot of portraits of my wife and myself in recent years, many showing us dressed as others sometimes as my parents, sometimes as Lenin and Stalin, but mostly as Otto Dixs parents. That double portrait of Dixs parents is also in the Basel Kunstmuseum, with another version in Hanover. So it was to be that kind of double portrait of Elke and my-self, in the guise of Marie Laurencin and Apollinaire, bearing in mind that the beautiful frame of that painting in Basel was also important in my memory, not face to face.
Last year I bought a lot of old Italian frames and painted portraits to go in them of Winfried Dierske, of myself, my wife along with variants on the Rayski pictures from 1960. So far so good. In the end I didnt put the portraits into the old frames, but Rousseaus double portrait in Basel in its old painted frame still haunted me. My mind was a jumble of portraits, frames and Rousseau, our anti-realist painter.
Finally, in Italy, I painted Elke and my-self appearing as nudes with the faces of Madame Rousseau and Henri. It turned into a flat-iron and racing-horse construct, which was not at all what I wanted. So, forget that and start again differently, at the beginning, without stimulation, soberly, simply, modestly yet, for all that, fixat-ed on Rousseaus marvellous self-portrait (190203) with his sawtooth mous-tache: the self-portrait that Picasso once owned. It went well, it turned out well and Romanticism won the day. Following that I made a small detour and painted Madame Rousseau, but of course that wasnt a self-portrait by an artist, it was a portrait of his muse.
Theres a book in my library by Ludwig Goldscheider: Five Hundred Self-portraits from Antique Times to the Present Day (1936). I leafed through it, but didnt find much that was of use to me. A review in the Saarbrücker Zeitung described it as a picture book for grown-ups, in the best sense, a book for tired eyes that can no longer read and just want to gaze. And, at the very end, as a book that urges us to modesty and humility. Thats how it is, thats how it was. What was in my mind, what did I love? Which artists, which self-portraits? Were there any self-portraits by Pollock, for instance? In fact, there is a small portrait of a Mexican boy; it was shown in an exhibition not long ago alongside a very small self-portrait by Rothko.
So, that set me up for the next few months in the studio: Rousseau, Madame, Munch, Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff. Marc painted a portrait of Rousseau, I paint Marc, de Kooning, Tracey Emin, Modersohn-Becker, Clyfford Still, and so on. I also love Arnold Schoenbergs self-portrait, and his music. Sadly Wolfgang Rihm doesnt paint.
The portraits should look as if they have been appliquéd to the canvas, with the background black and as flat as possible, spaceless, the head placed on it, mostly with a lot of white paint, applied quite thickly as in the last few years, but always with Rousseau in mind without descend-ing into a stupor, or into reality, not into the truth of Ingres, but lingering at Romanticism, and at humility. Laughter allowed.
A virtual tour of the exhibition can be seen here