Thursday, February 28, 2008

Busted: Henry Miller In Sculpture

Henry Miller may have been etched by Emil Schnellock in 1929, and painted by John Nichols in 1930, but in 1936, his image was cast in three dimensions. “[In] the studio of a friend in the Villa Seurat, Paris,” remembered Miller in the rare book, Reflections on the Death of Mishima (Capra, 1972), “a young Jugoslavian woman, Radmila Djoukic, undertook to sculpt my head.” [p.29] Miller was impressed that the clay bust was a “very true likeness.”

On the day of its completion, Miller was in the studio with a young Chinese student, having a conversation about English literature. Shocked that the student thought that Jack London was the author of Hamlet, Henry threw back his arms and accidentally knocked the still-moist clay bust of his head onto the studio floor, breaking it into pieces. Fortunately, a photograph had been taken of the nearly-completed bust just the day before. [1-29] A few years later, this photograph (or a copy of it) was signed and given to George Seferis in Athens, Greece on October 11, 1939, and is currently housed in the Princeton University Library. In 1944, the photo was used on the dust jacket of the first edition of Miller’s Sunday After The War, published by New Directions [dust jacket with photo of bust is shown at left].

I can find next to nothing about Radmila Djoukic, except that she was from Belgrade (according to Miller’s note to Seferis). Henry included her name on a list of people with whom he had a “close association” during his Villa Seurat years (Henry Miller Reader, p.386).

Henry Miller was going to turn 70 in 1961. He spent most of that year in Europe, and much of it in Germany due to his new love affair with the German editor Renate Gerhardt. At some point, he befriended the curator of the Berlin art gallery Galerie Springer. In honour of Henry’s 70th year, Rudolf Springer arranged for the world-famous sculptor Marino Marini to cast Henry’s head in bronze. [2-208]

Marini Marino (1901-1980, seen at right) was an Italian sculptor best known for his “many vigorous sculptures of horses and horsemen” (so says the museum now dedicated to his work), of which the phallic, 1948 piece Angel of the City is apparently his most famous. On July 22, 1961, Henry wrote to Lawrence Durrell that he was going to have his “head sculpted” in Milan by “Mario” Marini [3-386]. Before arriving in Italy, Henry, with Renate, drove an old, defective Fiat through Switzerland before arriving in Italy some time around August 15th [4-103].

While Marino’s studio was based in Milan, he kept a summer home at Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany [5-775]. Some accounts state that Henry sat for Marini at this location [6]. A letter from Henry to Alfred Perles shows that he was in fact in Forte dei Marmi on August 15th [7]. While there, Henry also visited “the sophisticated house of d’Annunzio[4-103]. As for the actual sitting, the only account I’ve found was in Italian, which I had translated through Google: “Miller, in fact Marino writes, is a character that when trying to resume, beyond by all parties; you could not stop. I had to imagine, I had to tighten, I had to close it in some way: I had to make in ten minutes” [8]. Marino also made a quick profile sketch for reference [see at left]. (this original sketch is currently available for sale through German Ebay, along with several other Marino etches and paintings.) Five photographs were taken of Miller, Marino and Rudolf Springer at Marino’s studio on or around this day; the pictures by Virginia Dortch were aucitoned through PBA Galleries in the 1990s, “including a shot of them drinking” [ref. only; PBA, Item 192].

The completed bust of Henry Miller by Marino is 12 x 6-1/2 x 8-3/4 inches [9]. Henry did not actually see the finished work of art until the following summer, in 1962, [10] when it was on display at the Galerie Springer in Berlin as part of an exhibit of Henry’s watercolour paintings [an event written up by the German Die Zeit newspaper]. The bust of Miller remained in Springer’s possession until February 1964, when it was sold to millionaire art collector Jospeh Hirshhorn [11]. Although my impression has been that Marini cast only a single bronze bust of Henry, his letter to Elmer Gertz from Febraury 15, 1964, implies there were more: “Another of my Marini heads was sold recently to Hirschhorn, the great art collector. A Brooklyn boy like myself—I met him once. Reminds me in some ways of Joe Levine” [12]. That same year, a photograph of the bust was used on the cover of the first edition of Henry Miller On Writing [at left].

With the creation of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian in Washington in 1966 (inaugurated in 1974), Hirshhorn donated the Marini bust of Miller to the prestigious institute. Today, “Portrait Of Henry Miller” (1961) continues to be part of the collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

While in a doctor’s office in 1971, Henry picked up a magazine and saw a gruesome photograph of the disembodied head of Yukio Mishima. Mishima, a Nobel-prize nominated Japanese writer, had himself decapitated by sword in a publicly-staged event in November 1970. Henry was surprised and horrified by the image [here. Note to the squeamish: this is a decapitated head]. Henry was suddenly transported in memory back to 1936, when he saw his own clay head lying damaged on the ground; an image that had always “haunted” him [1-30; following quote: 1-28]. Mishima’s head “bore a striking resemblance to my own which I had seen lying on the floor, but in pieces. Whether real or imaginary, the resemblance between Mishima’s head and my own was frightening.”


Notes And References
[1] Miller, Henry. Reflections on the Death of Mishima; [2] Lewis, Felice Flannery (ed.). Henry Miller: Years of Trial & Triumph, 1962-1964; [3] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80; [4] Brassai. Henry Miller, Happy Rock; [5] (Editor?). The Burlington Magazine, V.112, No.812 (Nov. 1970), p.776-778. Snipet of quote found on Google search only; full article accesible for a fee. [link] See also Holiday Apartment Tuscany website; [6] Although Miller states in advance that he's going to Milan to see Marini (see Durrell letter ref, above), and this is repeated by Brassai in [4-103], the following internet sources state otherwise: 1. "He executes a portrait of Henry Miller at Forte dei Marmi, where he also did Henry Moore's" [Foundation Marino Marini]; 2. "Henry Miller, one of the most controversial authors of our time, sat for the original of this bronze bust in I961 at Marini's summer home in Forte dei Marmi." [see Burlington ref above]; 3. "Henry Miller, in 1961 portrait of the villa Marini to the Germinaia Forte dei Marmi" (trans. from Italian) []; [7] The Henry Miller Collection at University of Victoria, BC (online index); [8] From a gallery review on, of an exhibition at the Marino Marini Museum in Pistoia called "Marino Marini and the portrait," which ran from April-Sept. 2004; [9] Hirshhorn Collection record; [10] Henry gave an account of this in the Henry Miller Literary Society newsletter (Sept. 1962)--this is also referenced in [2-80]. A photo with him and Marini was published in the Dec. 1962 issue; [11] The provenance of this art piece is listed on the Hirshhorn Collection website; [12] The quote is from [2-294]. To further this idea that more than one cast was made from this bust, is this internet listing of a Miller bust in auction in 1998. Not only could the "original" not have been auctioned in 1998 because it was owned by the Smithsonian, but the '98 auction's listed dimensions (8 5/8x11x6 3/4 in) are slightly different.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi there..

just wanna say that this is one of the finest sites on the entire net.
its brilliantly researched, insightful, and entertaining as hell. i've been losing myself in it for the last year or so but this is my first post. miller would've marvelled at such a resource.

bravo sir!
keep her lit!


8:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating that Miller connected his bust with the decapitated head of Mishima...that surely will provide a rich exploration of Freudian something or other for a future critic.

11:39 am  
Blogger Jorge Mario Sánchez said...

Let me tell you that I've seen one of Marino's busts of Henry here in Bogotá (Colombia), in the Museo Botero. In this museum we can find paintings and sculptures that colombian painter Fernando Botero owned, and donated later to the city of Bogotá. There are somo Picassos, Mirós, Monets, Renoirs, etc. The bust of Miller is very similar to that one in the photo post here. (Anyway, sorry if my english is not so good).

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