A painter and a painting
It was Klingsor’s last summer.
Klingsor was an artist: a painter – a painter enthralled by beauty, a painter of vivid colour, passionately, fervently, endlessly seeking to express his love of everything the world could reveal. No day could ever be reclaimed; Life was precious – every moment was precious, irrevocable, a glory and, in its passing, a tragedy …
One evening in that last year of his life he left his studio; and, from a balcony he looked, through his artist’s eyes, into the cool darkness of the night:
It is then that a narrator tells us:
‘In a year perhaps or sooner, these eyes would be blind and the fires in his heart extinct. No: no human being could endure his flaming life for long. Not even he could, not even Klingsor …Nobody could go on for a long time having all his candles burning day and night, working feverishly for many hours everyday, spending many hours every night in feverish thoughts … forever creating, forever with all his senses and nerves wide awake and alert, like a palace behind whose every window music rings out day after day, while night after night a thousand candles twinkle. It would come to an end …’
The narrator continues by tracing out some of the details of Klingsor’s last year: we learn about his intense experiences, his quenchless hunger for life, his relations with a handful of friends, his swings of mood, his moral freedom and his veniality. But we are alert to the fact that his days are numbered. Then, in September of that year Klingsor painted his last self-portrait, and, of this painting, the narrator tell us that:
‘This frightening, yet so magically beautiful painting, the last of his works to be entirely finished, came at the end of that summer’s labours, at the end of an incredibly fervid tempestuous period of work, and was its crowning glory.’
And how did he paint this work?
‘He painted seated and from memory; only now and then, and almost always during pauses in his work, would he go to the large, old fashioned mirror on the north wall, its frame painted with climbing roses. Standing before the mirror he would stretch his head forward, open his eyes wide … he saw many many faces behind the Klingsor face in the big mirror … and he painted many faces into his picture; sweet and wondering children’s faces, young manhood’s brow and temples full of dreams and ardour, scoffing drinker’s eyes, lips a’thirsting, persecuted, suffering, the seeking libertine of an enfant perdu. But he built up the head majestically brutally, made it into a jungle idol, a jealous infatuated Jehovah, a totem to whom new born babes and virgins mighty be sacrificed. Those were a few of his faces. Another was the face of a doomed and denying man who accepted his fate: moss grew on his skull, the old teeth stood askew, cracks ran through the white skin, and scales and mould grew in the cracks. These are the features his friends particularly love in the painting: They say: this is the man, ecce homo, here is the weary, greedy, wild, childlike, and sophisticated man of our late dying European age who wants to die, overstrung by every longing, sick from every vice, enraptured by the knowledge of his doom, ready for any kind of progress, ripe for any kind retrogression … at once Faust and Karamazov, beast and sage, wholly exposed, wholly without ambition, wholly naked, filled with childish dread of death and filled with weary readiness to die.’
We do not know how he dies.