|Provincetown And The Left Bank|
by Alan Bodian
Bodian...havent seen you around lately.
said this rather cavalierly, he being a familiar presence at Tirca Karlis
Gallery, at the foot of Center Street, where the flow of browsers was
especially dense on Friday nights.
this boom was fueled by the summer pilgrimage of card-carrying psychoanalysts
deployed on the glorious beaches of Turo, now considered as gemutlicht
as Majorca and the Cote dAzur once were. Like bees to honey, in
close pursuit came legions of analysands, those in therapy for whom angst
took no holiday merely because couches were on furlough during the month
of August. To add dimension to living, some therapists strongly endorsed
the creative process as a link in healing the mind as well as the soul.
As one regular at Longnook commented, If they play The Blue
Danube dozens would stand at attention to pay homage to their Freudian
It was the
Roaring Twenties, a surge of unbridled euphoria, expatriates fleeing the
grim landscapes of smokestack America for the boulevards and sidewalk
cafes in Paris, a city which valued La Vie de Boheme above the mindless
pursuit of money. For whatever reasons, this exodus was underwritten by
a favorable currency exchange. If the first war left France on its knees,
America was floating on exuberant waves of affluence freeing its sons
and daughters to set out in search of new lifestyles. At five francs to
the dollar, one dollar bought a bottle of cognac and for half that mount,
a full dinner with a carafe of wine in restaurants all over the Left Bank.
Even on a slim budget one managed to survive: only a few francs provided
a baguette, Camembert and a liter of vin rouge from local markets in working-class
neighborhoods. For a lost generation, it truly was la vie
and art are natural relations, a very close bond between Botkin and cousin
George Gershwin developed in 1917 when 21-year-old Botkin left Boston
for New York to take a fling in art circles, as he wrote George
and Ira, he was given a warm welcome by cousins close in age as well as
in early phases of their careers. George in particular embraced Botkin
because of a passionate interest in painting and the chance to learn from
an artist of undeniable promise.
wasnt the role model for Gene Kelly nor Gershwin the inspiration
for Oscar Levant, but their undisguised mutual admiration led to Gershwin
seriously contemplating a career change and reliance on Botkin while acquiring
Picassos, Modiglianis and especially Roualts, the French expressionist
Gershwin treasured above all others.
circumstances, Botkin had certain advantages being closely related to
George Gershwin whose career continued to soar, opening doors to more
ambitious compositions. After gaining rights to Porgy and Bess,
Gershwin in 1933 decided to concentrate solely on an opera he believed
would establish him as a composer of major importance. For authenticity
of place and character, Gershwin decided to travel south to Folly Island,
about ten miles from Charleston, where he invited Henry Botkin to stay
with him. From June until late August they shared a spartan cottage, Gershwin
at the piano in his studio and Botkin at the easel in his, enduring the
sweltering heat of long afternoons. For the evening refreshment, Gershwin
loved to explore the barrier islands and drop in at Gullah revival meetings
on James Island. Captivated, Gershwin listened in rapt concentration to
Gullah chants and complex rhythms, absorbing sounds woven into the score
of what was to become his classic American folk opera. Inspiration comes
in many forms and Botkin profited immensely from these excursions. James
Island was a treasure trove for a future series of canvases with blacks
as his subjects.