Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Purely for My Pleasure - W. Somerset Maugham

cover of the 1962 first edition of Purely for my pleasure by W. Somerset Maugham
Purely For My Pleasure 1962 first edition by W. Somerset Maugham

Purely For My Pleasure (London: Heinemann, 1962)



I will talk about the last book that Maugham published in this post, which is an essay on his collection of paintings, with very good quality illustrations.


Maugham's Art Collection: Purely for My Pleasure



This is truly a delightful book, content-wise and presentation-wise. In it, Maugham writes a short essay, intercalated with the colour reproductions, about the circumstances in which he acquired the paintings shown in this book, including two that are portraits of him. There are anecdotes about Matisse and some artists that he knew, and how he came to get the famous door painted by Gauguin.

Furthermore, he tells the reader where he put his paintings, in which rooms they were hung. It is interesting to read about his anxiety in spotting something that he really liked, wanting it, and how he finally came to possess it.

The book tells a lot about Maugham's taste, which types of painting he liked, and is immensely pleasant to read with Maugham at his best, a consummated style that it is impossible to change one word. It is a pure pleasure for the lucky reader who comes across it.

Here are the extracts on his portraits:

Portrait of Maugham by Edouard MacAvoy


W. Somerset Maugham, portrait by Edouard MacAvoy in Purely For My Pleasure
W. Somerset Maugham, portrait by Edouard MacAvoy

As a frontispiece to this volume I have chosen a portrait of me painted by a Frenchman called Edouard MacAvoy. I have the idea that few people in a private station can have been drawn, painted or sculpted more often than I have. Artists have found me a patient sitter. They like to talk while they work and I am a good listener. But it is not only on that account that they have made so many portraits of me. When you are wandering through the rooms of an exhibition of pictures and come across a portrait, you may have the curiosity to glance at your catalogue in order to see the name of the person depicted. If the name is familiar to you it may well be that, should you be thinking of having a portrait painted of yourself, you may think that the artist who painted the portrait that attracted your attention will suit your purpose. Should then for one reason or another the sitter's name become more and more familiar, it is not unnatural that artists should be tempted to paint, draw or sculpt the owner of it in the hope that on that account their work will attract attention and thus gain repute. I venture to claim that I have proved a pretty good advertisement.
When Edouart MacAvoy, with an introduction from a common friend, came to see me and said he would like to paint me, I asked him how he, a Frenchman, happened to have a Scottish name. He told me that an ancestor of his, a Scot, had come over to France in the suite of James II when that obstinate monarch, to the relief of his subjects, had fled his country. That seemed to be a sufficient recommendation that I told MacAvoy that I would gladly sit to him. He made a number of drawings and then told me that he had all the material he wanted and would paint the portrait in his studio in Paris. The Second World War broke out and I heard no more from him till it was over. Then I received a letter from him in which he said that he was dissatisfied with his painting of my hands and would like to make further drawings of them. I asked him to come and stay with me for two or three days and he made his drawings. I did not see the portrait till it was exhibited in the Salon. I must admit that I was startled, but I liked it and acquired it. Braque, I am told, saw it and thought higly of it. 'I only have one criticism to make,' he said, 'the left side of the face is slightly realistic.'

Portrait of Maugham by Marie Laurencin


W. Somerset Maugham, portrait by Marie Laurencin in Purely For My Pleasures
W. Somerset Maugham, portrait by Marie Laurencin

For my dining-room I bought Provençal furniture and on the walls hung pictures by Marie Laurencin that I had bought some years before. The effect was pleasing and indeed was much admired. One day Marie Laurencin called me up and said that she had heard how I had used her pictures and would like to come to see them herself. I asked her to lunch and she came with a good-looking man who, I presumed, was then her lover. There were four pictures in the room. She looked at the first and smiled. 'What a pretty little thing,' she murmured. At the second she said but one word: 'Exquisite.' The third picture faced the door. She gasped. She turned to me as though I were responsible for it. 'There can be no doubt about it,' she cried. 'It's a masterpiece.' At the last picture she addressed her companion. 'But it's delicious,' she told him. 'Delicious,' he replied. I suggested that we should have lunch. I have not related this in mockery of the artist's vanity: on the contrary, I found Marie Laurencin's ingenuous delight in her pictures touching. I liked her all the better for it. She was not a great artist, far from it, but a pleasing one.
Some years later I received a letter from her in which she said that she would like to paint a portrait of me. In reply I told her that I was greatly flattered by the suggestion, but felt it only right to remind her that I was not a young thing with a complexion of milk and roses and the lustrous eyes of a gazelle, with a sensual, scarlet mouth, but an elderly gentleman with a sallow, wrinkled skin and tired eyes. She wrote back to say that nothing of that mattered, but would be grateful if I would come in a dressing-gown as she did not know how to paint a jacket. On this we fixed a day and, with a dressing-gown over my arm, I presented myself at her studio. She set to work. While she painted she told me the story of her life. She was very frank and I enjoyed myself. The great love of her life had been for an eminent politician who was so busy that he could only come to see her at eight o'clock in the morning on his way to the office. 'Wasn't that an inauspicious hour to make love?' I asked her. 'Not for Philippe,' she answered proudly. Marie Laurencin was a hard worker. For six days in the week she painted pictures and on the seventh, as a rest, spent the day with old friends, a man, his wife and their children, who lived on the fifth floor of a house in Montparnasse. On arrival she took off her dress and put on an apron, then, seizing a broom, swept the floor and washed the children. For the mid-day meal she cooked the food which she had brought with her, for her friends were very poor, and passed the afternoon washing up, mending clothes and gossiping till it was time to put the children to bed. Then she took off her apron, put on her dress and went home delighted with her day, tired-out and happy.
After I had sat for four afternoons Marie Laurencin put down her brushes and looked at the canvas. 'Vous savez,' she said, 'people complain that my portraits are not a good likeness. Il faut que je vous dise que je m'en fou éperdument.' Freely translated this would mean, 'I must tell you that I don't care a damn.' She took the canvas off the easel and handed it to me. 'It's a present.'
You can get this book also at Amazon.com and Amazon UK

5 comments :

  1. It is really a nice treat for me to find a new article waiting for me after a long day(and the dreadful weather hufffff). After read this article I bought the book immediately.Now I have something to read in the night. A question,my friend.When it comes to choose between English edition and American edition, which one will you choose?

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    1. Cheng, glad that you like the post. At the beginning when I started collecting I aimed for the English edition, but now I check which one came out first. Usually one of them came out a day or a few days before the other, and I get the earlier one.

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  2. Hello everybody! I'm an italian student that makes a research about Maugham! I have a question about the collection of paintings of the writer. Where are the paintings now? Is the collection intact? Thank you friends!

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    1. Hi Unknown,
      I have been working on this as an ongoing project. You can find it here:
      Useful Links

      Just scroll down to the section on theatrical paintings.

      Good luck with your research!

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