The Soul of the Soulless City

It stopped me in my tracks, that image, with a gasp
(I turned to see if anyone had noticed).
It had reached out from the wall and grabbed me.
Like a snake in the grass – really, not a metaphor,
but a primitive reaction.
As I passed, the picture had crept un-noticed through the corner of my eye, into my brain, and hit a trigger – KAZAM and spinning round, amazed,
I recognised the view —
the exact view from my earliest childhood, or so it seemed —
though I’ve never been to New York.

Soul of the Soulless City by CRW Nevinson ()

Soul of the Soulless City-CRW Nevinson

Creative Commons Licence

Wide-eyed and gripped by New York in 1920 and never so moved before by art, I was perplexed.

Even more so when I found this!

Roofs of New York CRW Nevinson in my grandparent's flat circa 1955

My Mum and Dad with the Roofs of New York by
CRW Nevinson, in my grandparent’s flat circa 1955

You see — it’s not the same image at all — just an essence, the blowing steam, the style, and I was a child when I last saw that picture. But still I spun round when I saw through the same eyes, sixty years later — the eyes of CRW Nevinson.  What does this tell us about art?

Here I am looking the other way!

Essentially unchanged

Essentially unchanged

P.S  The artist renamed the picture which is now on show at the Tate Britain when he fell out with American critics years later, it had been New York — an abstraction, it became The Soul of a Soulless City.   This explains the disparity between the positivity of the image and the negativity of the title, I don’t believe he thought the city soulless when he painted it!

My grand-parents picture was sold many years ago — perhaps to a conciliatory American.


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