Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945 - 55

A person I ran into quite often in Saint-Germain-des-Pres was the painter Wols. He had done illustrations for a text by Sartre, Visages; Paulhan would buy a drawing or a watercolour from him from time to time; we liked his work very much. Wols was a German who had been exiled in France for a very long time, he drank a litre of marc a day and looked quite old, despite the fact that he was only 36 and had blond hair and a rosy complexion; his eyes were always bloodshot and I don't think I saw him cold sober once.

A few friends used to help him; Sartre got him a room at the Hotel des Saints-Peres; the man who ran it complained that they would find him asleep in the corridors during the night and that he would bring friends home at five in the morning. One day I was having a drink with him on the terrace of the Rhumerie Martiniquaise; he was shabby, unshaven and looked like a tramp. A very well-dressed gentleman, very severe-looking and evidently wealthy, came over and spoke one or two words to him. When he had gone Wols turned to me. 'I'm sorry; that fellow is my brother: a banker]' he said in the apologetic tones of a banker admitting that the bum he has just spoken to is his brother.

From Force of Circumstance by Simone de Beauvoir (Penguin 1968)

(Research by Kate Oldfield)

Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery until 5 September. Sponsored by the Independent and supported by the French Embassy in London.

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