Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945 - 55

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The Independent Online
I was about to daub my face with pink, red and black in the basement of the Deux- Magots. A man put down his papers, got up, shook my hand over the table, spoke to me for five minutes. It was Sartre. I like Sartre's face. Some say it is ugly. It cannot be ugly: his intelligence irradiates his features. Hidden ugliness is the most repulsive; Sartre's face has the candour of an erupting volcano. When he enters the Dome or La Coupole he is like a suppressed bull, a meteor. He is a geyser; he is impetuosity. Some faces are stingy, denying one even the flicker of eyelids. They appear starched. I love his lower lip like a white negro, his squint, his wandering eye. His shipwrecked eye, a slip-stream of light and it is Sartre when he enters our troubled waters. His eye, in Cartier-Bresson's photograph . . . the tremor of a touch of light. Vincent Van Gogh painted a young man with the stem of a cornflower between his teeth. I know of no face with a closer resemblance to Sartre than that one. It has the generosity of a tilled field, his face.

From La Folie en Tete by Violette Leduc (Gallimard, Paris, 1970)

(Research by Kate Oldfield)

Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery until 5 September.

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