I met Wols in '45, bald, with a bottle and a beggar's pouch. In the pouch was the world, his worry; in the bottle, his death. He had been handsome, he wasn't any more: at 33 one would have thought him 50 without the youthful sadness in his eyes. Everyone - to start with him - thought that he would not make old bones. He told me several times without complacency, to mark his limits. He had few projects; a man who renewed himself non-stop, eternal in each instant. He always said everything, all at once, and then everything again: some other way. Like the small waves of the harbour which repeat themselves without repeating themselves. His life was a rosary of dented beads, each of which incarnated the world: the thread could be cut anywhere with no damage: that's what he said; in fact I believe now that he had thrown himself into one short-term project, only one: to kill himself, convinced as he was that there can be no expression without self-destruction; the bottle comes very early into his drawings.
Jean-Paul Sartre, 'Doigts et non-Doigts' from Wols en personne, by Jean-Paul Sartre, Henri-Pierre Roche, Werner Haftmann, Paris 1963. Translated by Barbara Wright.
Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery until 5 September.
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