Sunday, July 12, 2009

Exhibition of Paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Seoul, Korea, July 2009

An exhibition of the paintings of

Pierre-Auguste Renoir,

“The artist who never painted tragedies.”

Rosy cheeks, chubby limbs, flowered frocks:

“A picture has to be

Pleasant, delightful.” The man himself declared.

No potato-eating farmers, no soldiers,

No arrow-pierced Sebastians,

No gaunt Saint John in camels’ hair.

His nudes are milkmaids, sweet girls,

Not images of Venus or Diana, or St. Agnes,

Or Catherine martyred on her wheel.

A small group of us went to see his works.

We were a bit distracted, trying to remember

What the building looked like the last time we were in it

Thirty years ago and some,

Before the place was gutted and the old Supreme Court building

Morphed into a museum of art.

The stone façade, forbidding then,

Is draped in banners, now,

Of golden-haired French children

And jeune filles in their flowered gowns.

Through that once awesome entrance,

Our little group went one April morning

To attend a solemn hearing:

Death sentences passed upon eight men

At a very questionable military trial six months before

Were to be reviewed that day;

Revoked, perhaps, reduced

Or possibly confirmed.

The courtroom filled with family members.

In due time we stood, the judges,

Thirteen of them, paraded in

Sat in their high backed plush red chairs.

A short statement, read aloud,

Confirmed eight sentences of death.

Later in the day, the state-controlled

Communications, press, radio and television,

Told the world the news.

One T.V. station, D.B.S., Renoir-like

Sanitized the situation thus:

With a thirty-second voiceover,

The camera scanned women weeping silently,

As they had before the judges entered.

It ended with the close-up of a priest,


Renoir, who never painted tragedies,

Would have approved the editing.

Truth was that pandemonium erupted;

The eight women and the priest

Along with many others stood up and shouted

Their disapproval of the verdict.

A goon squad of plainclothesmen rushed in.

They cleared the room,

Forcing all down four flights of stairs.

Thirty four years later

There isn’t any dark back staircase anymore,

Large glass wall panels welcome in the sun,

The walls are bright and high,

Fit for hanging paintings.

Eight men were hanged at dawn,

Just eighteen hours after the reading of the verdict.

Wide hallways now, and well-lit landings,

A spacious, incandescent place for art.

But about the visitors today,

The widows and the priest,

There hangs an aura of discomfort,

Disorientation, as they view the works

“Pleasant and delightful”

As Renoir had wanted life to seem.

1 comment:

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