so many paintings, so little time

Nino Full of Life

In New Portraits at James Graham & Sons on January 31, 2010 at 5:44 pm

My father died the end of last summer. He was 94. He’d been living in a senior residence in Michigan where my mother and he moved eight years ago. I spent the last month with him. He was a dear man. Though his life had gotten more difficult in recent years, his appetite for new experiences, and his enthusiastic interest in what I was up to never flagged, right up to the end. He could even joke with me days before he died. He had lost as much weight as he possibly could without disappearing. His wardrobe at this point consisted of a t-shirt and Depends. As my sister Lucy and Donata, one of his angel caregivers, were standing on either side of him helping him sit up on the edge of his bed, I walked into the room. Hey, what’s going on? I said. Can’t you see, he said in a barely audible voice, we’re having a party. I said, what’s to drink? To which he replied, Vernor’s! with a what-are-you-joking? look.

Vernor’s Va-Va-Voom, Detroit’s Finest

I already knew I was going to be making portraits based on people’s responses to paintings for my next gallery exhibition. My parents had bought a print of a Bruegel for the first house they built in the late 1940s on Mark Twain in Detroit. My nephew Wren was flying in from Boston the next day, and brought it on the plane, his precious cargo wrapped in a blanket. Though my Dad was weak and could barely sit up, I was determined to videotape him talking about that actual framed print. I did.

After the funeral I went back to Paris, depleted and sad. I took a few months off. Time was slipping away, and I needed to get started on the paintings for my show. I decided I wanted to make a portrait of Nino–had to make a portrait of him. He has his whole wonderful life ahead of him.

Nino is the seven year-old son of dear friends in Paris, Ed Alcock and Muriel Boselli. I’ve known Nino since he was an hour or two old. He was born in the Hopital Lariboisiere near where Eunice (Lipton) and I live.

Hopital Lariboisiere, Paris 10th Arrondissement

Nino speaks French and English, like his parents. He’s the most adorable boy in Paris, perhaps in all of France. I was waiting for him to be old enough to have a conversation that would last more than a few minutes while looking at a painting in a museum. Eunice and I had taken him the year before to the Orangerie in the Tuileries Garden to see

Monet's waterlilies in the Orangerie, Paris

Monet’s waterlilies, and then to Giverny to see the real thing. He enjoyed running up and down the rows of plantings, examining and sniffing the blossoms, swatting the insect wildlife, but it was the strawberry ice cream cone afterwards that made the day. Now was a year later, and I was hoping I could get him talking about paintings so I could make his portrait.

It’s a ten minute trip on the Metro from Nino’s apartment in the 10th arrondissement to the Louvre. I pick him up and off we go. I lie to Nino, telling him that the Louvre will let him have a painting to take home, as a way of thanking him for helping me. He just needs to pick out one he wants. We climb endless stairs and arrive in a special gallery devoted to the donation of a particular collector.

Before we begin, I tell Nino that there are just too many damn paintings in the Louvre, and I would really appreciate it if he can pick one to get rid of, something he really doesn’t like.

Interestingly, both the paintings he chooses are in the same gallery! Now I’m faced with two dilemmas: how to get the Louvre to throw out the one and give away the other. Any ideas?

Nino at the Louvre

Nino considering

Nino vexed

Nino deciding

Nino's (and the Repainter's) Mission Accomplished

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  1. Love this blog, especially the Nino story. One teeny-weeny thing: Dad & Mom’s lst house on Mark Twain was built in the early, not late 1940s. I remember it well. I worked in the farm land around it. And I was born in 1941.

  2. Hey ken what beautiful pics And I love theNino story love Anne

  3. All blogs are wonderful revelations.

  4. Hey, Don’t I know that little guy? Keep ’em coming Ken. xxx Ed

  5. Hi Ken,

    I am sorry to hear about the passing of your father. Your blog about him is very touching. Nino is indeed very cute !!

    Julien (Pittsburgh)

  6. J’avais même pas vu ces photos de Nino… Amazing! Makes a change from the Oedipus character in Ed’s hobbledehoy series. Une maman très fière de son fils.

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