Tuesday, February 24, 2015


For some years I kept a model of J.M.W. Turner's deathmask next to my bed, but it developed a disconcerting habit of snapping its eyes open and staring at me. It was plainly trying to size me up as a subject, and was none too pleased with the notion. For a while I did my best to look like a full-rigged frigate, or a train racing through the fog, but it was a losing battle. The lips around the toothless mouth grew more and more grim.

Tired of this, I affixed the mask to my front door -- let old Turner watch the world if I wasn't good enough for him! For a few days he just watched quietly, through narrow-slit eyes. Then he began flirting with the high school girls as they passed by, trying to charm them. Disgusting in a man dead since 1851, though also, I admit, rather impressive. I brought him back inside and shut him in my top drawer, but after a week or so he began eating my socks.

A friend of mine finally loaned me his model of John Keats' deathmask, which has so far calmed Turner down. While a very great painter, Turner wrote terrible poetry and he seemed at first a bit cowed by Keats. Lately, though, he has warmed up and has been trying to persuade Keats to commision illustrations, like the ones Turner made for Byron and Scott. I've thought about reminding him that he is, after all, only a mask, but that would be cruel.

It would also, of course, entail the risk of him asking if I really believed I was something more, and then where would I be?

No comments:

Post a Comment