Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Crime fiction at the Art Institute of Chicago, plus a question for readers

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942.
Oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm, 33.125 x 60 in Art Institute of Chicago

"Just then we had another customer. A car squeaked to a stop outside and the swinging door came open. A fellow came in who looked a little in a hurry. He held the door and ranged the place quickly with flat, shiny, dark eyes. He was well set up, dark, good-looking in a narrow-faced, tight-lipped way. His clothes were dark and a white handkerchief peeped coyly from his pocket and he looked cool as well as under a tension of some sort. I guessed it was the hot wind. I felt a bit the same myself only not cool.
"He looked at the drunk's back. The drunk was playing checkers with his empty glasses. The new customer looked at me, then he looked along the line of half-booths at the other side of the place. They were all empty. He came on in-down past where the drunk sat swaying and muttering to himself-and spoke to the bar kid.
"`Seen a lady in here, buddy? ...'"
Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind"


Statue of the God Horus as a Falcon,
Egypt, Ptolemaic period (335-30 BC),
Art Institute of Chicago
"`Well, what did he say?' she asked with half-playful petulance.

"`He offered me five thousand dollars for the black bird.'"

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
*** 
I saw the art; I thought of the writing. But the purest piece of crime fiction here at the Art Institute of Chicago tells a story by itself, no outside writing needed.

The artist: Goya. The paintings: Friar Pedro and El Maragato. The series of six small pictures gives us Friar Pedro (a Gerry Kells or Tough Dick Donahue for his time) foiling, disarming, and shooting the bandit El Margato. The bandit threatens the friar, the friar wrestles the bandit, clubs him with a gun, shoots him, and ties him up.

Friar Pedro Offers Shoes to El Maragato and Prepares
to Push Aside His Gun
, Francisco José de Goya
y Lucientes. 1806, Oil on panel, 11.5 x 15.75 in.
(29.2 x 38.5 cm) Art Institute of Chicago
And you know the stock hard-boiled scene where the hero contemplates and analyzes his chances of distracting then jumping the bad guy so he can take away his gun? A thousand crime writers have written the scene in this century and the last one. Goya painted it in 1806.

What works of art have made you think: Wow, that's a crime story!

© Peter Rozovsky 2013 

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20 Comments:

Blogger Harvee said...

Interesting. I'll have to be more aware the next time I visit the Art Institute in Chicago.

Harvee
Book Dilettante

December 03, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

I read the first paragraph of "Red Wind" aloud the other day as an example of hard boiled writing. I think it's my favorite Chandler story. Sappy, in a way, but describes Marlowe as well as every other thing Chandler ever wrote.

December 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Harvee: I have amended my most slightly to avoid creating the impression that this Chandler and Hammett passages appear at the Art Institute. They don't, but as soon as I saw that Egyptian black bird, it was all I could do resist scratching at it madly with a pocket knife and yelling, "A fake!"

The Goya series, though, is a virtual outline or storyboard of a crime-fiction scene.

December 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Dana, that's Edward Hopper, isn't it: sappy, in a way, but immensely affecting nonetheless, as some of the best hard-boiled an noir writing is?

December 03, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Chicago? Brrrrrrr. Stay warm.

December 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Chicagoans were wearing T-shirts today, temperatures topped 50 Fahrenheit, and it's supposed to be even warner tomorrow. It was 46 degrees at 9:40 p.m. as I returned from dinner, and if this were to keep up, I'd have overpacked. Unfortunately, current forecasts call for highs of 24 Thursday and 22 Friday.

December 03, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I always find that when I'm reading Ken Bruen, I come away with an inspiring list of books to read. I'd read him even without all the literary references, but I do appreciate them. I also like how far ranging they are.

December 04, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Artemesia Gentileschi's painting of Judith slaying Holofernes, as it depicts the scene mid-slaying. Typical paintings of the same subject take place after, with Judith holding the head aloft, but this one, with the servant girl pinning him down as Judith slices, is pure murder.

December 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I have not always been a fan of Bruen's tendency to quote form other books, but I put up a post a few years ago about his surprising but apt quotation of Karin Fossum in his novel Calibre.

December 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, you will see from this post that I am in Chicago now and that I visited the Art Institute of Chicago yesterday. Did you know when you posted your comment about this special exhibition at the Art Institute? I saw it yesterday, and it certainly came to mind as a possible answer to my question.

December 04, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I think it's the range of his reading that I find impressive. It would probably be enough if he just stuck to crime writers, but he doesn't by any means.

Judith could get a nice job in a butcher's shop if she was at loose ends.

December 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I just searched my old posts to see if I'd ever mentioned any especially surprising authors Brien has chosen as the source of an epigraph. The results were even better than expected. He has quoted himself.

The Art Institute has hung the picture directly facing the entrance to the gallery in which it hangs, off a larger gallery. So passersby glance to one side and get a face full of Judith slicing herself a hunk of neck, with the help of her dangerous sidekick..

December 04, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

If he had only quoted himself, that would be a bit conceited. But as a one off kind of thing, it seems very amusing.

December 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It was funny: Bruen and his co-author quoting themselves, and killing off a character patently based on Bruen. It helps that of the three books in that series, one was good, and two were better than that.

December 04, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I haven't read any of the co-authored ones. I'll save those till I reach the Ken Bruen doldrums.

December 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He's had several co-writers, but the three under discussion here were written with Jason Starr, in order: Bust, Slide, and The Max.

December 05, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Ha, what a stroke of coincidence. No, I don't keep up with what's in Chicago. Very cool that you got to see the original.

I admit that I first became familiar with her via feminist critiques. The fact that she was raped by an art teacher adds another dimension to the work that makes it seem even more crime novel-esque: the element of revenge.

December 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, she was a Lisbeth Salander before her time. The hardest-hitting detail of the painting for me is one you mentioned: that the servant girl holds Holofernes down. And the muscular, slightly strained positions of the bodies do a good job of telling the story, too.

One would hope that feminist or any other criticism with an agenda would not neglect such things. In other words, a feminist analysis may be useful, as long as it serves as an means to analyze, discuss, and shed light on the painting, rather than the painting serve as a platform from which to argue the agenda. Nothing wrong with arguing an agenda, of course, but why not save time and leave out the paining entirely?

One can be sure, for example, that Artemisia knew her Caravaggio, and that is of more interest than anything else.

OK, back off my speakers' platform now, ready to finish my coffee.

December 05, 2013  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

When Michael Mann (and I suppose the Cinematographer Dante Spinotti) was making Heat he took some inspiration from paintings for some scenes. Most notably, Alex Colville’s 1967 painting “Pacific”.

Here's a link to brief analysis of the influence, with the painting and the scene it influenced.

http://filmflam.net/post/659385934/heat-alex-colvilles-pacific

December 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian: Yep, that's good. Quite appropriately, I am reading your comment upon my arrival at Union Station in Los Angeles, so I may well be reminded to the painting over the next few days.

December 08, 2013  

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