Robert Walser, Original Art Blogger

Looking at Pictures, Taking Them Personally

November 12, 2015  By Literary Hub

The images below are drawn from Looking At Picturesa collection of Robert Walser’s joyful musings on art, which make most art criticism seem dry, impersonal, and dull. A line from each essay has been plucked to serve as a peephole into Walser’s wonderfully conversational approach to the art he loved.

karl walser countess

Karl Walser, The Countess, 1904

“I love the fog, just as I love everything that is moist, cold, and colorless.”

karl walser poet

Karl Walser, The Poet, 1904

“Gray has always been one of my favorite colors, one of the most refined and sweetest, and to my delight, it is everywhere in these mountains.”

apollo and diana

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Apollo and Diana in a Wooded Landscape, 1530

“One day I experience a small, charming adventure with my landlady, wife of the cantonal notary, on account of a picture hanging on the wall of my room.”

van gogh

Vincent van Gogh, L’Arlésienne: Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux, 1888-89

“The effect the Van Gogh had on me was like that of a solemn tale.”

karl walser portrait of a lady

Karl Walser, Portrait of a Lady, 1902

“The shepherd off in the distance on his painted green meadow is undoubtedly happy.”

karl walser the dream

Karl Walser, The Dream, 1903

“I dreamed I was a tiny, innocent, young boy, more delicate and young than a human being has ever been before, as one can be only in dark, deep, beautiful dreams.”


Ferdinand Hodler, The Beech Forest, 1885

“This morning I breakfasted sumptuously and with delight, but one ought not to utter statements like this so loudly in an era when delicate persons have the most indelicate cares piled upon their shoulders.”

belgian exhibitino

Belgian Art Exhibition, Kunsthalle Bern, March 27-June 7, 1926

“To speak in summarizing fashion about many pictures at once constitutes a difficulty that I am most delighted, as it were, to permit myself.”


Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The Parable of the Blind (after Pieter Brueghel the Elder), c. 1916

“Must I specify the time or century?”

saul and david

Rembrandt van Rijn, Saul and David, 1655–1660

“Here, an unpleasant state of affairs; there, a quite reasonable one.”

diaz's forest

Narcisse Diaz de la Peña, The Forest Clearing, 1875

“Gnarled trunks spoke a primeval tongue.”


Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

“Now don’t go thinking of me as a slugabed!”

Stauffer Bern

Karl Stauffer-Bern, Portrait of Lydia Welti-Escher, 1886

“It offends and infuriates me to be financially dependent on you.”


Aubrey Beardsley, Self-Portrait, c. 1892

“It may be that never before has an illustrator reproduced the flickering of a candle in so candle-like a manner, so flickery.”

little watteau

Jean-Antoine Watteau, Italian Comedians, 1720

“Hundreds wonder at my complete lack of engagement.”


Jean-Antoine Watteau, The Dance, c. 1719

“From his pictures one can at times hear tinkling bells, at times rustling leaves.”


Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Happy Accidents of the Swing, c. 1767

“A rococo beauty is being swung to and fro in a tastefully coiffed, as it were, charmingly frilly park, while her admirer occupies himself with gazing at her.”

The Kiss

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Stolen Kiss, c. 1786

“It is to this picture I owe these thin or plump, artless or clever lines.”


Paul Cézanne, Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, c. 1890

“One could justly insist that he made the most extensive use, bordering on the inexhaustible, of the suppleness and the compliance of his hands.”


Quotations are from the following essays, collected in Looking at Pictures, out now from New Directions:

A Painter · Apollo and Diana · The Van Gogh Picture · The Dream (I) · Hodler’s Beech Forest · An Exhibition of Belgian Art · Brueghel Picture · Saul and David (II) · Diaz’s Forest · Olympia · Scene from the Life of the Painter Karl Stauffer-Bern · A Tiny Little Bit of Watteau · Watteau · A Picture by Fragonard · The Kiss (III). Translated by Susan Bernofsky.    

Portrait of a Lady · Beardsley. Translated by Lydia Davis 

Thoughts on Cézanne. Translated by Christopher Middleton 

There will be a celebration of Robert Walser at the New Museum, November 12th, 7pm.

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LitHub Daily: November 12, 2015 Was Robert Walser the original art blogger? "Never before has an illustrator reproduced the flickering of a candle...

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