All the pictures below are drawn from
Looking At Pictures, a collection of Robert Walser’s joyful musings on art, which make most art criticism sound like highfalutin twaddle. A delicious line from each essay has been plucked to serve as a peephole into the piece.
Turn your eye on Cézanne, Fragonard, and Van Gogh and see what Walser saw. Never have essays on classical art been such a pleasure and delight to read, thanks in no small part to translators Susan Bernofsky, Lydia Davis, and Christopher Middleton.
Karl Walser, The Countess, 1904
I love the fog, just as I love everything that is moist, cold, and colorless.
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.
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.
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, 1902
The shepherd off in the distance on his painted green meadow is undoubtedly happy.
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 Forrest, 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 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?
Rembrandt van Rijn, Saul and David, 1655–1660
Here, an unpleasant state of affairs; there, a quite reasonable one.
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!
Karl Stauffer-Bern, Portrait of Lydia Welti-Escher, 1886
It offends and infuriates me to 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.
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.
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.