In exchange for some framing work a gallery owner gave my brother an etching by the Hungarian artist Jenő Tarjáni Simkovics (1895-1995). The title is “Philosopher” – a balding, aging man, sleeves rolled to the elbows, right hand holding left forearm, looking more like a worker than a thinker, an ascetic Eric Hoffer. My brother found the etching in an unsorted file of prints and other works, and immediately claimed it.
Measuring about seven inches by five inches, in black, white and sepia, it gives the impression of being, in my brother’s words, “bathed in an other-worldly light.” He gave it a three-quarter-inch black frame. The planes in the background recall late Cezanne, and Ken says the crosshatching looks like Klee’s work. Hinted at in the online image but more conspicuous in the original is the image of an owl, the classical emblem of wisdom, perched behind the philosopher.
What especially pleases me is that Simkovics gives his philosopher the look of a happy man, not a conventionally tormented one. As my brother said, “There’s a look of contentment about him.”
First I thought of Wallace Stevens and his homage to his friend George Santayana --
“The bed, the books, the chair, the moving nuns,
The candle as it evades the sight, these are
The sources of happiness in the shape of Rome…”
-- but I’ve been reading C.H. Sisson’s poems for the first time and finding likenesses of Simkovics’ thinker in many, including this from a sequence titled “Autumn Poems”:
“I am looking for contentment out of nothing
For new things are made out of what is new
And I have none except this: the birds' song,
The rain, the evening sky, the grass on the lawn.”