No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
British Army Exhibition
British Army Staff
Jessie Mine: I seem to have done a lot of hiking today, even though I haven’t been very far. This morning, after spending an hour at the exhibition, I had my usual cup of tea at the Skittle Alley, and then went to see the tomb of Napoleon: it is part of the “Invalides” building south of the Pl. de la Concorde. The tomb is a magnificent casket of highly polished red marble, and it lies in a huge well beneath the dome of the building. The exterior of this dome is one of the Paris landmarks on account of its height and gold roof. Am enclosing a photo of it. The interior of the building, apart from Napoleon, is built in the usual majestic proportions with wide archways, lofty columns, stained glass windows etc. There is also a highly ornate altar which, I believe, is a copy of that in the Vatican. There are three or four other bodies in the place… they lie in caskets in galleries off the main part of the building. One of them is Marshal Foch… and another Napoleon the First: I forget the others… but they are famous French generals.
I went next into the ‘Invalides’ building to see the ‘Military Museum’… I won’t try to describe what I saw: it was mostly ancient armour and weapons, dating from the Middle Ages I imagine, and hundreds of tattered banners and flags from battle fronts over half the globe. I noticed too some huge paintings depicting battle scenes: three of them were of towns, with a river in the foreground – and the names they bore were ‘Wesel’ ‘Rees’ and Zutphen. All these places were prominent in the news not so long ago: they have evidently tasted war before.
After lunch, I did a little wandering and found myself at Les Halles – the ‘Smithfield’ market of Paris. It just reminded me of the market in Manchester. There was the same ugly looking iron and glass enclosure, the same smell, the same untidyness, the same litter and filth in the roads, the same masses of crates and baskets and handcarts and bundles of vegetables. And the people too were the same type… And all the side roads leading to the main market were lined with stallholders and piles of vegetables etc. It must be water-cress and radish time just now because everyone seemed to be selling it. But there was plenty of other food… a very encouraging sight in this war-ridden continent. Cabbages were there by the cart load… and carrots, and onions, and tomatoes, and damsons, and cucumbers and Heaven knows what else… masses of the stuff. I only hope it is all finding its way to the people legitimately and not through the wretched black market.
I wandered on towards the river… via St. Jacques Tower (picture enclosed), Chatelet, and on to the Louvre – which I entered. This time, I went straight to the stairway – a really imposing piece of architecture – which leads up to the first floor gallery containing the special display of pictures. But before entering the picture gallery, I had a good look at a piece of sculpture which was not on show on my last visit. It is mounted in the centre of the stairway where the latter branches off right and left. The name of it is the “Winged Victory of Samothrace”… and I’ve no doubt you have heard of it, and perhaps seen it illustrated. It is a typical Grecian female figure clad in a light flowing robe, and poised forward. It bears enormous and beautifully carved wings at the rear… outspread in the usual manner of angels… but, it is headless and armless. I am no judge of sculpture, but even to me, it is obviously a work of much beauty, particularly in its lovely presentation of the female form, and the graceful lines of the poised position. As with the Venus de Milo, it is not complete, and what there is of it, bears evidence of its age and possible rough handling… maybe a long time B.C.
It would be impossible for me to tell you about the pictures I saw… but I can mention one or two that struck me as outstanding. I may as well start with Mona… but I don’t s’pose I need say much about it. It is rather smaller than I expected – measuring about thirty inches by twenty four. It is labelled “La Joconde – Portrait of Mona Lisa”. The colouring, especially of the face and hands is not good: (in my very humble opinion!) it is too yellowy or pasty, and seems to be obscured by a faint mist:- This may be due to age – I wouldn’t know. The face… well, even I can smirk! The enigmatical smile is more of a smug, self-satisfied grin to my mind… And the original would not appeal to me as a beauty: I’ll bet she had half a dozen chins ten years after she posed. All the same, considering the artist did his job somewhere about the end of the fifteenth century, it is a remarkable piece of work.
A much more brilliant work (again, in my very humble opinion) is a similar type of picture, but of a male. It is by the artist Philippe de Champaigne, and called Portrait of a Man, and dated 1650. The ‘Man’ is dressed in a black velvet cloak, and wears a trimmed moustache and a small pointed beard. The remarkable thing about it is its uncanny ‘living’ atmosphere. There seems to be a third dimension to it – and the colouring is absolutely life-like, in spite of its age. The eyes too are alive… literally glistening with moisture. To me, the Mona Lisa was ‘flat’ by comparison.
Another attractive picture to me was the “La Source” by Ingres. I think you will have seen illustrations of this picture. It is that of a nude female standing in a tiny stream, and pouring water from a stone urn resting on her left shoulder. The background is gloomy, but it is supposed to represent rock, I think. The female in this picture has a slight similarity with the one in Leighton’s “Last Watch of Hero”, particularly in colouring and poise.
There was another picture which I recognised immediately – because we have an illustration of it in our ‘John O’London’ (a weekly literary magazine, 1919-1954). It is the picture of the old man with a bulbous and disfigured nose, gazing down upon his small son. The expression of kindness and loving care on the old man’s face is very well protrayed. This picture has an unusual amount of red in it.
There was another Da Vinci picture in the gallery… rather smaller than Mona, but again a head and shoulders study of a woman. She looks more intelligent than Mona… and better in features. But, again, the flesh is rather ‘pasty’ and hardly lifelike. This picture is “presumed” to be a painting of some woman who was named – but I forget who it was. And that is about all I can say about pictures. Perhaps I should mention that the majority of them were ‘old masters’ – 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th century. One of the few 19th century ones was the painting of his mother, by Whistler. If I visit the Louvre again before I leave Paris, I will probably have more to say on this subject. Before leaving the Louvre, I had another peep at Venus – just to get to know her – sort of!
The day has been very hot again, and this museum and art gallery exploring can be very tiring, as you know. So after tea, I had a wee scrounge, and then started writing to my sweetheart… But now I must go out: I want to try and buy a certain newspaper before it is too late. More later.
Got it! The newspaper, I mean. I don’t think I have told you about the excellent newspaper distributing system they have in Paris… or rather along the Boulevards Madeleine, Capucine, Italien, and Montmartre. Every 100 yards or so along this roadway, there is a newspaper kiosk, and most of them sell British newspapers and periodicals. And they all seem to remain open until quite late in the evening: I have often bought a paper from one of these kiosks after 10.0pm. There are, of course, the usual street sellers as well, but they only handle the French dailies.
And so, I went out at 9.0pm, and managed to get a copy of last Sunday’s ‘Express’… And that is why you will find the enclosed cutting “We can beat the Shop Dictator”. I found it interesting… principally because it confirms so much of what you have told me. Apparently there are a few other staunch souls about who have the courage to defy these wretched little dictators. Keep up the good work, darling. It is strange that such an article should appear in Beaverbrook’s ‘Express’. He has made himself the small shopkeepers champion during the last few years, by his constant and rather vitriolic war against the Co’ops. I think you will find that most small shopkeepers take the Express… and their incivility and general discourtesy may have their roots, to some extent, in the vituperative and spiteful journalism in which Beaverbrook specialises. I think it was well said by someone recently that Fleet Street has become almost all gutter since Beaverbrook entered it.
Incidentally, I read an article today by someone who has been doing election canvassing. He expressed the opinion that there is now a noticeable ‘left’ tendency amongst agricultural workers, but in the towns, the small shopkeepers are almost solidly ‘Tory’. No doubt the Beavers ten year old anti- Co’op campaign has borne some fruit! But I am wandering…
I received two letters today darling: one from you dated July 13th – and another from Dicky Hall. Alas for Dicky… the great, clumsy, hairy, rollicking Dicky: one of the best blokes I have met in the army: he is now no longer with us: his new address is 4th Battn R.T.R. – B.L.A. He tells me that 78 of the blokes from “C” squadron are in the new unit, so he won’t feel a complete stranger. I will send you his letter when I have replied.
Your letter – a nice long one – tells me much about Kath’s (RTG’s younger sister) friend Dave. I hardly know what to make of him, dear. It seems fairly apparent that he is not genuinely fond of decent music – and that makes me wonder. Did K. know this when she wrote to you? If so, was it just an excuse to bring him round so that she could quietly observe your reaction to him? It is possible, you know, that K. herself may feel a bit doubtful about the lad, and is trying to see whether he creates any sort of impression amongst strangers. I do hope she doesn’t make any mistakes when she re-marries – as I’m sure she intends doing some day. One cannot offer advice, of course… but there is no discourtesy in hoping.
The news about Dorothy (RTG’s older sister) voting Tory was a bit of a blow – but not altogether a surprise. You see, Ross (Dorothy’s husband) votes Tory – I’m damned sure he has always done so, and I’m pretty sure, too, that he would be able to convince Dorothy that the salvation of the world depended on Churchill. And she, poor mutt, would go to the polling-booth fully convinced that her vote was a personal one for Winston himself. I don’t know what her reactions will be if Churchill “retires” from the new government… or just dies! Speaking of politics reminds me of an interesting article in this week’s Statesman: I will enclose it with this letter. I think the broad view of Europe’s future is very well written and profoundly true.
Jess… I was glad to hear of Jess Aldcroft’s impending visit. She is a real person, and I’m sure her visits do you – and her – a lot of good. I look forward to reading your descriptions of her visits. As for your intention to arrange a meeting between Jimmy and I… well, it will be a pleasure for me, darling. I like Jimmy… and I think you will too, altho’ he may surprise you… as the husband of Jess, I mean. I doubt whether he is half as intellectual as she… but he has a damned fine sense of humour and I have always found him good company. If he comes to our house, I can promise you a few good laughs: Jimmy has a way of recounting his army life…
This evening’s ‘orders’ here contain the first official intimation of the closing of the exhibition. It is now definitely confirmed that it closes on the evening of the 22nd July. A provisional warning order has also been issued for certain groups to be prepared to leave Paris on 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th. These groups are the people who have no exhibits to worry about – i.e. the P.T. team, the A.T.S. team, the guards from the ‘Northumbrian’ div. etc. From this it would appear that my crew will remain here until the 25th at least… but this is only an assumption. They may, for instance, decide to let one tank crew attend to the disposal of all the tanks, and ship the rest of us away sooner than we expect. But I may have some more definite information tomorrow, darling. One of the officers has promised to try and let me know something more precise.
Meanwhile, please continue writing here until you hear further.
And now I must go to bed.
Jess… it’s been lovely writing to you: I have been here alone because Jake is on duty – and I can always concentrate better when there are no interruptions.
Good night, my darling