4 août 2014

Ralph Barton, the Champion

Ralph Barton, A Short History of the Chorus Girl, in Judge, 15 mars1924

Ralph Barton est un des champions de ce blog, comme ami intime de Chaplin, et surtout comme dessinateur chroniqueur du monde des arts et des lettres dans les années vingt, The Last Dandy selon les termes de son biographe Bruce Kellner, une figure à la Gatsby. Pour rester parmi les premiers du classement, il nous faut trouver de loin en loin une nouveauté.
Très lié à Miguel Covarrubias qu’il prit sous son aile à son arrivée à vingt ans aux États-Unis (il en fit le portrait pour Vanity Fair dès janvier 1924), il n’est pas étonnant de découvrir que Nickolas Muray l’ait pris en photo, lui-même membre éminent du cercle mexicain autour de Frida Kalho.
Il date de 1931, l’année de son suicide dont les circonstances sont relatées par Chaplin dans ses mémoires.

Ralph Barton, Nickolas Muray, 1931

Ralph Barton aurait-il reçu la Légion d’honneur ? Qu’il fût francophile, nul doute (ce ne fut pas la moindre motivation de son mariage avec Germaine Tailleferre). Mais ce que rapporte Kellner nous en fait douter.

Barton’s letters prior to twenties offer only occasional glimpses of his life outside his library or away from his drawing board, but one of them, about America’s entry into the war, is sufficiently passionate to leave no doubt that it is an accurate reflection of his beliefs. From time to time Tom Noonan, Barton’s friend at the American embassy in Paris, had sent him bulletins about the bombings there, searchlights playing over the sky, families fleeing for the underground shelters. They distressed Barton markedly because his affection for allegiance to France had become permanent with his first visit in the spring of 1915. He had been delighted with England, too, but America’s declaration of war in april 1917 forever altered his attitude toward England and must account for his subsequent emotional allergy to all things British. “Why this sudden love the bigotted, shirking, beef-guzzling English, who have laughed at us and sneered at us and done us dirty tricks for 200 years, I don’t know, ” he wrote. Further, he refused to be “horror-stricken at Germany’s treatment of Belgium.” Sherman’s march to the sea during the American Civil War had managed its own share of rape and murder, he continued, and “poor little Belgium hasn’t yet wiped the blood of thousands of Congo niggers from her hands.” One nationality was «capable of being as low as another and have all proven it, but we are all trying to cast the first stone—I suppose in the effort to fool each other and ourselves into believing that we are without sin.” American conscription infuriated him even more, and he threatened «tu go to jail first and do some reading” rather than participate in some one else’s war. He was especially angry that “England went two years of the war without drafting a man… And yet we, to fight the battle of the British Empire, revoke our Constitution and begin a draft before we have fired a gun!”

Bruce Kellner, The Last Dandy, University of Missouri Press 


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