»The Greta Garbo Collection«
Color! Color always was the essential component. Other criteria did matter. Quality, condition, proportion, history, practicality — all were important, but colors — shades of rose, salmon, pink and a mossy green — were paramount. In her home there was a riot of color everywhere. The works meshed and flowed in a wonderous explosion of enveloping hues that lifted the mood. Nothing was black or white.
During the almost four decades when the New York apartment was her only home, she tried to create a harmonious setting where nothing jarred the senses. Always, continually, she sought out those with particular expertise in art, furniture and decorations. Many became her lifelong friends. She chose those objects which pleased her with slight regard for the current fashion. She was imaginative in combining them: the expensive and the more modest — a Renoir and a David Levine, the modern and the old — an Atlan and a Lemaire, the conservative and the daring — a Thierriat and a Jawlensky.
Nothing was static. There was a plan, a logic, but within it, refinements and changes would occur. Sometimes a new color or a new artist would capture her, creating havoc until a new order would emerge.
This is a very personal collection. It reflects totally one person’s taste, vision, preference. One day, some years ago, we were sitting in her living-room. “I love color,” she told me. “I want the room to sing. How can one not understand? With me it’s inborn, I just know. I didn’t have to learn it. This room is my creation and I think it’s pretty good. You must learn to trust yourself.’’
I met Greta Garbo in 1947 at the house of John Gunther, to whom I was married a few months later. For me it was an amazing experience which I shall never forget. I thought it an unexpected bonus of life to be able to see at close range a person I so much admired. She was then, and is to me now someone who had given a superior dimension to moving pictures, when they were still, artistically, secondary to the theatre. She was the one actress who, above all others, seemed to me, and indeed to millions of people, to be the personification of romanticism and mysterious fascination.
I came into John’s apartment, and there she was. Wonderfully beautiful, but she surprised mc by being perfectly simple, without the slightest pretension, affectation, or theatricality. Here was a human being, direct, gracious, and unforbidding. I felt shy in her presence, and said not a word, dazzled in observation. A collection of circumstances made us meet many times again, and two years later John and I, Miss G., George Schlee, and his wife Valentina also, became friends. Wc saw each other often and knew each other very well indeed. In the early l960s George Schlee died, and John died in 1970. G.G. and I, alone then, never lost affection and concern each for the other.
How can I describe her? She was certainly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, or even imagined. Her features were perfect, but the wonder of her beauty came from something within. There was a strange melancholy in her, which led one to believe that her marvelous face revealed the secrets of life — both the sorrows and joys.
What was she like? She was Scandinavian, quite matter of fact, brave, accepting of disaster. Yet, on the other hand, she was a philosophic poet. I see her understanding of life and the world on two levels.
Again, how can I describe her? She was elusive, oblique. She did not talk about her relationships — the important things that happened to her. She was totally secretive. She did not lie ever but would evade a direct question. Part of that can be explained by the fact that she was mercilessly pursued by the press and public. From the age of eighteen, everything she did or said eventually reached the newspapers or magazines, often in a distorted form. This naturally made her mistrustful of confidences, but I don’t think it was the real reason for her secrecy. It was her nature to be private. So profound was her sense of privacy that it went both ways. By that I mean that she was the most trustworthy person in the whole world. One could have told her anything and know absolutely that it would never, ever be revealed. I have not known anyone else who could be trusted to that degree.
What a fascinating creature, many faceted. Profundity and mystery were almost contradicted by her gaiety, her delicious sense of humour, her sense of the ridiculous. She was responsive and funny, mocking and full of wit and jokes. A clownlike, childish delight in all sorts of things quite belies her public image, but it was a huge part of her.
She was compassionate about people who were ill to an unusual degree. – She was never impolite or arrogant to anyone in my whole experience of her. – She hated violence. – She was absolutely modest about her fame. – Her artistic integrity and her aesthetic sense was always, right or wrong, very certain and clear. – She liked paintings. – She loved paintings. – She loved to be outdoors.
What I miss personally, of course, is not the public figure, but a friend I loves and do not wish to be without, the person I want to speak to on the telephone about something as insignificant as the seagulls on my raft in Vermont. In the last years we used to talk about nothing in particular several times a week. I suppose that is what friendship is about, and G.G. was that sort of friend.Once she told me that some people on a plane had said landing, “When we saw that you were a passenger, we knew we would be safe.” “Can you imagine that?” G.G. said. Well, yes, I can imagine that. Another time in Paris, a young journalist came to see John in our room at the Hotel Parc Monceau. G.G. happened to be there and we introduced her, as was the custom, as Miss Brown. He didn’t recognize her, but the next day he asked John, “Who was that woman with you last night? It is someone I would like to know about. I thought about her after I went home.” What caused this power? I don’t really know, but it was not beauty or fame. There was some magic quality which ine rarely encounters in anyone in an entire lifetime. She was extraordinary.
“I’ll wait for you forever; it really isn’t that long a time.” She could engender those feelings. She was a wonderful mixture of strength and sensitivity, wisdom and caring. She was full of humor, logic and practicality. Above all, she knew who she was. She was the best friend you could have. You could never be safer with anyone. She spoke to you with her eyes; they were magical, and you knew that she was even more beautiful on the inside.
Stuart D. Saal, M.D.
The Garbo Jawlenskys
As one looks at the Jawlenskys in the Garbo Collection, it is clear that her passion was for works painted between 1915 and 1918. Drawn from the three major series of paintings executed during these years, the Garbo paintings reflect the evolution of the artist’s interests and style during a critical period in his life. The colorful Blumenstilleben and the Variation Versonnen date from 1915, just after Jawlensky’s dramatic move to St. Prex, where he began a new life and new work. Both are particularly beautiful and harmonious examples of his series of still lifes and variations. Frau in St. Prex and Varation Vorwinter, 1916, clarify Jawlensky’s search for simpler and consequently more abstract forms in the series of inner landscapes.
Frau in St. Prex is an interesting transitional work, painted just before Jawlensky began the series of Mystical Heads but also recalling his portraits before the War. The three Mystical Heads – Erde, Profil and Schwarze Lochen – bear witness to a new style, one in which, through simplified form, a strong yet subtle expressiveness is achieved.
Together, the Garbo paintings represent a pivotal moment in Jawlensky’s life, a period when, after an inner crisis, he began to create something new, full of energy, hope and harmony.
Garbo at Home
“You know, I’ve led a fabulous life.”She said that to my father about a month before she died. It was a statement, not a reflection. We were having a vodka at sunset in her apartment, and she had just finished telling a story about touring the war rooms with Winston Churchill after World War II. She was my great aunt. “Kata” to me and my family. Garbo to the world.
I never recall a penchant for solitude, but one was always wary of intruding. Telephone calls and visits were always prearranged. You were invited to come. You certainly did not drop in.
Her apartment on 52nd Street and the East River was a sanctuary of peace and imagination. A small, square vestibule awaited you as you got off the elevator. It was simply, logically decorated — a sufficiently large mirror, a table for mail and packages, a huge umbrella stand, and a painting of waterfowl to look at until you were received. It revealed little of life beyond the always closed entrance door.
Inside there was color — roses, salmons, greens. There was nothing black or white in the apartment: she thought they lacked warmth. There were paintings everywhere, even behind the draperies, and beautiful furniture, carved, painted, inlaid. One piece that enchanted me as a child was painted green and gloriously carved with garlands. I always thought it wonderfully pompous. Books bound in red and green morocco took up an entire wall of the drawing room. She loved to read German writers and would recite Heine in the original. Each piece, each painting had an interest all its own, yet nothing arrested your vision. There was no centerpiece or focal point. Your perception was kept fluid, moved along by the color and the array.
Most visitors never got past the seating area at the boot of the L-shaped drawing room. It was on the right, just as you entered from the hallway. This was where the telephone stood. If you arrived during the day for a short visit or if she expected someone to telephone, this was where you sat. From this vantage point, guests could not see the entire room that unfolded around the corner a few feet away. The ‘wall of paintings’ and the view of the East River remained hidden.
A painting hung across from this spot. It was not a particularly large canvas, but yon could see it clearly as you came down the hall. (She often kept it covered in case someone was admitted who was not supposed to see anything.) It was Renoir’s Confidence, a private moment between a man and a woman. Her back is turned; a secret is being exchanged. She had created this refuge and was proud of it. She had complete faith in her taste and never felt the need to consult a decorator - although she did ask Billy Baldwin to suggest a painter who could achieve the exact salmon pink color she wanted for her bedroom.
She had a connoisseur’s eye. She would reinstall the paintings herself when she bought something new. A special faux marbre top was made for one of her coffee tables so that she could use it as a step when she rearranged the art.
She found things all over the world, but for the most part she bought as she walked around New York. For forty years, she was a New Yorker Unlike other places where she had lived, the neighborhood respected her privacy. When we would go out walking together, you sensed the hush as she passed by and the commotion she left behind. She bought at galleries, at auction, at odd places. One day she passed a decorator’s shop in the neighborhood and spied some handmade silk tulips. They were very unusual, just the right color and shape for a pair of Ming jars she prized. She asked the proprietor if she could buy them. He said they were not for sale, but he would give them to her if she would sign one of her photographs. She said she never signed anything. He gave her the flowers anyway.
As soon as she bought the apartment in 1953, she installed the bookcases and a washed green knotty pine panelling in the drawing room. She designed special niches for the Renoirs she had purchased in the 1940s. Renoir’s tender portrait of a governess reading to his youngest son, called Léonline et Coco, always hung above the fireplace.
She fell in love with Renoir’s Edmond at Jacques Seligmann’s gallery in New York in 1942. It is an almost full length portrait of the artist’s nephew with a tress of long blonde ringlets. The background is of the salmon-pink color she favored and has a suggestion of a floral tapestry. The dealer apologized: it was spoken for. Suddenly, as she described it, a little man popped out from a backroom and said magnanimously, “Young lady, you take it instead. You won’t regret this purchase.”
The man was Albert Barnes, the pioneering but eccentric collector of Impressionist paintings who had an important group of Renoirs. She cultivated people who could teach her about art, and she and Barnes became friends. He invited her to view his collection at his estate outside Philadelphia and gave her books. She read voraciously, learning as much as she could about the things she bought. She could always tell you the importance and the background of what she collected, and sometimes she would reveal what she liked about it.
“Just before he painted that, he thought color had turned his head and he was sacrificing form to it,’’ she said of the Bonnard that hung on ‘the wall.’ “Look at it. It makes you feel like you’ve had a glass of champagne - the brink of dizziness.”
There was a hint of humor in much of what she did. She grouped the linear, highly-colored Jawlensky portraits on ‘the wall’, across from the two softer Renoirs. She would ask you what you supposed they said to one another.
For years, she kept a plastic inflatable toy in the drawing room. It was a snowman, dressed in a vest and top hat and sporting a cane. The amazing thing about that snowman was that he never deflated. She thought it was funny to see him standing guard. He even got to sit on the marquise she said had once belonged to Madame de Pompadour. No one ever sat there except the snowman.
Her salon looked its best at sunset. It glowed. Even in the middle of winter, she would keep the French doors open to let in the light that reflected off the river. She liked to have us over for a cocktail. She served vodka, Västerbotten cheese and a Swedish salami which she thought were “goody’’. My parents visited at least every Friday and my brothers and I would join them if we could get into the city. I tried to explain to my husband that it took her a long time to warm up to the idea of new people. She did extend an invitation for him – after we had dated for seven years and been married for two. I had announced I was pregnant, and she wanted to meet “the Papa’’. Once he was admitted, he was completely embraced. That was her style.
When she was in the mood to be happy, there was no one more fun or light-hearted. Last fall, we arrived for a drink. It was the end of a dreary day. Traffic in Manhattan was snarled from a Presidential visit. We were late. She opened the door wearing a paper party hat, grinning. She was giddy. “Phooey on Bushy and Mama President. We have to brighten up this day.”
She led us into the drawing room. She was wearing a gold medal on a sash around her neck, an honor from the King of Sweden. She had put her Oscar on a table next to a bottle of chilling champagne. With age, she had become a more fragile beauty. Her pale blue eyes remained incredible – bright, inquisitive, aware of everything. She said she had not had champagne in years but thought it would be good tonight. It was. She told the funniest jokes and stories. It was true Garbo. She was not performing. The evening, however, had all of her old screen magic.
A Private Vision
To be with Garbo was to he with a rare and unusual person. On screen her beauty (those eyes), her voice, and her gestures were incomparable. To me, the screen Garbo was the real Garbo: imperious, passionate, flashing with life. Who can say what external or internal forces locked this within her. When she moved into high gear and wished to be her most enchanting persona, you were then doomed to be swept inexorably into the vortex of her charm.
Doomed is not the exact word, however. Exhilarating it was to be with in her orbit, to be enveloped by that wonderful sense of humor, that rich mellow voice and above all that refracted view of the world. Yes, while others would perceive a stick in the air and, of course, see a straight object, Garbo would see the stick half submerged in water, refracted and bent. Through thirty-five years I have often wondered why I hadn’t seen things with just that twist. The Garbo point of view was unique, unthought of and obscure to mere mortals. With the same vision, she chose her paintings and works of art. When you looked at the paintings with her, she uncovered new depths and dimensions.
In her later years when the apartment became almost her entire world, she would jokingly say, “How the mighty have fallen,” but she was quite content to be alone, she said, with her friends, the paintmgs she had so carefully chosen.
Just two weeks before her death, I turned aside a question she put to me by asking another. “Were you ever very happy?” After a pause there was a resounding “Yes” – Joyce’s fifty pages of yes condensed in a word. It was spoken with directness, with those still clear blue eyes looking straight into your soul, an almost mystical affirmation of eighty-four years.
Donald R. Reisfield, M.D.
Greta Garbo assembled a collection of truly exceptional paintings. Her taste reflected her personality, and her eye was instinctive and sure. She alone chose the paintings from those offered to her, always independent in her opinions and never hesitant in her judgment. Adventurous and far-sighted, she was not influenced by fashion, acquiring the Jawlenskys well before his work was widely sought after, for example. She taught me a great deal about how to look at art.
The walls of her drawing room were closely hung with paintings, and she took great pleasure in studying them and considering the relationships among them. With the same sensitivity that characterized her work as an actress, she easily grasped and interpreted the artists’ intentions. There was never a false note or an awkward juxtaposition in her arrangements.The auction of her collection is an important event - and a sad one, as it marks the end of her Iife. I very much hope that the new owners will think of her often as they admire these remarkable paintings.
Cécile de Rothschild
|Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Öl auf Leinwand aus dem Jahre 1897; »Confidence« (Format: 41 x 33cm) ; Versteigerungswert: US$ 2.000.000 - 3.000.000||Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Öl auf Leinwand aus dem Jahre 1889; »Enfant assis en robe bleue (Portrait d'Edmond Renoir, jr.)« (Format: 65 x 54cm); Versteigerungswert: US$ 4.000.000 - 6.000.000||Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Öl auf Leinwand aus dem Jahre 1909; »Leontine et Coco (Claude Renoir)« (Format: 54 x 64cm); Versteigerungswert: US$ 7.000.000 - 9.000.000|
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[The Greta Garbo Collection] · [Interview with Greta Garbo (English)]
[Press Articles about Greta Garbo] · [True Story of Garbo’s Life by Sven-Hugo Borg]