The Artists that Influenced Hemingway

The Bullfighter, Juan Gris, 1913

What do artists Joan Miro, Goya, Juan Gris, and Cezanne have in common with the writer, Ernest Hemingway? A lot. A lot.

The Met says this:

[Hemingway] remarked in one interview that he learned as much from painters about how to write as from writers. Painters and their works were integral to Hemingway’s learning to see, to hear, and to feel or not feel. They were part of the writer’s renowned ability to present an image hard, clear, and concentrated, using the language of ordinary speech without vague generalities, as true as a painter’s color.

In The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, even the editors bridged art and literature: they chose Winslow Homer ‘s  “Canoe in Rapids” painting for the front cover. It was wisely chosen because Hemingway was a big fan of Homer’s. Hemingway also visited museums quite frequently, including the Louvre, the Prado, and the Art Institute of Chicago. He wrote essays about art as well, and in many of his works he refers to paintings by Cezanne, Goya, Homer, Bruegel, and others. He owned a Joan Miro that now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and he wrote an article for Cahiers d’Art about his purchase of the painting and the impact of Miró’s composition on him. Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon was inspired by The Bullfighter, a painting they bought from their friend Juan Gris (and shown above).

Again from the Met:

In his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), he gives excruciating accounts of the devastation suffered on both sides during the Spanish Civil War, with many of his passages reading very much like the images depicted by Goya in his series of etchings (32.62.17) entitled The Disasters of War (1810–23). In other works, Hemingway comments on Cézanne’s style and way of interpreting the world around him.

It’s easy to see how the subject matter, style, and execution of these master painters played out in Hemingway’s works.

It’s widely believed that he influenced English-language writing more than anyone else, with his spare, tightly written prose and tendency toward understatement.  He was so acutely aware that people have assymetric dialogue. He was infatuated with “place” — his works spanned continents, from Italy, to Spain, to Cuba, to Idaho. He wrote about war, death, bullfighting; life-threatening situations. He focused his microscope on how people deal with those situations. 

He used a photographic “snapshot” style to create a collage of images. Short sentences build one on another; events build to create a sense of the whole. Multiple strands exist in one story; an “embedded text” bridges to a different angle. He also used other cinematic techniques of “cutting” quickly from one scene to the next; or of “splicing” a scene into another. Intentional omissions allow the reader to fill the gap, as though responding to instructions from the author, and create three-dimensional prose. [Wikipedia]

How much that description of his works makes me envision a painting. Perhaps one by Miro or Cezanne!


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