Brotherhood and Sisterhood


Dear Artist,

On the beach at Le Pouldu, near Pont-Aven, Brittany, there’s a leaning formation of rocks that could be organized a bit by looking down on it and laying the horizon fairly high in the composition. It took a while to get the position right. A few minutes into the painting I realized it would benefit with a figure or some other motif in the lower right. The next day I organized my daughter, Sara, to stand in as a model. This painting was among the ones I brought home that summer. Off it went to a gallery and subsequently disappeared into the great Diaspora where all paintings go.


“Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven”
oil on canvas, 1888
by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Some months later I was thumbing through a book with illustrations of the work of Gauguin. Here, on page 75, was the same painting — produced in 1886 — same rocks, same high horizon, my daughter’s figure replaced by a Breton girl and a couple of cows.

This coincidence, like all the others, was just a part of the greater mystique that artists know about. It’s not only that there’s a brotherhood and sisterhood out there, but the phenomenon is without the constraint of time. It’s a plenum of inspiration and working-out from time immemorial — from the feeling of immediacy you get from those first scrapings on the cave walls at Lascaux to the timeless smell and wet-spotted floors of a Manhattan walk-up. It’s even in the rhythm of pulling and tacking a canvas to a stretcher. There’s some sort of eternal music in the air, and if we listen and move with it we may have the feeling that we are taking part in a larger dance.


“Sara In Brittany, 1985”
acrylic on canvas 24 x 30 inches
by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

Best regards,


PS: “Neither Imperial Russia, nor the Russia of the Soviets needs me. They don’t understand me. I am a stranger to them. I’m certain Rembrandt loves me.” (Marc Chagall)

Esoterica: The book is called Gauguin and the text is by Robert Goldwater, a professor at New York University. He suggests that artists, even from widely divergent backgrounds, “have a uniform will to create, to invent methods to match visions, and the concentration on the artistic goal to be achieved against all obstacles.”

This letter was originially published as “Brotherhood and Sisterhood” on January 9, 2001.


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love.” (John Muir)

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