Miniatures for my Maîtresse 15

The quality, even the status of being yes-or-no true eroticism of texts, images or acts, may be gauged from the degree in which a reader or observer gets forced upon him or her considerations of efficiency.

Sierksma, 25.10/1989 Haarlem 



The male hat seems to be primarily a male affair. Shoe fetishism is quite another thing: the widespread insatiability of women as far as shoes are concerned and the male fantasy in this respect, seem to be complementary.

No feminist can argue a case for male shoe fetishism: the triggering of shoe voraciousness which is obliging many women to continuously buy new shoes. And no man will deny that nymphomania may have to do with men having done something to the women concerned. Curiously enough, many women buy precisely those kinds of shoes which feminism, in its by now wild variety of versions, has been severely criticising, claiming for instance that precisely this kind of shoes has expressly been invented by men, to deny women their escape from the male species hunting her: high-heeled shoes.

That many men do indeed have these shoe-fantasies seems to have become an accepted fact amongst psychiatrists. Not so much those abhorred fantasies of women being caged by their high-heeled shoes, as the ever-returning image of the female calf which, thanks to those high heels, will show a stunning tension in its muscles, a curving, perspectival pointer indicating higher heavens of the female body – thus sexually exciting.

What surely must be called a fetish, this fantasy of steep, high-heeled shoes may acquire far-reaching forms and proportions. Consider, for instance, Hans Bellmer’s obscene drawing of the contours of a shoe with a stiletto heel, which coincides with the generous contours of a woman, bending over, thus showing the observer her arse. Or another Bellmer picture, once more showing the artist fascinated by the connection between the female body and the shoe:

Woman plus Shoe, an intriguing combination. Balancing on her high heels, she goes through life with her hips swinging, thus more especially Woman. Instinctively, her now seemingly broader hips refer the male mind to her unique capacity of child bearing and giving birth.

That in the very same movement this also gives her an extra dose of sex appeal is what feminists do not like, the ass becoming a fetish considered to be the orphaned reduction of all that she also is to that ass, in fact separating her true self from her ass. This, even though women who like to wear high heels might tell you they might win the marathon on them. And the next day another one… Thus, Sarah Jessica Parker.

What I once coined as postmodern shoppism, the acquisition of things for the sheer reason of the buying, all utilitarian use value of the commodity disappearing in the act of its acquisition, quite often turns on shoes. The moment, Keira Knightley saw a pair of such stiletto shoes she simply felt the need to possess them, even though they did not fit. Subsequently she placed them on the mantel piece. Agreed – this might still be considered practicing a kind of utilitarianism aesthetics.

However, consider this: Research has uncovered the fact that many female shoppist addicts go out hunting especially for shoes, then – after having come home – not to op the bag with inside the shoe box, but to place the unopened bag in a special little room for this very purpose, in which are waiting the newcomer a series of other unopened bags with shoes.

Thus, not only is Woman a riddle to Man, she quite often is a mystery to Herself – insoluble. Was will das Weib? – Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous, if not infamous question. The answer is obvious: Shoes! Perhaps even shoes-as-such, disconnected from their use, as the male shoe fetish seems to be disengaged from the women he purports to love. Perhaps, it was even that German philosopher’s name which made me invent the neologism of shoppism.

Is the hypothesis too far-fetched when I suggest that – with in our mind’s eye Bellmer’s drawing of the shoe contours coinciding with those of a woman sitting on her heels – that the shoe-shopping woman is in fact collecting herself? An ellipsis it would be, with its two centres – Woman and Shoe.

My former wife has, as she herself has always been claiming, an ideal shoe size. Thus, on French brocantes she finds used pair after used pair of great shoes in perfect condition as, by the way, she finds new pair after new pair during Dutch bargain sales. Irresistible they obviously are – and she has only worn perhaps three pairs of them ever.

Sierksma La Roche, May 2021


Miniatures for my maîtresse 12

Beware, you loner, of summer’s emotions:

         the passions of high seas and high rise,

         of Death Valley and the Gorges.

No shades of feelings here

No clair-obscur

Only the desolate loneliness of intensity

                                               too intense.

But not to forget:

         Sovereign solitude is by far the

         best of solitudes,

         and life is not meant for easy travelling.

Beware of second-hand emotions,

Rejoice in sadness chosen,

         and in the certitude of love at distance.

Sierksma, Haarlem 11.7/1989


Miniatures for my Maîtresse 4

In the naughty little book Irène, written by De Routisie – originally published in the interbellum as Le con d’Irène, or Irenes Cunt, under the pseudonym of an author whose real identity is as yet unknown – one finds, if my memory is good enough, the expression of ‘a steaming cunt’. Oh, Precious Cunt of Irene! While I am lying here now, somewhere in France, the front of the tent’s canvas opened to both sides, awaiting the sunrise over the rim of the mountain range at hand – alas a sunrise not to be seen as rain and clouds are obscuring my view – I cannot but think of Irène. Amidst the gentle rain, from the furrow in the wooded slope on the other side of the vale, arises a hazy, steaming cloudlet – slowly. And slowly it is growing in size, metamorphosis of water already fallen on the summer-heated soil. Now that the longed-for sunrise is not for me, my olfactory sense conjures up the smells of Irene’s imaginary cunt. The member growing, I suddenly think of the night when that other natural phenomenon was accompanying the two of us: the lowest atmospheric pressure of our century.

Sierksma, Haarlem 18.8/1989, from my summer holidays’ diary  


Miniatures for My Maitresse 3

Phantasy – portico of all experiment. Not only the entrance into the space of scientific experiments, when phantasy turns into hypothesis, but also in matters erotic. Someone remaining in this entryway will all too easily become guided by the ‘crazy vector’, searching in all directions for opportunities of transgression while seeking advice from the De Sade’s, the Bataille’s, perhaps even the Millers of this world. A vague suspicion steals upon me, that a permanent stay in this portico must, in the end, erode one’s capacity to as yet practice the deeds of love. Like a scholar in the sciences, an erotic erudite is well advised to practically test phantasies with his better half. A purely idealistic philosophy tends to disappear ins blauen hinein, into shining cosmic nothingness. After all, for a man that is, the idea of a beloved one is to disappear into other, duskier places.

Sierksma Haarlem 16.11/1989



In one of his prose-poems, Francis Ponge manages to bring into meaningful contact the mystery of poetry with contemplating a dried fig. I pluck up the courage, in an endeavour to translate the first, rather weird-worded passage of his La Figue (sèche).

“While not knowing much about what poetry is (our dealings with her are uncertain), this dry fig by contrast (everybody understands this), which since our youth has been offered to us, normally flattened and stacked in between others, in a kind of box, – how, before relishing it, I remodel it between thumb and index, and immediately have an idea so good that all your worries are over.”




He considers a fig but a ‘poor thing’; its mere being is sufficient to present itself to the mind, without making any demands on it – no need to consider. Which is, of course, what Ponge will do in his text; and not simply considering it, but to thoroughly contemplate the fig’s essential being. He goes so far as to perceive the form of a dried fig in a decaying Romanesque church…

After this bit of metaphoring, Ponge digs in. Whereas the consummation of most fruits produces debris, the fig can be eaten almost in toto. However, before devouring it – still according to Ponge – the whole fruit comes to symbolise a nipple, of a sudden become edible, and in case of the dried fig all the more palatable because of ‘our lips are already being sugared by the erosive powder on its surface…’

This then, his conclusion: “Thus it is with the (spiritual) elasticity of words – and of poetry as I understand it.”

Surely – though he does not mention this, when he invented his metaphor of the whole fruit being titlike – Ponge must have thought about the delicate moment, when fresh figs – their obscene purple silhouettes suspending heavily from the branches – are taken from their dangling place, while pulling gently turning the fruit a little. Often, when twisted just that little too fast, the caesura is, not as intended, between the stem and its point of attachment to the branch, but between the stem and the fruit itself. From the little wound in the fruit’s flesh, slowly a drop of white milk exudes…      

My matins sadism goes a step further. Most of those dry figs, stacked in their little boxes, do have their stem intact. For someone like me, with an aneurism in the upper stomach wall, this rather sharp-edged little nothing is dangerous to eat. Thus, after I have pulled it from its depressed position in the compressed fig, I cut it off with a sharp potato-peeler.




At dawn, I feel like one of those misogynist Surrealists, severing the hard nipple of female in heat from its soft breast.

Sierksma, Montmorillon 15.11/2020


It must have been the magic effect of that airy, silvery light, covering the town of Argenton, that made a latter-day lead-glass artist create this silly image in one of the new windows of its church.


Usually, in an image like this – a Pietà representing the Virgin with the dead body of her Son – He is either supported on Her lap, or He is carried in Her arms. Compassion, or rather sadness is always the subject – a Pietà is about a mother grieving.


Though not too much grieving. The whole idea of His dying on the cross is supposed to fulfil God’s, that is his Father’s deep desire. For this reason, methinks, in contrast with her tender, even joyous expression in paintings where she is still caring for her child, the face of Mary in a Pietà is often depicted as quite placid. She knows her place, she knows how to act…


Yet, the idea is that – like her son is bearing the load of humanity’s sins on his frail shoulders – she must also be carrying that load. However, in this case the lead-glass artist has given her the paranormal gift of levitation: in the Window Christ is actually floating in mid-air, without Mary having to exert herself whatsoever. The paranormal, or the realm of phony trickery…


Most likely, the one given this commission was a very bad artist – and a curious commission it was.


As an atheist, yet one having spent quite a bit of time studying religions, I was flabbergasted when confronted with this particular image, part of the very same window in which we observe Mary’s magical powers.


Now, who might be the poor woman so viciously beaten? It can’t be the Virgin, punished for having performed her magician’s foul trick; that would amount to utter blasphemy. Surely, an image like this won’t seduce our postmodern power-feminists to join the Holy Church.


Could she be a witch, caught in the act? Or is this merely a case of male chauvinism, with a touch of Marquise de Sade? How miraculous the ways of the Lord are, how he leads his artists in temptation to produce images like this in His church.


Then again, the victim may also be a man, once again the artist failing, if not flailing his creation. Or was he perhaps a genius, anticipating the postmodern identity confusion of male and female by way of its cherished notion of gender?


Sierksma, Montmorillon 13.9/2020




Sitting on a small bench on the rive gauche of the river Gartempe, in an almost Zen-like mood of abandonment, giving myself over to the late afternoon’s high summer fading light, the descending sun low in the back, I was suddenly turned into a peeping Tom.


No Rubenesque Lady Godiva to be seen here, all nude on her bike saddle, massaging whatever she had between her magnificent thighs and cheeks; merely a pensive scene, which took my Zen gaze a while to decipher.


Of a sudden, what had been a naturalist’s interest – the reddening of the sun’s light, the first signs of autumn, the tired green of the leaves, some of them already turning a shade of yellow – took on the appearance of the Obscene.


What had been a little couloir with humble, concrete steps leading onto a mooring place for a small fisherman’s vessel, acquired sheer Freudian quality. A tunnel, an orifice leading up to the exquisite interior of a lady… What only a second ago had been an attractive reflection of mere light in the river’s surface, I now recognized as a mirror sneakily showing the interior garden and the façade of the house hidden from view by the trees.


I was brought back to my years of teaching at the Faculty of Architecture, and to one of the buildings I came to study in those years. Aldo van Eyck – a famous architect, though in many ways a rather unpleasant and vain person – did indeed have his humorous moments.


His Orphanage, one of his earlier, most famous designs, was realised on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Walking through its corridors, the inquisitive visitor could observe, here and there, a small mirror glued into the concrete surface. The first impression was one of a silly kind of decoration.


Van Eyck, son of a famous Dutch writer, seemed always to compete with his dad. Quite a bit of his fame resulted from the extensive, though nicely written texts which accompanied his buildings. In the one on the Orphanage, he stated that these little mirrors were placed in the floor so as to allow boys a chance to peep under the skirts of the girls.


Thus, sitting at the Gartempe river, what else could I feel but orphaned by this world of misery, in which quite unexpectedly I was confronted with my own past, observing the light’s reflection in the river change into a mirror image of myself, a silly boy.


Sierksma, September, Montmorillon




The first tiff my maîtresse and I had, was on the meaning of the word maîtresse – this on the very first day she came to visit me in my court-yard in La Roche. Sort of a pragmatic paradox… From that first one on, at my suggestion, we would designate all our quarrels with the German word Krach.


As many of such skirmishes would follow, it seems advised to inform my reader that she is British, or rather a mixture of Irish, Welsh and Scottish blood, thus stubborn and hedgehog-like in her attitude towards imperial London;  I am Dutch, however not to be confused with ‘a Dutchman’, as I was born in the northern region of the Netherlands, called Friesland, a bit like the Basque territory in Northern Spain, with its own language and peculiar habits, as well as much bad feeling towards ‘the centre’, the West that is, with its two Hollands, the Dutch Capital town of Amsterdam and the government seat in The Hague.


That discussion on the notion of maîtresse simply had to be, as in that courtyard of mine I hoped that she would become my maîtresse. She fumed at the word, telling me in no simple words that she refused to be called a mistress – period. That was it; on your bike, was what I think she told me. So, I tried to explain the vital difference between the two words mistress and maîtresse, which – of course – she considered to be ‘a lecture’, which could also not be tolerated.


The British notion of mistress has unpleasant connotations, indeed, more or less the prime example of the Hidden Lover. The mistress, not so much a being, is being kept: a man has a mistress. Being stacked away, his wife may only have an inkling; no colleague will know of her; a very good friend may. Being turned into a mistress, she is robbed of her existence, more or less annihilated.


Having seen that word in a variety of contexts, it always implied a man setting up his lover in some room or apartment, paying for her upkeep and thus for her services in bed. Here is certainly an element of the whore, if only its gentrified version. On the Isles, it is also an utterly bourgeois or petty-bourgeois institution. Indeed, the British habit of keeping a mistress is a miserable habit, practiced by the wrong kind of man; she is the Hidden Woman par example.


My British maîtresse, being a self-confessed feminist, insisted on both words having the same ideological, negative connotation. It took me quite a while to convince her off the contrary, years I fact. Sombart, that great German economist-sociologist, was of help here. In his splendid little book Liebe, Luxus und Kapitalismus – of which, to my great surprise, I could not find an English translation – he argued that, in France, the maîtresse is an institution, even one with a history. Kings and nobles have built castles for them, causing the simple craft production of window panes, beams and the like to be transformed into what became the first French assembly line manufacture on the banks of the Loire. Huge sums were involved.


The first official maîtresse even had a name. She was beautiful Agnès Sorel, dame de cœur of King Charles VII, who had gorgeous royal lodgings built on a rock in the town of Loches, especially for her.


Nothing hidden here; on the contrary, the Lady was known to be the King’s maîtresse, known as such to his wife, known to the nobles of his court, known to everybody. Her title was a title of honour, designating the woman to be the Special One, the woman with whom one not only wants to sleep, but also desires to dine and play chess with, to visit friends, to make walks… I still consider her as such, perhaps anachronistically so.


That we may indeed consider it a French institution, is also confirmed by the fact that from its aristocratic origins it descended down the social ladder, the maîtresse becoming an accepted way of living amongst the bourgeoisie and later even amongst the petty bourgeoisie. After all, a French bourgeois always considers himself a king…


The background, however, is everywhere the same: a marriage, either forced on partners by their parents or simply and naturally dulled in the flow of time, is as it were multiplied by a third figure-of-true-love. And mind you, my Feminist Reader: in France this third figure of love is often the fourth im Bunde, the wife having her own maître, however a word not in use.


What I do not know, is whether men and women both try to eliminate former lovers from their lives in the same manner. So much is certain that – institution or no institution – men may fall out of love with their maîtresse, then perhaps finding a new one. I only know of two male cases, both of them in the form of a painting.


In the lower right corner of Courbet’s famous painting The Atelier, a special place is reserved for the poet Baudelaire. His bodily attitude and the absorption in his book do give one the impression of a grumpy young man. Absorbed in his book, Baudelaire completely negates the rather impressive behind of the naked woman, who – given the landscape painting without human life on Courbet’s easel – is an odd bit of accessory on this large canvas.


Of interest in the context of Baudelaire’s varied appetite for great pale, as well as black if not coffee-brown women, is the pictorially speaking inexplicable curious black rectangle behind the reading poet. It is certainly not a painting hanging in that atelier.


New research techniques have discovered that in an earlier version of Courbet’s image, this empty black space behind the poet was occupied by black Jeanne Duval, his maîtresse of quite some years standing. Suddenly, we see more then what we actually see. This is what she must have looked like:


We also know that Courbet did not work with the poet as a live model; he was using an earlier portrait made of him in 1844. Not only does Baudelaire look younger here than he actually was at the time of painting The Atelier. But for this very reason, Courbet did not know that by that time Baudelaire had broken with what he now called his cursed black maîtresse. She had to be blackened away, out of existence, surely at the behest of the older Baudelaire.


My second example of a woman hidden away in a canvas may be found on Portrait with Still Life, done by David Bailly, a typical vanitas painting, complete with skull, snuffed candle and the passage from youth to old age. Vanitas vanitum, et omnia vanitas, as is written on the bit of paper seen at the lower bottom right.


Almost invisible – certainly so on this very bad reproduction, yet spotted well by art lovers and art historians – we may observe what is almost a shade of death, the vague face of a woman who seems to have been painted away, yet not completely so, as she is still to be observed behind the champagne flute, one of the sure signs of vanity. Who she was, nobody has figured out.


It must be well nay on purpose that the contours of her eye are placed in the middle of that Glass of Vice. Why then not completely blot her out, as Courbet did with poor Jeanne Duval in his Atelier? Still, in the deepest of heart of the painter Bailly, loving memories? Or did he just paint some woman as Woman, emblem of all Vanity? A veiled expression of a love still burning; or, perhaps, even a reprimand for the woman who may have left him against his will, now reduced to a mere emblem?


Hidden, or almost hidden lovers they both have become. Baudelaire’s Duval – most certainly a maîtresse in the true sense of the word; after all, he was born from the Catholic, more permissive tradition. Bailly’s mysterious unknown shade, a maîtresse? Perhaps, perhaps not; despite his English name, he was a 17th-century Dutchman; then again, he was probably not a Calvinist but a catholic, as he became the president of the St. Luke’s Academy in Leyden


Sierksma, Montmorillon, 11.5/2020


In one of his Romantic reveries, Baudelaire was contemplating the creation an erotic museum, of course something never realized. After all, one is a Romanticist, thus given to Sehnsucht and not so much to practicalities. In that gallery, he intended not to miss out on anything; it had to be all there. Genius hallows anything – therefore nothing in it could shame a visitor when confronted with all things erotic. Inside Baudelaire’s museum would reside only true art.


Our poet describes an etching by Tassaert, an otherwise utterly sentimental painter. One observes two transvestites on a canapé, truly at it – a woman dressed up as a man who is groping under the garments of a man dressed up as a woman. According to the caption, ‘she’ exclaims: Don’t be so heartless, my dear! Such a pedestrian image makes one fear for the quality of the poet’s intended museum of prints and what not. However, moralists should not be afraid of a want of taste… Baudelaire claims that he is perfectly fit to remain within the boundaries of what is proper. His museum dream embraced,


The immense love song, sketched by the purest of hands – the serious and cool Venuses by Ingres, the playful and elegant princesses of Watteau, the splendid pearls of Rubens and Jordaens, and the sad beauties of Delacroix. Those great, pale women – wrapped in satin!


I am not completely sure whether this gorgeous, though fathomless denominator only refers to the painted women of Delacroix, or also covers the princesses and Venuses of Watteau and Rubens. After all, pale and great are relative terms. Baudelaire’s preferences in sexualibus, however, do become clear. The nudes, depicted on an image of a Turkish harem, he found perhaps a shade too pink.  In 1859, thirteen years after he wrote his ode to his great, pale women, he described some sculptures as large dolls whose monotonous whiteness must tire even the true devotee. Obviously then, large and doll enough, yet too pale for his taste. His ideal of pale seems to connote the colour of Caucasian-pale women on paintings, in contrast with those black or brown women he met in the flesh, like his lover Jeanne Duval.


Taking this interpretation as hitting a target, we may once again look at his portrait, in 1855 painted by Courbet.

In the lower right corner of the of the painting reserved for him, Baudelaire’s face may seem to be a bit more youthful than it is shown on the portrait by Deroy which was done ten years before this one on. His bodily attitude and the absorption in his book, though, do indeed fit my idea of him at this stage in his life.


Courbet has depicted himself in the middle of his Atelier. Curiously enough – given the many people on the canvas – the artist is busy painting a landscape emptied of all human presence. Absorbed in his reading, Baudelaire completely negates the rather impressive behind of a naked woman, who – again given the landscape without human life – is an odd bit of accessory on Courbet’s canvas. Perhaps, she is admiring the painting on the easel and waiting to serve her master’s lust after he is done with the job. She most surely is a beauty, perhaps serving Courbet as an image-metaphor for Pure Nature. Studying this portrait of Baudelaire, we may also understand that, after the Bonapartist coup in 1851, the poet had retired from public life. After that event, he considered himself as physically depoliticised.


What is of interest in the context of Baudelaire’s varied appetite for great pale as well as black women, is the pictorially inexplicable black rectangle behind the reading poet. New techniques have discovered that in an earlier version of the painting, this space was occupied by black Jeanne Duval, the poet’s mistress. Suddenly, we see more then what we see. We also know that Courbet did not work with the poet as a live model, but was using an earlier portrait made of him in 1844. For that very reason, the artist did not as yet know that, at moment of painting, Baudelaire had already broken with his cursed black mistress.


So, on the explicit demand of Baudelaire, Jeanne was blackened out of the Atelier, the painting suddenly portraying not one, but two absentees: our poet who was not actually present in 1855, and Jeanne Duval, now veiled by her black rectangle. By this time, Baudelaire had already begun to favour the supernatural, despising both everything herbivorous and female. Courbet’s painterly correction must have pleased him enormously.


When in 1852he broke with Jeanne, it seems as though Baudelaire also distanced himself from her body, more generally speaking: from all things corporal. Where in an earlier poem, Sed non satiata, he still spoke of the hell of your bed, with hell written without a capital H, in the introductory poem of Les Fleurs du Mal, written much later, Inferno gets its capital I, thus giving it a meaningful twist.


Each day, we descend one step into the Inferno,

Without fear, through shadows which are badly smelling…

In the infamous menagerie of our vices,

There is one which is uglier, meaner, filthier!

It is Ennui!…

You know him, reader, that delicate monster,

You hypocrite reader, who looks like me –

Brother of mine!


In the portraits of the older Baudelaire I recognize the man for whom, in the gloomy forest of language, each shiny word is secretly referring tot this Inferno, a language in which women, seen as sexual pariahs, are dressed in the simulacra of the untouchable. However, he did indeed touch them – in a way.


Apart from Jeanne Duval, in the flesh Baudelaire preferred pale, and if possible skinny women. When it came to fucking them, he was wearing white gloves. Even a genius is in context, determined by a cultural milieu, which in Baudelaire’s case was the Romanticism of the first half of the 19th century. Was he, in his intimate intercourse with this mulatto woman, cultivating a kind of cynical exotism, a relationship at the same time physical and aesthetic? Unmistakably, he wished to remain aloof from the women whom he encountered erotically. Stories were told, which depicted him as merely stroking the woman’s body, sniffing their smells, without actually sleeping with them. Thus, he sang his odes to a Platonic love for inaccessible women who were only exciting him because they remained at a distance.


This separation of sublime love and pedestrian sex can also be found in the diaries of the contemporary painter whom Baudelaire highly admired. Eugène Delacroix notes, time and again, a rather intense desire for women whom he merely considered as helping him to get rid of his sexual passions that were irritating and regarded as interfering with his more sublime artistic calling. After the act, these women were shown the door, or they took up again their position as his model. I risked syphilis with her, is how Delacroix described one of these atelier copulations.


Apart from these little obscene remarks, apart from his crafty notes on the art of painting, lyrical passages in the Delacroix diary primarily describe splendid, beautifully dressed women.


The moment Mme Caen came close to me, I had to rein in my heart – however, this only when she was completely wrapped in her evening dress which showed her arms and shoulders. When, the next morning, she was dressed again in ordinary clothes, I remained completely calm and reasonable.


Those arms and shoulders Delacroix was first of all observing in terms of their aesthetic contrast with the satin dresses the woman was wearing. And apart from this shared aesthetism, he and Baudelaire also had in common a distaste for fruitful passions. Copulating for the sake of getting children they regarded as too natural, just as it had been for other Romanticists, staining as it were The Realm of Beauty. Perhaps, they also considered it too risky. Misogyny is perhaps another word.


In his poem Sed non satiata, the consummate macho Baudelaire takes pride in the fact that he embraced his bizarre goddess, dark as the night, nine times. But it was making love in a very aloof manner. Like Rousseau and Delacroix before him, he regarded not satisfying a woman as a good thing. The woman one loves, is the one who has no pleasure in it.


Perhaps, Baudelaire may have catalogued Rubens’ full-fleshed beauties as falling within the category of great, pale women, though in Rubens’ paintings there does not seem to be much satin around. These women are pink, though – yet, in Rubens this colour is just greyish enough that it might pass for pale in the eyes of Baudelaire.


These Rubenesque women are certainly great, or large if you like. The writer and connoisseur Stendhal, an art critic who was for Baudelaire a great example, also had his ideas about the women on the canvasses of Rubens. This Prince of the Northern Nude, could only have compensated the fog of Middelburg by inventing those exuberant, exotic women.


Apart from the seductive shapes of women, Baudelaire was also interested in what he considered their exciting size. He regarded Mediterranean women as too petite, and certainly in their youth far too slender. His aesthetic sympathy aimed at the Northern format. Even though, now and then, Southern women may be pale, they are in essence too petite. Just observe this curious double portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées and her sister: two very slim young women, naked from head to navel.


While looking straight at you, her sister takes Gabrielle’s nipple between thumb and index, a symbolic gesture referring to Gabrielle being pregnant of her bastard child by king Henri IV, the famous protestant who confessed that Paris was well worth a mass – and changed his faith. This Belle Gabrielle, as she was known, is unmistakably not Baudelaire’s type of the Great, Pale Woman, even though both sisters are depicted against a background of rather shiny satin… They just won’t do.


Baudelaire’s ideal is probably approached by the marble woman in the Parc Monceau, by nature cold and barren, lying at the feet of Guy de Maupassant on his socle, at his service, without the slightest chance of becoming pregnant.

Taken the size of the sculpture, a colleague of mine said: Just imagine her ‘live’ – one and a half time the normal size! My response: At the same time, we would become both man and boy. The idée fixe of De Maupassant is great and pale indeed, then again – given Baudelaire’s rather detailed preference – perhaps too pale. Yet, as size is part of his obsession, this one might do. I quote from his poem La Géante.


How I would have liked to live, close to a young giantess,

Like a voluptuous tomcat at the feet of a queen.


It seems, that Baudelaire might have liked to chance places with the marble woman… However – and we should not forget this – his attention is directed primarily at women in art, artificial women, all those painted, poetical and sculpted versions of his great and pale women. Like Mme de Senonnes portrayed by Ingres; or women like those on Delacroix’ masterpiece Sardanapalus.


I am quite certain, that Manet’s full-pale beauty on Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) might also been asked to attend Baudelaire’s glorious love banquet in his erotic museum.


Though sharing his Romanticism with others in his time, the differences are also interesting. Negatively and sarcastically, Baudelaire describes two sculptures of black women by the artist Christophe. In his words they formed a successful endeavour to make at least something out of a flat Negroid face, with its lip-less and gum-less smile, and eyes like shaded hollows. Yet, Baudelaire’s mistress Jeanne was a dark woman…


Compared to the detached, yet practical exotism of Eugène Fromentin, the contemporary painter and writer, Baudelaire’s attitude towards black women is ambivalent, even inconsistent. Fromentin went to North-Africa, to come face to face with the completely different. In Une année dans le Sahel, in awe and admiration, he is describing the black women he saw there:


This strange race, a species apart – with a masculine gait, in the day time a mule, woman at night, with their robust rich forms, their immodest bodies with lots of breast, an elongated torso and that large waste line. Beautiful, yet repellent.


Fromentin gives one the impression that he never touched even one specimen of this feminine ‘race’. Baudelaire, on the other hand, did touch his Jeanne Duval frequently, though in his own aloof, gloved manner. Once with a woman, he certainly did not want to come. For this he produced an aesthetic pretext. To take a woman comes from the desire to penetrate the other. However, an artist never gets out of his own self. Perhaps, with the help of his dark bed mate Jeanne, Baudelaire could feel white and, first of all, intactus, which might well be an expression of that curious, as yet not all too aggressive, however already thoroughly puritanical racism of the mid-19th century, so well expressed in the works of his contemporary De Gobineau.


Artificiality, affectation and detachment were the defining traits of his character. In real life – the world existing outside his phantasy museum of erotic paintings and poems – the barren maiden, as Baudelaire called her, seems to have been his ideal kind of woman. It cannot surprise the reader that Baudelaire’s sympathies were for Marquis de Sade, in whose work satisfaction-in-phantasy was of prime importance, though perhaps accompanied by a periodical youthful onanism.


Baudelaire was a full-blown fetishist of scents, clothes and elegant gestures, considered to be more important than the woman herself as well as her sex. Aesthetism tends to see the artificial as the only thing fruitful and fertile. In the eyes of Baudelaire, a pregnant or nude woman was distasteful; he valued dressed women more than undressed – except of course, when painted beautifully. A woman undressing in his presence took away his excitement. Perhaps then, Platonism is the word. Even his mother he loved for her scent and her elegant clothes.


This is the crux of Baudelaire’s life story. Women for him were pure animal, motivated solely by their instinctive natural lust, as such incapable of making a distinction between body and soul, thus the antipode of Baudelaire himself: the male dandy-philosopher. How easily Baudelaire could have become a Roman-Catholic priest… Only men are spiritual and animal at the same time – a typical prejudice of almost any Romanticist of the period. So, how could a woman be a real artist… For poets and painters like Delacroix and Baudelaire, it is of vital importance to satisfy their animal side as efficiently as possible – that is, without emotionally binding oneself to a woman, nor to be absorbed fully in the physical contact. The ‘act’ had to remain disconnected from their artistic labour.


Thus, Baudelaire’s ode to those great, pale women wrapped in satin applies especially to the painted nudes in his love museum. In fact, for him painted women have to be nude. After all, in that case the artist’s detachment is guaranteed, the nude represented being at the same time eternal and perfect. On their canvasses their erotic bodies can never be real Medusa’s; after all, as paintings their deadly vagina dentata has lost its vicious bite. Standing, perhaps even lying in front of The Great Odalisque by Ingres, the grown-up Baudelaire would relapse in the paradisiacal condition of helpless onanism – a little boy, returned to one of the many versions of Mama.


Inside his museum he could appreciate the splendid, full-fleshed and obviously fertile beauties of Rubens and Delacroix; in vivo these same women would have scared him, as he preferred the skinnier and even sickly specimens of their race. By contrast, those full-blooded, pale women, imprisoned in their frames, are artificial per se; their nakedness is unreal, and because of this so exciting for the Baudelaires of this world.


Baudelaire’s fictitious love museum, so it seems, was a boudoir for his own impotence, even though poetically he may take pride in the nine embraces with his voracious and for ever unsatisfied mistress. He did not really need to be afraid to catch syphilis; after all, he already got the disease as a boy. However, perhaps because of this, afraid of women he always remained, merely subjugating that fear in tangential contact, copulating with gloves on, or simply smelling and touching her – or, of course, making love to them by way of pen and paper.




How different I am from Baudelaire and his fellow Romanticists, men with their Platonic prejudice. In the cathedral of Lâon, on the inside so tender and pale, on the outside dressed in dark and raw garments, I entered one of those cosy little side chapels, here provided with its own door and little curtains – a true chambre séparée.


Courbet, who sympathised with the working class, once painted his decadent bathing beauty, full in her flesh, meant as his criticism of the indolent good for nothing bourgeoisie. Criticism or no criticism, how I would have loved to take his voluptuous woman in this little chapel – fully and completely. What a delicious ritual it would be. Celebrating our origin on the altar of her body, on what a naughty Chinese author once described as the meditation mat of the flesh, where all begins and all ends.


When Courbet painted that other magnificent beauty – his L’origine du Monde – he must have known all this. Looking this splendour, wrapped in satin straight in her orifice, one feels that all criticism is doomed to evaporate.


In Lâon I lit fragile, white candles for those great, pale women with whom I have shared a bed. As a one-day Catholic did I ask for intercession with Maria, the Mater Dolorosa, the Stella Maris, to be granted her guidance, once again, into such a woman. May their aging splendour grow and grow – as I myself grow older.


Sierksma, Haarlem 2000/2020