T. E. Lawrence to Eric Kennington
Your photograph has just turned up. It's amazing: and very curious. Of course the plaster gives double pitch to both high lights and shadows: and the top-light is very hard: and these two accidents conspire to reinforce your simplification of the structure of my head and face. Consequently emphasis is piled on emphasis, till the whole almost shouts. The Wood bust becomes a strained joke. Yours is magnificent; there is no other word for it. It represents not me, but my top-moments, those few seconds in which I succeed in thinking myself right out of things. That accounts, so far as the subject contributes any merit to the achievement, partly for the monumentality of the first impression. You have simplified out, and simplified out, and concentrated on what you liked of the material to your hands, and produced - well I liken it to a cross between that Giottesque Dante, and the Gattamelata - Colleone. Only I hope people won't think I look like Table Mountain when I'm darning socks. It's all very well being a public monument after you're dead.
Before I left you I felt that, barring accidents, you were on the way to doing something big. But Lord, you've pulled it together and pulled it up and out and forward more than I thought possible. The face and neck are treated with a dry precision and strength and confidence very unusual in recent sculpture: in any portrait sculpture. I trace a little hesitation in your handling of the lips. But there is a smile on them, which clashes with the 'Entry into Valhalla' motive of the jaw and eyes. They have just started up the hut gramophone on the Trauermarsch, our very best record, and I am tempted to draw parallels between Wagner-Siegfried and yourself. But that is an accident of Room 2's taste in music. They had only jazz till I came in with some Wagner fragments and a little Bach. Now the air is a perfect Xmas-pudding of cross-vibrations. Two of them are trying to dance to the Funeral stuff, and the dog has begun to howl. How in God's name can I write coherently about sculpture in this turmoil? Sheriff has just come behind my bed, and yelled into my ear 'Excuse me, but what is an iconoclast?
I've now safely delivered a short speech on Byzantine religious controversies of the fifth century. Back to the head! The balance and proportion of head, neck and supports are apparently exact. I'd have liked more difference in surface treatment between hair, flesh and clothing - especially the last two. The shoulders are very good, in their conventionality: but the neck of the tunic has a little too much work in it. I'd have cut out the button and slapped the whole of it over with a very wet hand-edge or knife-blade, to give it a dragged or dashed surface. About the hair I can't make up my petty mind. Admitted the effect is a knock-out... but should hair, a flimsy accident, administer a knock-out as severe as that of the bony structure of the skull itself? The short hair is admirable: the longer hair almost too good, I fancy. But it is precisely at this point that the plaster contributes most to the confusion of my judgement. There is a terrific shadow under the top-lock of hair, and a blinding frontal bone, and a sooted eye. After that the light is kind, over the cheeks and jaw. By the way the structure of the forehead seems to be one of the very best things in the whole and it is very difficult to divide the head up into details. It hangs tightly together as a most convincing portrait of a person very sure of himself who had convinced the artist that he really was sure of himself.
I'd like to bet that you were playing up to my supposed feeling for sculpture, as much as I was taking for granted your interest in psychology. Yet I can't remember much about the sittings except that I went off into a day-dream whenever we were left alone: and that I was usually dog-tired before I ever came. It was such a pity that I had to leave your sittings to the bitter end of my last month and it was no end of a bitter month! Chalk that on to the tail of the score of The Seven Pillars. The tail of the score! I'm an optimist, if I think that the worry and shame of that book aren't only just beginning.
Your picture-show must be going forward fast, to judge by a telegraphed paragraph headlined in the papers here a day or two ago, in which G.B.S. suggests my being offered Bachelor quarters in Blenheim, and other sad things. It's a pity people don't generally realise that I can make the most lovely bubble and squeak of a life for myself, without their contributing any ingredient at all. However. The cat's away.
Intentionally C. is not mentioned in this letter. I hope she is over it, well.
Did you get 4 well-bound copies of The Seven Pillars?
Notes. Kennington had sent a photograph of the plaster original of the
bust of Lawrence he had sculpted in December 1926.
The Wood bust - another bust, by Derwent Wood.
C. - Celandine, Kennington's wife.
|Last revised:||9 February 2006|
T. E. Lawrence chronology
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset