Wayne Koestenbaum: The Desire to Write

August 22, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Essay

Henri Matisse, _Boy with Butterfly Net_, 1907; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund; © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Desire to Write about Boy with Butterfly Net

“I am an exhibitionist,” I said to myself, while walking home from the doctor’s office after my yearly physical — an appointment, this year, marked by an episode of unintended tumescence, mine, while my kindly general practitioner, a gay man my age, with hazel-colored wavy hair and hazel-colored eyes, palpated my testicles. In response to my arousal, he said, “You’ve been blessed,” and I’m still not certain, five hours later, exactly what he meant. Any painter is an exhibitionist; so is any model, even if underage. Children are the least remunerated exhibitionists in the history of Western painting; Matisse and his model, Allan Stein (subject of a novel by Matthew Stadler), shared, according to the exhibition catalogue, a “mutual affection,” though the only aspects of this mutuality that the painting captures are the mutuality of blue and green, the mutuality of red and brown, and the mutuality of realistic portraiture and its thrilling demise.

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