A Spy in Exile: Chapter 42


LONDON, FEBRUARY 1948

 

Yosef Raphael closed the iron door of the studio and secured the heavy padlock. Both of them, he and Henry Moore, looked like silhouettes in the cold, wet air.

“Come, come, young man, let’s warm our bones at a pub, and then you can escort me to a cab.”

Raphael felt as if he were walking on air. Henry Moore had visited his studio, the studio that was also his place of residence. He had been his guest for almost two hours, reviewing his sculptures, his ink sketches, listening to his ideas. Raphael told him about his encounter with Constantin Brancusi, the great Romanian sculptor, at his studio in France. He felt his soul glide and soar to the heavens on seeing the abstract birds, their perfect beauty, depicted in the elderly sculptor’s totem poles, which seemed to climb unendingly skyward. Moore said a few words, but Raphael sensed that his guest didn’t want to discuss Brancusi at length. He curbed his enthusiasm somewhat. He was eager to hear Moore’s opinion on his piece, Absalom, which he was in the midst of working on.

“He’s very different from the rest of your work,” Moore said to him, his eyes focused on the white marble statue. “Definitely not at all like your desert sculptures.” Raphael had shown him photographs of warriorlike figures and wild animals that inhabited the age-old deserts of his imagination, sculptures he had left behind at his studio in Israel.

“I feel that Absalom, too, is belligerent and savage. But I have to see him as a classical figure, like a Greek statue almost. Thin and elongated, gleaming in its whiteness, anatomically perfect, strength contained within the marble. Look at the tragedy that it embodies, that will ultimately burst forth. Look at the arrogance and self-confidence, which will be his downfall. Look at how beautiful he is.”

“There’s something misleading about this piece,” Moore said, his gaze sharp and thoughtful at the same time. “It looks initially like the work of a very talented student who’s been given the task of copying a classical Greek sculpture. But little by little, one sees the elements you’ve just spoken of. The wildness, the hubris, the defiance. Very nice, my young friend,” Moore said, eyeing Raphael with admiration. “Very nice. I’m curious to see the finished product. What I can already see before me is a great artist.” Raphael was beside himself.

They were making their way now down the dark street, its edges dimly lit by an orange glow. When they entered the local pub, it was Raphael who received a nodded greeting from the publican behind the bar and several regular patrons. None of them recognized Moore, the renowned sculptor.

“I want to introduce you to a close acquaintance of mine,” Moore said to Raphael as they warmed up with their second round of whiskey each. “There you go, some good things have come from Scotland, too,” he added, gazing soberly at the heavy amber liquid. “He’s an interesting man, a scholar of ancient cultures and an art collector, from a noble family, who lives on a large estate in the Oxford area. Splendid and tattered. Like England,” he said with a bitter smile. “I’ll send him a letter, and I’ll ask him to invite you.”

“Gladly,” Raphael said. “It would be a great honor for me.”

They drank two more measures, wrapped themselves in their coats, and walked toward the small square, where you could always find a waiting taxi or two. Moore wobbled a little as he tried to get into the black cab, and he smiled contritely at Raphael.

“Farewell, my young friend. You’re doing good things. Keep at it. Work hard. That’s the plight of us sculptors. Hard work. Hard work! Keep in touch.”

Raphael closed the taxi door and watched the vehicle move away, soon to disappear into the mist. He tightened his coat, tied his scarf firmly around his neck, and began walking in the opposite direction from his home, from his studio. He wanted to clear his mind, to allow the ice-cold air to clean his lungs.


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