Slip into the narrow alley at 100 bis rue d’Assas and you’ll enter a small courtyard where abstract bronze figures mingle with trees and shrubbery. This is the entrance to the Musée Zadkine,—the former home of Ossip Zadkine, a Russian sculptor and one of Miller’s earliest friends in Paris. Readers of Tropic of Cancer may best know Zadkine as Borowski, the rather stuffy artist with “a different cane for each day in the week, and one for Easter.” Zadkine was one of Miller’s free meal patrons and for a while Miller returned to this address every Wednesday afternoon for lunch:
Your anecdotal life! A phrase of M. Borowski’s. It is on Wednesdays that I have lunch with Borowski. His wife, who is a dried-up cow, officiates. She is studying English now—her favorite word is “filthy.” You can see immediately what a pain in the ass the Borowskis are. But wait….
Borowski wears corduroy suits and plays the accordion. An invincible combination, especially when you consider that he is not a bad artist.
—Tropic of Cancer
Zadkine entered Miller’s life by way of his wife, June, who befriended the sculptor while visiting Paris with her lesbian lover in 1927. On her return to Paris the following year, this time accompanied by Miller, June introduced the two men. Zadkine was the first established European artist Miller had met and he found himself intimidated in the presence of this man who was once on close terms with the likes of Picasso and Modigliani. As Miller noted to Emil Schnellock, Zadkine was actually quite shy and he was mystified by the ease with which Miller accumulated new friends:
Saw Zadkine at the Dôme the other night. Called me back just as I was sortieing. “Henry, why do you stay away from me?” he says. “You know where I live. Why don’t we go out some night and have a little fun?” Yes, Herr Zadkine hat dies gesagt. You know me, soft guy … almost melted. The truth is I’m abashed in the presence of great men. I avoid them. Nobody takes me for a great man—I’m not saying I am, be Jesus. Whoa … Stop … So Zadkine adds, “Henry, how do you make so many friends here? Do you know I am very lonely? I never think of speaking to someone unless I know him. I am very lonely, really. Why don’t you take me out with you when you go on your folklore expeditions?”
The Musée Zadkine is small and is not heavily patronized, providing an intimate setting for visitors to become acquainted with Zadkine’s work. For the most part, his sculpture is abstract and appears to be an attempt to translate the techniques of cubist painting into three-dimensional form.
100 bis rue d’Assas