Richard Mortensen (1910-93), Vision. Painting for Arthur Rimbaud, 1944
According to the artist himself, this major 1940s work by Richard Mortensen was intended as a protest against the war. The picture was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) Guernica from 1937 and by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s (1854-1891) prose poems Illuminations.
An allegory of the consequences of war
Viewed in this context, the picture is an allegory of the consequences of war: Dead men are hanging from a dead tree in the middle of the picture. Around it we find Mortensen’s main motif from the 1940s: the mother-and-child unity, appearing here in both human and animal incarnations. Despite all suffering and pain, the mother-child motif is an affirmation of how life goes on.
An allegory of the battle of the sexes
Apart from the obvious war-related aspects of the scene, the picture can also be read in the context of Richard Mortensen’s works from the 1930s and their inspiration from French Surrealism. Within this interpretation, the picture is an allegory of the battle of the sexes: The strains imposed on male sexuality in a world peopled by women (clinging, all-devouring mothers).
Man is only present as a victim (the hanged men in the tree) or as a fool – Harlequin in the foreground, enticing audiences in with his drum. He is the artist’s alter ego, the outsider who shows the true state of affairs. The tragic clown, crying behind his mask.