It would be a cruel joke to show this image to Loulou their Pomeranian, so much beloved. If she and her husband’s friends were a pack of cards, thinks Georgette, then E.L.T. Mesens would be the Joker. Perhaps because he has three names preceding his last – Edouard Léon Théodore – Georgette is inclined to precede his name in her mind with an equal number of adjectives: subversive, combative, and somehow typographic. The latter is why, Georgette suspects, René included so much text in his portrait: Revolver across the bottom in small caps, A La Hauteur des Circonstances topside in smaller ones: Rises to the occasion or Up to the task.
Maybe too many tasks? One man’s versatility is another’s dilettantishness: occasional poet, publisher, art critic, editor. Mesens and her husband met in 1920 when they were both aspiring. E.L.T. thought he’d be a composer, then abandoned music because André Breton cared almost nothing for song. He ended up an art dealer and René his most promoted artist. Georgette remembers how it felt both in and out of their control, back then, how they’d turn out; like a hand they could play, yes, but still one they’d been dealt: card tricks and card houses and a certain magicianship.
Hence E.L.T. painted in a bowtie and dinner jacket. Hence depicting him as a wizard of promotion, performing some trick or other with a beheaded pet. Hence the little red tongue hung from the darling mouth like a bloody surrender, tiny red spots about the dainty white neck of the decapitated pom.
Loulou is their little dog because they don’t have children – make yourself think can’t, Georgette. She and René never quite say as much about Loulou, and they love him jointly, their shared institution within the institution of marriage. But if they’re honest, they both know he’s some kind of substitution.
Georgette made her husband swear never to let Loulou see this canvas, and because he denies her nothing, he said Yes, I understand, my sweet Georgette. And Georgette gets it. Mesens is a showman of rebellion and revulsion, a connector and a sever-er. In the portrait, there isn’t any blade in sight, yet the edginess will never come to lose its edge.
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Co-editor of *The Selected Writings of René Magritte*, forthcoming from Alma Books (UK) and University of Minnesota Press (U.S.) in 2016, she is also the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel *O,Democracy!* (2014) and the novel in poems *Robinson Alone *(2012). Her second novel,*Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk*, will be published by St.Martin's Press in 2017.