Notes on: INTERIORS VII: THE TRAIN FROM MUNICH
I suppose The Train from Munich is a print for my
wife, Edith, and her making it out of Germany in 1939.
The image started with a photograph by Eugène Atget
of a girl looking out of a Parisian café window. Who was she? While I was in Bellagio I did a drawing of
the piece, repeating elements of the window to suggest an entrance. I was thinking of James's Aspern Papers,
which I was working on, but this drawing kept luring me back into the unfinished Interiors series. I knew I
needed a seventh print to complete the series' symmetry.
When I started on the image again, I found that the
scale of the girl in the window had to be reduced in order to suggest a greater scale to the architecture. But
where was this café? The idea of the stairs going up at the right and going down in front came very
quickly, as did the young woman coming up the stairs, a figure borrowed from the tête-à-tête pair
in Hotel Paradise Café 1987, in turn borrowed from the 1925 André Kertész photograph of the
Café du Dôme in Montparnasse. Originally I intended the print to be her story. I knew she should be
coming from a train, and I knew that as she headed toward the farther steps she would never get past the
entrance of the café, which I was already calling the Café Dante.
The train suggested a train station, which I rather
freely improvised from photographs I had taken years earlier of the train station in Budapest. The choice of
Budapest strangely foreshadowed a much more significant direction the image later took. With the train I wanted
a repetition of windows echoing the repetition of the station's glass roof and walls, in turn echoing—in the
insistence on geometry—the impersonality and relentlessness of the war machine building up in Europe.
Trains began to suggest deportation. And in that
context, the steam—which I had introduced to relieve the relentlessness of the geometry—began to take on the
weight of smoke and furnaces. The steam becomes even more like smoke and dust as it meanders through the
café and toward the steps. I play it up to obscure the Café Dante sign, which had soon begun to
seem to me pretentious and inflated. I keep the Hôtel Metropole sign as a more subtle reminder of an
The doorman is modeled on Marcel Duchamp. This is
partly unfair revenge. I wanted an obsequious and appeasing man at the entrance, welcoming an unknown—and
unseen—personage coming down the stairs. The revenge is for the escapades of Dada, the Mona Lisa moustaches,
urinals-as-sculpture that heralded the Pop art of the sixties and the general trivializing of art that today
is so ubiquitous. This figure is my moustache on Duchamp.
On a more serious plane, the elegant butler, the
artist, and the intellectual are epitomes of European culture all about to be swept away by the juggernaut in
the tunnel. Already Duchamp is becoming transparent.
Around the doorman are various Duchamp puns: the
figures descending the staircase, the images transparent as if on glass. The figure of the doorman did not work
for me for the longest time—it was not until I had added the smoke gathering over his head and the white gloves
that I could finally accept him.
I seriously considered more than a few people as
participants in this image, some of whom were actually put in and then taken out: Jean Cocteau (twice);
René Magritte; Magritte's back; many versions of Duchamp; Kertész's wife, Elizabeth;
Kertész; Tristan Tzara; Hitler's dog Blondi; the collector Albert Bender; the photographer Hippolyte
Bayard; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; Robert Mapplethorpe's hand; and James Joyce. Cecil Beaton's Lady Diana Cooper did
make it in (lower left corner), as did Paul Klee (farthest sleeping man) and a Josef Koudelka gypsy above the
sleeping dog. The sleeping man on the bench is from an image in Kertész's volume On Reading (1971). I
put the man to sleep and gave him a bowler hat in honor of Magritte.
In the upper corner a tiny cityscape with a parade
of banners holds echoes of Leni Riefenstahl. Three men have crossed over from Hotel Paradise Café and
another three from my 1967 print Julia Passing. Albrecht Dürer's soldier from Knight, Death, and the Devil has turned into a statue, and from the same source I have borrowed the dog that rushes down the steps and snaps
at a flock of doves. The birds were added very late, to leaven the increasing density of the image. It was then
that I made the dog vicious. He is on a leash. The unseen owner has an umbrella, an attribute of self-protection.
I now give him a cane. He has become blind.
The man next to the window, who is also holding a
leashed dog, is Raoul Wallenberg—the savior of thousands of Hungarian Jews who himself disappeared into Stalin's
darkness. I didn't think of him at first and it now seems eerie how the setting was already derived from
Budapest long before his likeness suggested itself. It was not until after the image was completed that I
realized the connection and wondered to what I owe the poignant coincidence.
The figure derived from Wallenberg is the heart of
the image. He has turned to see the commotion coming down the stairs, as has his dog. They can see what we
The dog in the terminal, however, is asleep. Three
children peer intently at a group of people standing on a platform. No one pays any attention. They are all
In the window, my Atget girl, the original impulse
for the image, has turned into Edith at the age of twelve; Edith still has photographs of herself in England at
about that age, charming the photographer and us all. Between her and a standing man is a tiny portrait of the
younger of our two children, Naomi, repeated from the 1984 Family Reunion. in that print I used a double
exposure of Naomi as a stand-in for my younger sister, with whom I was very close in childhood and whose
subsequent his tory has had more than its share of troubles. Do I intend the portrait, here, to suggest
survival? At the right of the window, the figure from Interiors I still broods about things that, as of
Interiors I, were still unclear. They are clearer now. This figure had my hairline, forehead, and glasses,
but basically the face was taken from Arnold Newman's 1963 photograph of Alfried Krupp, the German munitions
industrialist. Did I really think, in 1984 when I was working on Family Reunion, that my choice was based
solely on Newman's striking lighting effects? The Interiors series seems to have had an ultimate destination
from the start.
At the right of Edith stands a man whose daughter
did not escape. He is derived from Arnold Newman's eloquent portrait of Otto Frank. For many of us the blackness
that fell during the Third Reich has redefined the boundaries of humanity. It revealed a depth that, once seen,
is always there and informs everything. The Train from Munich is specific and in some ways personal. But I
intend its images of smoke, descending steps, disappearing figures, of sleep and blindness to have a much
more general application. They not only evoke the historical past, which has by now assumed mythic dimensions,
but point toward any time in which we allow darkness to prevail through our own free choice to be blind.
I see the train from Munich as the headlights in
the tunnel. It seems poised in time, unmoving. But only for the moment.