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Kitchen, 1932

Ary Stillman, whose paintings are being exhibited at the Midtown Gallery, also recalls the French Impressionists. But only if one can imagine them with a dash of Old Master, will you have Stillman. His work has a charm, a lyricism, a luminosity which are most exciting. One piece in particular, "Interior, Kitchen" is a marvel of beautiful lighting.

His pieces make use of velvety blacks, glowing blues, poignant grays. Occasionally the elongated necks, distortion justified because it captures so succinctly a mood, suggest Modigliani, without the latter's dryness.

Ary Stillman, Some Reviews by Emily Genauer, New York World-Telegram, April 21, 1934

The Kitchen

Early in the l930s Ary met the Droz family. He was a Swiss, she was a French woman. They lived in Senlis, a charming and historic town not far from Paris. Ary was in the forest of Senlis, with paints and easel, when the Drozes and their three children, and the dog came along with picnic hampers, bound for a day's outing. They stopped to talk to Ary, and invited him to join them.

This was the beginning of a very happy friendship. The Drozes insisted that Ary visit them every possible weekend; the guest bedroom was set aside for him and from one visit to another, his favorite books and magazines were on the table by the bed, and everything in readiness for him. On one occasion when he had been ill, they came to Paris and took him back to Senlis, to recuperate. The cook fussed over him and prepared special dishes for him, especially a savory soup which he was very fond of. Ary painted "The Kitchen," which he retained through the years, in spite of many requests to buy it.

The Drozes were a very cultured couple, and the fine French which Ary spoke was greatly due to their influence. Mrs. Droz' letters to Ary, a number of which the Foundation has, seem to me to be so beautifully expressed, almost poetic and they radiate such warmth and affection that one can realize what this friendship meant to Ary. I think the glow of this friendship must have had something to do with the luminosity of "The Kitchen."

An unhappy facet of the relationship developed in 1932 or early 1933. The question of religion had never been discussed but one weekend when Ary was in Senlis the radio broadcast a Hitler harangue. Ary was furious, of course, and spoke his mind very freely, including his loyalty to his fellow Jews. Immediately he felt coolness in the air, so much so that he departed, with the idea of never returning to visit Senlis. But before long Mrs. Droz went to Ary's studio, begging him to come back. After some per-suasion he did so, and found everyone cordial as always. (He felt that it was Mr. Droz who had seemed unfriendly after the broadcast, rather than Mrs. Droz.) But now he found Mr. Droz most cordial.

There is an interesting and happy sequel to this story, which occurred during our visit to Paris in 1952, Ary's first return in 19 years.

Ary had had no word from the Drozes since he left Paris, and he had a presentiment that they had fared badly in the war years. He was eager to find out about them; so one Sunday morning we took a bus bound for Senlis. Arrived at the town we made out way to the street where the Droz home had been. We found the house easily enough, and stood for a minute half afraid to enter for fear the Drozes were no longer there. As we hesitated, the door of the house was flung open. Two figures appeared, and two voices cried in unison: "Monsieur Ary! Monsieur Ary."

It seems that the Drozes were at lunch when suddenly Mrs. Droz looked up and saw us standing there. She gazed at us unbelievingly for a moment, and then cried to her husband: "C'st Monsieur Ary! Il est revenue!"

It was like a miracle to them, Ary's return after nearly twenty years. They embraced him, they plied him with questions. They have thought of Ary so often during these years, they said. They have talked of him, have wondered about him. And now what a joy it was to see him with his wife "la charmante Francoise."

They made us eat and drink. Mrs. Droz rushed out to buy a special kind of white wine, as befitting the occasion. They took us through the house. Here was the bedroom which had been reserved for Ary's weekend visits; here was the kitchen, where the old wood stove still stood, despite the modern one by its side.

Of course the Drozes told me in detail the story I had heard so often from Ary— their Sunday excursion to the Senlis forest, with the children and the dog and the cat and the big basket of cold meats and cheese and bread and wine for a picnic lunch. Their meeting with Ary — the beginning of a warm friendship…

They touched lightly on the horrors and misery of the war years, dwelling only on major tragedies, such as the death of their oldest son. They had moved to Paris before the war. Now their daughter Vivianne and her family occupied the apartment on Rue de Rennes, and they returned to the old home in Senlis, which held so many memories dear to them.

It was late in the afternoon before we could break away. They put us on the bus, our arms full of apples and flowers from the garden. And they made us promise to come back soon for a reunion with the rest of the family.

A few days later we found a bouquet of flowers and a note from Mrs. Droz at the hotel desk. "Bonjour, chers amis" she wrote. "Mes fleurs vous diront mon passage." She went on to say that they were all gathering to have dinner with us the following Sunday, not in Senlis but in the apartment on Rue de Rennes.

When we stepped into the doorway at Rue de Rennes we could understand why the idea of gathering at Senlis had been abandoned. The apartment was a large one, and it seemed to be full of papas and mamas and little ones, all eager to see Monsieur Ary, who was to the older ones a cherished memory from childhood days, and to the youngsters a family legend. They surrounded Ary. Did he remember the drawing he had made for Serge on his birthday? Did he remember the Christmas festivities? Did he recall the little tree they had planted in the front lawn and named Ary, in his honor?

I thought Vivianne particularly lovely; intelligent, straightforward, talented (she makes beautiful ceramics.) Her husband, an engineer engaged in some kind of atomic research, served in the underground during the war, and was denounced by a comrade and taken to Buchenwald, where he was a prisoner for two years. He was tortured unmercifully. As a result his right leg had to be amputated. Evidently there were mental and emotional scars too — hardness and a materialism which had not shown themselves previously.

Dinner was in the Droz tradition — the famous chicken soup with noodles, then the chicken itself, roasted brown and tender and juicy, with wonderful gravy. Salad and fruit and cheese and dessert, red wine and Cointreau, and later in the afternoon Mrs. Droz brought out a bottle of the most fragrant and delicious sweet white wine -- "from my country" she said (near Bordeaux.)

After dinner, when the children were playing in another room, conversation became more serious, and Mrs. Droz told us something of their activities during the days of the Occupation. They were both in the Resistance Movement, and Mrs. Droz helped many French patriots to escape to neighboring countries. Finally she came under suspicion and was arrested. She was not at home at the time of the arrest, and she asked to be allowed to return home to see her family before being taken off to prison. The officers refused. Then she begged to be allowed to kiss her soldier son goodbye. This they acceded to. As she embraced him, she whispered to him where she kept her records. She instructed him to remove all the papers and to locate the men and tell them of her capture, so that they wouldn’t try to get in touch with her and thus betray themselves. The boy succeeded in finding the papers and hiding them under his uniform, the necessary information was a noted and the papers burned, so that when the apartment was searched no incriminating evidence was found. After a month in prison Mrs. Droz was freed. Meanwhile her husband had been imprisoned for two weeks, but he too was released.

Another story moved us both very much. For some time during the Occupation Jews were not allowed to purchase food except at the end of the day, when stocks were depleted. The Droz Family incensed by this inhumanity, bought a grocery store in the Jewish quarter. In this way they managed stealthily to supply the Jewish families with enough food to sustain them. I shall never forget these tales, nor the expression in Vivianne’s eyes as she talked of the monstrous brutality of the Germans toward the Jews— “Why, they were branded like animals — they had to suffer every indignity!"

When Ary and I returned to Paris in 1955 with the intention of living there, Mr. Droz was ill and shortly afterwards died. Mrs. Droz wanted us to come and live with her, but we felt it would not be a good idea. However, we saw her and Vivianne frequently during out stay.

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