Graves” first muse…the first after he articulated his White Goddess theories, was Judith Bledsoe. Judith, by all accounts, was a naïve young girl who found in the older Graves something of a father figure whose intellect and worldly knowledge was appealing. Graves found in her the physical embodiment of the White Goddess. It seems that in the case of Judith, as in the muses that followed, who or what the person might actually have been seemed less important to Graves than what he believed the person to be. And so Judith who at first was clearly enamoured with the attention she was receiving began to buckle under the pressure and, as R. P. Graves reports, Beryl “… took Judith out to lunch alone, and quite calmly asked her whether she wanted Robert or not. To which Judith could only protest, quite honestly, that she loved Beryl and Robert more than her mother and father, and that she had no intention of doing anything to injure their marriage” (The White Goddess, 188). –source, robertgraves.org
it has been reported that my dear friend, judith bledsoe, has died. i have tried to reach her children without success so details are not available which makes it an even sadder event; their silence a rebuke of the many friendships their mother nurtured over the past several decades. [on july 5, 2013, i received notes from both of judith’s children which have been posted in the comment section of this post. perhaps i judged them too harshly, but at the time i wrote this tribute i was saddened by their silence. mea culpa.]
there are several pivotal events in my long career as an art dealer, one of the most vivid is selling my first bledsoe painting to the daniel’s. “blue house at st. pompon” with it’s vivid hues and little black cat sleeping on the railing of the balcony above the street, was not a large painting, but the joy judith brought to it, with her free brush work, layers of colors applied then stripped away, little border of contrasting hues making the whole a polished jewel, touched this young couple so deeply — they stood in front of it — and later sat in front of it in the gallery’s viewing room while i stood and discussed its merits as a work of art; its emotional pull working on me as well as them.
i was new to the business of art, but i connected then to her joie de vivre (it is best said in french, not english, and no, i’m not being a snob, dropping the occasional french ‘mots’ because i believe it elevates this discourse, it is because it best represents who judith is/was), her obvious happiness, her palette filled with colors that pulled at the hem of your shirt like a child wanting attention but too well-behaved to whine, her brushwork a busy intersection in paris, her adopted hometown.
her studio, on rue falguière in montparnasse, had been chaim soutine’s and it always tickled me to think what the ghosts of his tableaux mortes with their sides of beef, the dead fish, the torture, and the pain of his palette and brushwork now thought of the abundance of life that filled the studio. she once told me that she liked to sometimes strip naked and dance in the night, taking “a moonbath” and scandalizing the neighbors.
of course i fell in love with her before i met her, and then fell under her magnetism, her generosity, her lovely crooked smile and self-deprecating humor, and her obvious, but well-hidden delight at being loved for her art when we finally met that first journeyman year of my art career. she had a way of touching you, physically touching you while in conversation that included you in her fantasies and droll humor, as if you were her compatriot in bohemia, the jangle of her heavy north african jewelry (she had a home on the spanish island of mallorca, a family home where she had been when she met robert and beryl graves as a teenager–the white goddess of graves’s poetry theoretics) an undercurrent to the liberation of spirit that bohemia promises to the staid, the square, the suppressed.
after that first meeting, we saw each other almost yearly until the early ’90s, after which my career trajectory changed, but we continued to stay in touch, exchanging holiday greetings (oh, how we looked forward to our card from judith, always hand-made, with her decorated envelopes and loose-handed script scrawled from side to the other–a card from paris!) and quarterly phone calls to get caught up on gossip, art, life, loves, the troubles and triumphs of our lives. we grew closer.
later in that decade, the opportunity came for our careers to cross again, and out to california she came, her doting fans congregating at galleries, restaurants, museums, and our homes. she and i drove down the coast one day and it is a drive i’ll remember more for what wasn’t said than what was, although the life experiences she shared with me were reassuring in their “it happens to all of us” familiarity. it was watching her look at the passing ocean, the open chaparral, a wistfulness and quietness that settled over her that i’d not seen in her before that has stuck with me all these years later.
she loved liberally and late in life found a soul mate in a russian emigré, sergei, a portrait of whom graces a wall of our home today not unlike the one of him at the top of the three paintings posted here. up until about a year ago, our phone conversations continued to be filled with remembrances, and who, what, when, where. about six months ago when we spoke there was a noticeable disconnect in her voice; she was pleasant, but was complaining that her children “had hired someone to get her from one place to another” which she did not like at all and that they were there now, “cleaning up my apartment” (which of course, more than likely needed it, house-keeping not her ‘thing’), she signed off with a distracted au revoir.
a week ago, a mutual friend of ours called and told me she’d heard that judith had died. a friend and collector of judith’s work had told her he’d seen it on another gallery’s website. i contacted them for details, but they only said they’d forward my message to her children. i wrote to the son using the email address i have, no response; we called her home, no answer, just eerily her recording, “c’est judith. je ne suis pas là…”
ciao, judith, je t’aime.
judith passed 17 february 2013. she would have been 85 this year.