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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Eduard Pötzl (1851–1914)

Art Criticism

From “Herr Nigerl”

ONE Sunday morning, in very early spring, Herr Nigerl and his better half honored the Corso, Vienna’s great show promenade, with their presence. Although the worthy couple had determined to avoid arousing any curiosity, it nevertheless happened that the looks of the passers-by fell upon them repeatedly. Frau Nigerl whispered to her husband, “It’s not to be believed how many people know one.” As a matter of fact, the amused curiosity of all those people was aroused by the extraordinary spring costumes of the worthy pair. While others were trying to protect themselves against the icy wind and occasional flurries of snow by heavy wraps and furs, Herr Nigerl was wearing light plaid trousers and a short yellow overcoat, his wife proudly disporting herself in a pink silk gala dress, a hat with great nodding plumes, and a shawl of black lace, all of which she thought to be in the height of fashion. The Nigerls looked with a certain contempt on the people who were wrapped up in winter coats and cloaks, suspecting that this was due to their lacking money for proper spring apparel.

When they had walked along for a while, Nigerl pointed to a building with placarded doors, and said, “Aha, there it is!”

“Where all those people are going in?”

“Certainly. Karl described the place and its situation exactly. If I had not forgotten my spectacles on account of your fussiness, I could even read the placards. But that is not necessary. Come, now, and keep close by me, so that we may not be separated in the crowd. I must explain the famous painting to you, or you will not know why it is called ‘The Dream of Rapture.’”

Soon after Herr and Frau Nigerl stood in the rather crowded hall in which the paintings were on exhibition. Those present spoke in subdued tones, exchanging impressions and criticisms. A solemn, almost devout, atmosphere prevailed. Frau Nigerl pressed her husband’s arm; she hardly dared to breathe, and stared open-mouthed at the work of art which so many people had come to see. Completely in the dark as to what her opinion ought to be, she glanced at her husband’s face, but noted with pleasure that his jaw, too, was hanging, and that here at last his oft-tried wisdom seemed to fail. Again and again Herr Nigerl inspected the picture and the ceiling by turns. At last he gave his better half the anxiously desired cue:

“That’s a fine picture.”

“I believe it,” said Frau Nigerl. “One does not see that kind every day. Look at the handsome colors on it. No doubt they’re the most expensive to be had.”

“Well, what do you suppose? An artist like that would not paint with bluing. But that’s the least part of it. The naturalness of it! One could touch it.”

“Yes, but don’t do it; it seems to be forbidden.”

“And there you learn again,” said Nigerl, “that one must examine everything with one’s own eyes. One doesn’t get the right idea from other people’s talk. And Karl is an ass; at this moment I am sure of it.”

“Why, what did he say?”

“He must have taken a drop too much when he was here. He told me about the picture of a woman who looks as if she were in love with some one, and that is ‘The Dream of Rapture.’ Now look at the picture. The young woman is in love, but her lover is with her, and they’re kissing each other. And as a sign that they are united for life, they are tied together with a rope. You understand now?”

“What do you take me for? Who wouldn’t understand, after such an explanation? But they’ve gone to the lakeside to bathe, I suppose.”

“What nonsense! Don’t you know how all lovers go to lake- and brook-sides because it is more secret there? But let’s catch the train. I want to tell Karl what an idiot he is.”

It took Karl’s infinite patience to persuade the obstinate Nigerl that the picture he had seen was the famous “Suicide,” and not “The Dream of Rapture.”