Portrait of The Non-Existent-Bird. - CLAUDE AVELINE.

From 1 to 11 June - Museum. Institut du monde arabe.

  • Claude Aveline, Picture of The-Non-Existent-Bird.

    Picture of The-Non-Existent-Bird, 1950. Drawing on paper with poem manuscript, 31 x 24 cm. Bibliothèque municipale de Versailles. Fonds Claude Aveline. © The Estate of Claude Aveline.

Claude Aveline, Portrait of The-Non-Existent-Bird. Paris, 1950.

Here is the pic­ture of the Non-Existent-Bird.
Not its fault if the Good Lord who made every thing omitted to create it.
It has a look of other birds, for non-exis­tent crea­tures bear some resem­blance
to those that exist.
But they haven’t a name.
Which is why this bird is called the Non-Existent-Bird.
And why it is sad.
Perhaps sleeping or waiting for the moment of exis­tence.
Wondering what sort of beak or wings it will have, will it be able to dive under water,
as actual birds do, without spoiling its colours ?
It would like to hear itself sing.
It would like to be afraid of death.
It would like to have very ugly, very much alive baby-birds.
So the dream of a non-exis­tent-bird is to stop being a dream.
No one is ever sat­is­fied.
And that being the case, how can all go well with the world?

Claude Aveline, Paris 1950. Translated from French by George Buchanan, 1966.

Claude Lemand.
Translated from French by Valérie Didier.

Everything began in 1950. Claude Aveline (Paris, 1901-1992) drew a bird and wrote a poem on a piece of paper mea­suring 32 x 25cm. From 1956 to 1982, he used to visit gal­leries and artists, putting together two col­lec­tions of works on paper by 194 artists, which he then donated to the French MNAM (National Museum of Modern Art), works by (Atlan, Bissière, César, Debré, Foujita, Hajdu, Masson, Music, Severini, Tamayo, Zadkine,…): 108 works in 1963 which were exhib­ited at the Centre Pompidou in 1978, and another 86 in 1982.

Claude Aveline was a fan­tastic story-teller. He loved speaking in public and reading his texts to his friends and rel­a­tives, to the radio or to a large audi­ence. The poem has a didactic dimen­sion (when he lists all the phys­ical fea­tures of birds: wings, beak, legs and feet, feathers…), a playful dimen­sion, a psy­cho­log­ical and philo­soph­ical dimen­sion.

As for the verses at the end, “No one is ever happy / And how do you think the world can be well in these con­di­tions?”, it appears that the poet chose an enig­matic ending that throws the reader into an end­less reflec­tion and into a dream. It seems to me that this poem car­ries a sym­bolic inter­pre­ta­tion of all its com­po­nents without any tricks. Just like the Albatros by Baudelaire, it also reflects in a sim­pler way the poet’s way of life and that of the artist who fully immerses him­self in the uni­verse he cre­ated and who is chal­lenged in real life. Art is a means to sub­li­mate the real world and make it bear­able.

Claude Aveline him­self was sur­prised and happy by the spec­tac­ular fate of his little multi-lay­ered poem, “from the playful to the aes­thetic side, from the tragic to the enter­taining aspect”. Some artists rep­re­sented it as a simple bird with its dis­tinc­tive phys­ical fea­tures. Others found in it a fan­tasy and a game. Many read it like an invi­ta­tion to seek and find the bird that lies dor­mant within each of us.

Incidentally, the sen­tence “he would like to be afraid of death one day”, clearly refers to the bird as being a symbol for humanity. Written in 1950, Portrait de l’Oiseau-Qui-N’Existe-Pas, is also a poem of its time, the years of Occupation, of resis­tance and of exter­mi­na­tion: mil­lions of birds flew away to the death camps. This idea haunted the writer’s thoughts, whether it be in his life or in his numerous post-war texts. It later sur­faced again as a cry of revolt and of horror in his mem­o­rable Monologue pour un dis­paru.

Copyright © Galerie Claude Lemand 2012.

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