Pablo Picasso Girl Before a Mirror oil on canvas 64"x 51 1/4" (1932)
John Updike (1932-2009) is well known for his novels and essays, but wrote poetry as well, and throughout his life. His poem Before the Mirror contains his typical wit and amazing concision. Read it and see how you begin to feel that you are there at the MOMA too, stooping along with John to inspect and then enjoy the seemingly fresh paint in Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror- but the enjoyment tempered by thoughts of your own mortality.
Before the Mirror
by John Updike (1996)
How many of us still remember
when Picasso's "Girl Before a Mirror" hung
at the turning of the stairs in the pre-
expansion Museum of Modern Art?
Millions of us, probably, but we form
a dwindling population. Garish
and brush-slashed and yet as balanced
as a cardboard Queen in a deck of giant cards,
the painting proclaimed, "Enter here
and abandon preconception." She bounced
the erotic balls of herself back and forth
between reflection and reality.
Now I discover, in the recent retro-
spective at the establishment,
that the vivid painting dates
from March of 1932,
the very month which I first saw light,
squinting nostalgia for the womb.
I bend closer, inspecting. The blacks,
the stripy cyanide greens are still uncracked,
I note with satisfaction; the cherry reds
and lemon yellows full of childish juice.
No sag, no wrinkle. Fresh as paint. Back then
they knew how, I reflect, to lay it on.