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April 3, 2017

Ekphrastic Mondays, 2017--#1

Today is the first of four National Poetry Month ekphrastic poems inspired by the art of Nicolas Tarkhoff (1871-1930). Tarkhoff was a Russian artist who spent the second half of his life in France. Surprisingly I didn't find an entry for Tarkhoff in the English language version of Wikipedia. I found a bit at the Association Les Amis de Nicolas Tarkhoff. But, I have resorted to using my poetic license and have imagined a life for the painter based on his art.

I first discovered his work when doing a search on The Athenaeum website looking for pictures of cats. I found that Tarkhoff painted many pictures of his wife and children, cats, and pumpkins. Of the 128 of his works on The Athenaeum site, very few are dark in feeling. His love of family is clearing evident and the fact that he obviously liked cats makes him an artist worth exploring! The pumpkins were a unexpected surprise. (Find a haiku sequence I wrote based on his 1909 painting "Cats by the Window," here.)

Today's picture doesn't include his family, cats, or pumpkins, but is a tribute to one of the features of his adopted city, Paris. I found two pictures on The Athenaeum site. I don't know if one is simply a mistakenly labeled duplicate or if one is an actual physical copy of a previous painting. In any case the one I used is labeled "Chimera of the Notre Dame" (1902). The other is labeled "Gargoyle of Notre-Dame" (1901, also known as Gargoyle of Notre-Dame Portruding [sic] above the Seine). Both are listed as being held by the Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva, which doesn't seem to have a website!

I imagine Tarkoff may have sold his Paris paintings to tourists. I also imagine climbing to the roof of Notre Dame, with art supplies, if only a pencil and sketch pad, would not have been undertaken lightly! (That's probably projecting since I have a healthy fear of heights.) I'm sure Tarkhoff would have preferred painting pictures to please himself, but a man in those days had to make a living for himself and his family.

Click on the image to enlarge. © Diane Mayr, all rights reserved. The background photograph circa 1890-1900.


Gargoyles and Chimeras

We are the fantastic
monsters and men
who are relegated
to role of protector.

Not by choice do we
climb to the heights.
Not by choice do we
swallow our fears.

Our inner fortitude
is only as strong as
our God-given talent,
but love sustains us.

The photo of Notre Dame doesn't give the kind of perilous view I think a gargoyle painter would have been faced with. This one below, circa 1860, gives a view closer to one I imagine.

Photo by Charles Marville. (One of my all-time favorite photographs, by the way.)

The following video gives an idea of the range of Tarkhoff's work. I'll post part 2 next Monday.


  1. Excellent. I admire the voice you've given to these fantastic monsters and men.

  2. Wow, so many beautiful paintings. The video is wonderful, allows a bit of time to look. Wouldn't you love to find one of these for sale when you traveled to Paris? I enjoyed each one, but my favorite is a very early one - the two children and the cat by the window. I waited till now so I'd have time to enjoy your post, Diane. I enjoyed every bit, loved the reference to the can opener in your older post. And today's poem, hard to imagine climbing up there to paint those gargoyles. I like your lines about the 'inner fortitude' fueled by love. Considering what you've shared about Tarkoff, you've shown him well. I love gargoyles. We even have a few placed in interesting spots at our airport. Thanks for all!

  3. I enjoyed your poem and the wonderful video. Tarkoff is new to me so this is a real treat. I sensed traces of Van Gogh in his work and I did like that cat painting. Gargoyles are a wonder and this post made me think back to when I first saw Notre Dame years ago.