Showing posts with label Artistic Translation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Artistic Translation. Show all posts

The Museo National de Bellas Artes of Buenos Aires

This splendid museum has an extraordinary picture, one of five by Goya, called Escena de Guerra ('War Scene'), but also, in some books, Escena de Bandidaje ('Bandit Scene'), presumably because the subject may be either. This picture has some common features shared with the great Prado picture, The Shootings of the 3rd of May.

The titles of all pictures in the museum are in Spanish and English (but El Repos de Diana, presumably Le Repos de Diane, becomes Diana at Rest, which confuses the functional sentence perspective and any index of titles). A pity the third language titles in the museum were not added where appropriate.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 196-197.


The exhibition of the tremendous and terrible still lives by Goya at the National Gallery (et praeterea nihil and nothing else counts but it also includes some other interesting Spanish still lives) has all its titles in English. Perhaps this is titfortatting the Prado, but many spectators would want to know the Spanish titles.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 137.

The Musée d'Orsay

The Musée d'Orsay in Paris is mainly French-bound (that is, titling, notices and brochures are in French), and the mainly French paintings in the amazing Barnes Collection are entirely English bound; but for the Barnes's special exhibition at the d'Orsay, there are informative brochures in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian as closely translated and gracefully written as anyone could wish. That's progress.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 61-62.

The Barber Institute and La Patrie

The Barber Institute

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Edgbaston Park Road outside Birmingham, with its outstanding Gwen John (Mère Poussepin), Degas, Claude, Redon (Crucifixion), Hals, Van Dyck, Sickert and many others, is I think the finest small picture gallery I have ever visited. But in the main it is pathetically monolingual. The university's language department is quite close, and the detailed and helpful leaflets for each bay all need translating. I do not know why Magritte's amazing Saveur des Larmes ('The Savour of Tears'?) has been anaesthetized into the bland 'Taste of Sorrow' (Le Goût de la Tristesse - yuck), given that English is said (of course!) to be the more concrete language.

La Patrie

In the Birmingham City Museum (which needs no puff) C. W. R. Nevinson's picture of the wounded and dying soldiers in the barn, to which the description, 'they are crying for their mothers' is an organic complement, is not as profound as The Third of May, but it as as moving. In English, the title, La Patrie, a grim instance of dramatic irony, stands (compare Wilfred Owen's Pro Patria Mori); in some other languages (das Vaterland), it could be translated literally with the same 'equivalent effect'.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 58.

The Reims Museum of Fine Arts

It is strange that the cité des sacres and of the champagne barons cannot afford to label its pictures multilingually or to issue more than twosided summaries in English, German and French to barely mention its magnificent Boudins (swarming figures on the beach, and sailing ships at Rouen), as well as the superb Le Nain Les Tricheurs and about twenty Corots.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 3. 

Magritte on TV

The flowing mysterious visions fascinate, but what gives David Sylvester, the presenter, the right to change the titles La clé des songes ('The key to dreams') to 'The interpretation of dreams', La femme introuvable ('The woman who cannot be found') to 'The elusive Woman' or 'The unfindable Woman' (brevity?), Les jours gigantesques to 'Titanic days', L'esprit de géométrie to 'The mathematical mind', etc. Even if he is following a 'tradition', a 'translation norm' for nice free euphonic translations (cf. Remembrance of Things Past), isn't it time to break with it, to try and write simply what the painter wrote? On the other hand, if the titles are not Magritte's (cf. 'The Emperor Concerto', i.e. Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto), the translator can go ahead.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 1.

The Vatican Museums

In the Sistine Chapel, nothing is written, let alone translated. In the Raphael Rooms, the light is so dim that nothing can be read. In the Museum of Contemporary Art, all titles remain in their original languages. (There is an arresting Crucifissione by Ottone Rosai of a man in working clothes being crucified.) The mass is in the vernacular, but the Church still appears to mistrust translation.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 30.

Modern Art in Rome

The National Museum of Modern Art (Museo nazionale di art moderna) is a misnomer, since it mainly displays modern Italian art, to which it is a magnificent introduction. There is a superb variety of pictures by Sironi, Balla, Guttuso, Severini, de Chirico, Morandi (not even one jug!), and two lovely landscapes by Ottone Rosai. However, in the whole building, there only appears to be one translation, viz. the notice on the bar: E vietato recarsi in giardino con tazze e bicchieri Close translation: 'It is forbidden! (here again, das Betreten ist verboten, see Rupert Brooke's Grantchester) to make one's way into the garden with cups and glasses.' Displayed translation: 'Please do not carry glasses and cups in the garden.' My preferred translation: 'Please do not take cups or glasses into the garden.' Note again the warmth and friendliness of the 'untranslatable' English 'please', to which I wrote a hymn of praise in this journal many years ago. There are excellent descriptive leaflets to the main pictures in each room, but why only in Italian?

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 17.

The Met

The magnificent Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in New York appears to be stubbornly monolingual. Not even non-English titles of paintings are given in their original languages, thus inviting confusion. A mysterious Monet entitled The Mists is given the alternative title La Débacle. The second language, Spanishthere are now more Spanish speakers than blacks in the Statesis ignored. Yet the descriptions of the paintingsall in Englishare exemplary.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 9-10.

Languages and Tourism

The chairman of the British Tourist Authority is aware that 'if Britain is to be successful as a leading tourist destination, we must learn to speak to people in their own language'. What is equally important is the provision of multilingual brochures, leaflets, manuals etc. in shops, museums (the V and A is a model), galleries and public buildings, which requires a separate skill.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 8.


'However hard it may often be to render the meaning of a sentence in another language, and however much we may have to resort to glosses and roundabout explanations, the sense can be made accessible even though it may entail a loss in neatness and elegance'. (Topics of Our Time: Twentieth Century Issues in Learning and in Art by E. H. Gombrich p.41; Phaidon, London, 1991.) Thus Gombrich, expressing his conviction that translation can always, even with difficulty ('a difficulty is never an impossibility') penetrate the cultural complexities of another language, from its colour system onwards. In fact, in this marvellous, instructive and morally outstanding book, in which he devotes four chapters to attacking what he calls 'cultural relativism', Gombrich goes further: 'Art and literature are now menaced by . . . this trend, which constitutes a threat to all aspects of scholarship because it denies the existence of any objective standards of truth . . . Recognising differences must not lead us to deny the unity of mankind . . . Art is an embodiment of values' (p. 9.) 'The humanities would atrophy and die if they attempted to become value-free' (p.55) . . . 'I am sure that Michelangelo was indeed a greater artist than the English seventeenthcentury painter John Streeter.' (p. 72.)

Gombrich names some of his adversaries (Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Harold Bloom, Norbert Bolz [Barthes, Greimas, Kristeva, Foucault unaccountably missing]), but not the so often trumpeted 'value free' movements: structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, reception theory, pop art, trends in post-modernism, historicism as relativism.) With rejection of or indifference to values, standards cannot exist.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 164-165.

The Monolingual National Gallery

The titles and details of the fascinating paintings in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery are all in English. I think these should additionally be given in the language of the painter, throughout the Gallery, out of respect, to facilitate identification of titles in some cases, and to avoid the invidious dilemma of selecting a second world language. The (few) English paintings should have translations in French. This would require a rolling financial plan. I do not know how long the Gallery can continue to be free to visitors, but if a charge is made, I hope all who are in full-time education will be exempt.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 121.

Two Museums

In the Mauritshuis at the Hague (den Haag or 's-Gravenhage (Du); la Haye (F); laHaya (S): l'Aia (I); der Haag (G)), the paintings are marked only with the names of their painters and the dates on their frames. The more important ones in each room can be identified by reference to cardboard-backed printed sheets in Dutch, English, German and French, which give their titles, small photographed reproductions and brief useful analyses, which are pleasingly closely translated from the Dutch. (An interesting 'howler' was the translation of deugdzamheid (Tugendhaftigkeit (G); Vertu (F)) as 'virtuosity' (from 'virtuoso') instead of 'virtue' or 'virtuousness'.)

I think this is a good translation service, superior to the usual monolingual and bilingual systems, which should be a thing of the past, but it is a pity that the remaining paintings cannot at least have their titles translated at the bottom of the sheets. (Some of the finest Dutch paintings are hung in this museum, such as the Vermeer 'Head of a young girl'.)

At the Stedelijk Museum of 19th and 20th Century art in Amsterdam, all paintings have brief details in Dutch and English only, which is regrettable, particularly in the case of the 'third country' paintings, but which is the way things are going in a country where shop-window signs are in English as often as in Dutch.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 111.

Art Galleries

It is time all reputable art galleries and museums added at least one translation to the titles of their exhibits. The Kroller Müller has English translations (the Van Goghs not always consistent), but the Prado is as monolingual as the National Gallery and the Musée d'Orsay. The Prado should finally determine the correct title of the only painting which (in the Prado, not in repro), in my experience, has the power, the impact and the humanity of the greatest music and literature, - the confrontation of the terrified animal humans with the faceless mass machine - Goya's El Tres de Mayo de 1808, en Madrid: los fusilamientos en la Montaña del Principe Pio. ('The executions shootings? - of the Third of May'.) Again, the Prado should issue a standard translation of the title. The painting is popularly referred to as Los Fusilamientos.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 57.