Martin Stannard, University of Leicester
This, then, is a life’s work, the great work of a great life, documenting years of struggle. Biala seems often to have returned to an architectural motif: the Parisian façade of windows and shutters, cock-eyed yet somehow regular in peeling walls. Kelder mentions that one of Biala’s early successes was the sale of Spring Rue de Seine (1936) to Duncan Phillips (the picture now hangs in the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.). It was the street on which she and Ford had lived. The shutters open onto vulnerable domestic space as in a stage set or after an explosion, yet there is nothing alienating about this exposure. It is hot. The windows are thrown back. Paris is welcomed in. Later work using the same subject seems cooler, suggesting one interior space regarding another with the glass in between. In Paris Façade (c. 1983) the shutters and windows appear like books on library shelves; in The Flower Pots (1985) we stand behind a female figure (Biala herself?) looking through a modern, sealed window, and out onto the old Paris of ramshackle shuttering. One can make too much of this kind of thing but the awkward negotiation between intimacy and privacy does seem to have been important to her, not least in her love for Ford and her unwillingness to speak about their life together. It was a grand passion, and she defended his reputation to the last. But it was private. No-one else’s business. Biala was neither sentimental nor confessional in her life or her art. But it seems that, despite a contented marriage with Brustlein, she missed Ford all her life because he had transformed her from the somewhat messed-up creature of Dickinson’s portrait into the mature woman and artist she became, laughing with Ford in the sunshine at Villa Paul in that famous 1934 photograph.