Thursday, March 8, 2012

Isherwood & Bachardy

‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.’ —from Goodbye to Berlin, 1939

Born in England in 1904, Christopher Isherwood was one of the most respected writers of his generation. He declined to take his examinations and left Cambridge without graduating. After a brief flirtation with the study of medicine, he turned to writing. His first two published works were All the Conspirators (1928) and The Memorial (1932). Between 1929 and 1939 Isherwood spent most of his time abroad, four of those years in Berlin writing Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Some years later Goodbye to Berlin experienced a rebirth as the hugely popular musical Cabaret. Along with his good friend W.H. Auden he emigrated to the United States in 1939. Auden chose to remain in New York, but with offers to write for the screen, Isherwood moved on to California. He became a United States citizen in 1946, continued to live in California and continued to write novels, including Prater Violet, Down There on a Visit, and A Single Man. In 1952 Isherwood met a young man who moved into his Santa Monica home in early 1953. That was Don Bachardy and it was the beginning of a relationship that lasted thirty-three years, until Isherwood’s death. In the 1960s and 70s, the writer focused on autobiography with the books, Kathleen and Frank, Christopher and His Kind, and My Guru and His Disciple. He also published October, a month of pages from his diary that included drawings by Don Bachardy. Christopher Isherwood died in early 1986 of prostate cancer, Don Bachardy at his side.

During the last six months of his life, though terribly ill and very often in great discomfort, Isherwood allowed Bachardy to do a daily series of drawings, or portraits which would capture through the eyes of one closest to him, his final weeks and days. It is perhaps important to note that it was Isherwood who in the very beginning noticed a talent in his friend, encouraging and supporting him for the years it took to establish a reputation as an artist. Bachardy speaks of these final days together as the greatest of all the many gifts Isherwood gave him over the years. Published in 1990, four years after Isherwood’s death, Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood is a monument celebrating a man and his closest companion of thirty-three years. The book includes excerpts from Bachardy’s journal during the time he was doing the drawings, an essay by John Russell and an interview with the poet Stephen Spender. There are ninety-nine drawings, fifty of the them signed and dated by Isherwood. All of the drawings were done with acrylic paint, most with black only. In a few of the drawings the artist used white over black. His brushes were mostly soft Japanese brushes in varying sizes, some quite worn, occasionally with a worn hard bristle brush. None of the drawings took more than an hour and a half to complete and some less than five minutes.

July 26, 1985

August 9, 1985

August 19, 1985

September 10, 1985

Unsigned, undated

Unsigned, undated

Unsigned, undated

January 4, 1986, deceased

Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood by Don Bachardy


  1. Dramatic sequence of drawings of Isherwood during the last months of his life. Interesting but not so surprising that both Isherwood and Bachardy continued to create until (with a nod to Katherine Anne Porter) Isherwood with his last breath blew out his own personal candle.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America