Art: The Happy Pessimist

To look at Eugene Berman, a bald, plump, cheerful little man, you would never guess that his paintings are meticulously composed glimpses of ruin, misery and decay. A Thomas Traddles among painters, he pictures philosophers asleep under Paris bridges and ragged princes mooning among the ruins of their family palaces; his work fairly groans with heartache. But Berman himself, whose painted gloom has earned him a solid reputation throughout Europe, has claimed to be "divinely happy" ("It's just that I enjoy melancholy things!").

Last week a Manhattan gallery exhibited Berman's latest paintings. They showed a striking new power. He had been to...

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