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The Pill and Paul Klee


Selling off my art collection
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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In the 1980s I sold my entire collection. It was an extremely traumatic event, because I really loved these, but the artist colony, which I’d founded on... in response to my daughter’s suicide, to run it was a much more expensive thing than I thought. You know, it was basically a question of either continuing it and expanding it, or doing something with my art collection, and I really basically said, I can do nothing for dead artists. I can do nothing if I collect for Picasso, or Degas, or anyone else, whereas we are supporting living artists, forgetting even that the reason was my daughter, but even all the artists who were coming there, and I simply... By that time I had married Diane, and she convinced me that this was also the right thing to do. So I did this in some auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. It was very traumatic. I had a fantastic Henry Moore, deep in the woods, my ranch. I thought it would never leave that place; it was so difficult to get it there, deep in the woods, and all that just went out from one day to another. The only thing I never sold were the Klees, because I... that was a separate thing, and I knew that I would leave them anyway, to the museum in the end.

So that was, sort of, the story about Klees, and Picassos, and Giacomettis, and so on, in this particular chapter on, on Degas’ Horse. I then did a bit more about it in this last memoir, how I... This Man’s Pill, where I really wrote about how the pill had changed me, and also some of the effects of it, and while I wrote primarily about cultural, and scientific, and sociological ones. I also said that, in a way that’s how I became a writer, that’s how I became an art collector. An art collector, because I could then afford to collect art, and a writer because I really changed my teaching very much at Stanford as a result of the work of the pill, and realising that the socio-biological aspects of it are much more important than just the scientific one, and that you have to find ways of communicating with the broader public, and I became interested in using means other than just ordinary lectures, but rather novels, and eventually plays. But so I described... here’s a chapter, which is called The Pill and Paul Klee, and you think that’s a fairly esoteric connection, and I told a story here, which I have not told in this one here, and I think it’s probably just as well to end this entire thing on that note, because it is... A, it’s amusing, but it has a touch of drama, and it deals with something that I’ve... that is very close to me. I mean the Klees are just extraordinarily important, and I still collect Klee. So I started that chapter in the following way, and I’m just literally going to read this.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: This Man’s Pill, The Pill and Paul Klee, Henry Spencer Moore, Paul Klee, Alberto Giacometti, Edgar Degas

Duration: 3 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008