Aubrey Beardsley – Under the Hill. Chapter X. 1894

Chapter X. Of the Stabat Mater, Spiridion and de la Pine

Later in the afternoon, Venus and Tannhäuser paid a little visit to De La Pine’s studio, as the Chevalier was very anxious to have his portrait painted. De La Pine’s glory as a painter was hugely increased by his reputation as a fouteur, for ladies that had pleasant memories of him looked with a biased eye upon his fêtes galantes merveilleuses, portraits and folies bergères.

Yes, he was a bawdy creature, and his workshop a regular brothel. However, his great talent stood in no need of such meretricious and phallic support, and he was every whit as strong and facile with his brush as with his tool.

When Venus and the Chevalier entered his studio, he was standing amid a group of friends and connoisseurs who were liking his latest picture. It was a small canvas, one of his delightful morning pieces. Upon an Italian balcony stood a lady in a white frock, reading a letter. She wore brown stockings, straw-coloured petticoats, white shoes and a Leghorn hat. Her hair was red and in a chignon. At her feet lay a tiny Japanese dog, painted from the Queen’s favourite “Fanny”, and upon the balustrade stood an open empty bird cage. The back-ground was a stretch of Gallic country, clusters of trees cresting the ridges of low hills, a bit of river, a château, and the morning sky.

De La Pine hastened to kiss the moist and scented hand of Venus. Tannhäuser bowed profoundly and begged to have some pictures shown him. The gracious painter took him round his studio.

Cosmé was one of the party, for De La Pine just then was painting his portrait—a portrait, by the way, which promised to be a veritable chef d’œuvre. Cosmé was loved and admired by everybody. To begin with, he was pastmaster in his art, that fine, relevant art of coiffing; then he was really modest and obliging, and was only seen and heard when he was wanted. He was useful; he was decorative in his white apron, black mask and silver suit; he was discreet.

The painter was giving Venus and Tannhäuser a little dinner that evening, and he insisted on Cosmé joining them. The barber vowed he would be de trop, and required a world of pressing before he would accept the invitation. Venus added her voice, and he consented.

Ah! what a delightful little partie carrée it turned out. The painter was in purple and full dress, all tassels and grand folds. His hair magnificently curled, his heavy eyelids painted, his gestures large and romantic, he reminded one a little of Maurel playing Wolfram in the second act of the Opera of Wagner.

Venus was in a ravishing toilet and confection of Camille’s, and looked like K———. Tannhäuser was dressed as a woman and looked like a Goddess. Cosmé sparkled with gold, bristled with ruffs, glittered with bright buttons, was painted, powdered, gorgeously bewigged, and looked like a marquis in a comic opera.

The salle à manger at De La Pine’s was quite the prettiest that ever was. The walls, covered with pale blue satin, held in silver panels pictures of shepherds and shepherdesses, of nymphs and heroes, moving in measure in Sicilian landscapes or upon the azure shores of Aegean waters. From the ceiling beautiful divinities made as to throw garlands on the guests, with such effect that one was surprised that the roses, as if unwilling to quit Olympus, would not descend on earth. The floor was covered with a thick-piled carpet, as lue as the Meditteranean at midnight; over it the lackeys and servers moved without a sound in their white satin knee-breeches and sky-blue cutaways laced with silver, and wigs of white spun silk.

Aubrey Beardsley. 1872-1898

Under the Hill, 1894

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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