My ex-husband You all know him. He’s Adolphe Taillandy, the pastelist. For twenty years he’s been painting the same feminine portrait: against a cloudy golden background, borrowed from Lévy-Dhurmer, he poses a woman in a low-cut dress whose hair, like a precious padding, forms a halo around a velvety face. The skin at the temples, in the shadow of the neck, on the swelling of the breasts, is iridescent with the same impapable effect of velvet, blue as the velvet of those beautiful grapes which tempt one’s lips:
“Potel and Chabot paint no better than this!” Forain said one day, viewing one of my husband’s pastels.
Aside from his notorious “velvet effect,” I don’t think Adolphe has any talent. But I readily admit that his portraits are irresistible, especially to women.
In the first place, he definitely sees them all as blondes. Even the hair of Madame Guimont-Fautru, that skinny brunette, was adorned by him with red and gold reflections, which he found God knows where and which, spread over her lustreless face and over her nose, turn her into an orgiastic Venetian courtesan.
Tailandy did my portrait too, in the past . . . No one recalls any longer that she’s me, that little Bacchante with a shiny nose, the middle of her face lit by a sunbeam as if she were earing a mother-of-pearl mask, and I still recall my surprise at finding myself so blonde. I also recall the success of that pastel and those which followed it. There were the portraits of Madame de Guimont-Fautru, the Baronne Avelot, Madame de Chalis, Madame Robert-Durand, and the singer Jane Doré; then we come to those, less famous because the sitters are anonymous, of Mademoiselle J.R., Madamoiselle S.S., Madame U., Madame Van O., Mrs F.W., and so on.
Those were the days when, with that cynicism which is characteristic of handsome men, and which suits him so well, Adolphe Taillandy used to proclaim:
“I only want my mistresses as sitters, and only my sitters as mistresses!”
For my part the only genius I found in him was one for telling lies. No other woman, none of his women, can have had my opportunities for guaging, admiring, fearing, and cursing his rage to lie. Adolphe Taillandy lied feverishly, sensuously, tirelessly, almost involuntarily. Fo him adultery was merely one of the ways—and not the most pleasurable—of lying.
He thrived on lying with a power, variety and prodigality that increasing age has failed to exhaust. At the same time that he was perfecting some ingenious treachery, planned ever so carefully and enlivened with all the skill of his masterly cunning, I’d see him squandering his crafty energy on vulgar impositions, needless ones, caddish ones, on childish and all but idiotic fairy tales . . .
I met him, married him, lived with him more than eight years . . . and what do I know of him? That he does pastels and has mistresses.
Colette,1873-1954. La Vagabonde,1910
Images: Marcel Vertès, b. Ujpest, Hungary 1895–Paris 1961, Portrait of Sidonie Gabrielle Colette.
Harrison Fisher,1875-1934. Pastel Portrait. New York.