Marcel Aymé – La Jument verte, 1930, The Green Mare


On a certain spring morning there occurred at the Haudouins’ house a notable event of which at the time no one appreciated” the true significance. Mme Haudouin, while seated with her lace-work at the dining-room window, saw a young man enter the yard. He wore a floppy hat and he carried a painter’s paraphernalia on his back.

‘I happened to be passing,’ he said, ‘and so I thought I would ask permission to have a look at your green mare. I should like to see what I can make of her.’

The maidservant showed him the way to the stable. He chucked her under the chin, as was still customary in those days, and she giggled, reminding him that he had come to see the mare.

‘It really is green,’ said the painter, studying it.

Being exceptionally endowed with imaginative sensibility, he thought at first of painting it red, but Haudouin came along while he was still considering the matter.

‘If you want to paint my mare,’ he said with his customary good sense, ‘paint her green. Otherwise no one will recognize her.’

The mare was led out into the pasture and the painter set to work. But in the course of the afternoon Mme Haudouin, passing that way, espied a deserted easel. Investigating the matter further, she was shocked to find the painter helping the maidservant to her feet in the middle of a field of barley which was already grown high. She was justly incensed: the wretched girl ran risk enough of being put in the family way by the master of the house, without going to outsiders. The painter was sent about his business, his canvas was confiscated, and Mme Haudouin resolved to keep a close eye on the servant’s figure. The picture which was destined to perpetuate the memory of the Green Mare was hung above the chirnney-piece in the dining-room, between the portrait of the Emperor and that of Canrobert.

Two years later the mare fell ill, wasted away for a month, and then died. Haudouin’s youngest son was not yet sufficiently instructed in the veterinary science to be able to name the malady that had carried it off. Haudouin scarcely regretted the loss, since the animal had become a nuisance to him. Sightseers had continued to invade his stable, and when one is in politics one cannot refuse to exhibit one’s green mare even to persons of the most trifling consequence.

Chapter 1.

Observations of the Green Mare I

THE artist who painted me was none other than the celebrated Murdoire. In addition to his genius as a painter he was the possessor of a stupendous secret which I shall refrain from making known to the painters of the present day. It is not that I fear to diminish Murdoire’s reputation by doing so; the portraits he left behind, so disturbingly endowed with life, the very landscapes of which it has been said that the shadow of the god Pan may be seen to stir amid their foliage — all these bear witness to the fact that without the genius of the painter mere technical acquirements are as nothing. But artistic snobbishness in these days has in some cases gone so far that I am reluctant to run the risk of starting a vogue for a process that can only be carried out at considerable personal expense.

Suffice it to say, then, that the humours of the spring, the warmth of the earth, the sap of youth, the favours of the servant—girl, all these magical distillations were in a fashion which must remain for ever unrevealed blended in the paint with which Murdoire’s inspired brush depicted the speaking curve of my neck, the eloquence of my lips, the sensitive awareness of my nostrils, and above all the half-human light in my eyes, that mysterious glow of life which lovers, misers, and neurotics have sought ever since to interpret as they peer into the troubled waters of my gaze. He was driven from the farm, poor Murdoire, leaving behind him a masterpiece, and exhausted by his manifold labours he died soon afterwards.

As the Haudouins hung me in the dining-room the artist’s spirit trembled in my milky eyes and ran quivering the length of my green flanks. I was born to the consciousness ofa harsh and desiring world in which my animal nature was enriched by the generous and lofty eroticism of Murdoire. This simulacrum of my flesh was endowed with all the painful yearnings of humanity: the call of pleasure stirred my imagination with heavy and burning dreams, with priapic turmoil. Alas, I was not slow to discover the wretchedness of existing merely as a two-dimensional appearance, or to perceive the vanity of desires lacking all means of fulfilment.

In order to find an outlet for these impulses I obliged myself to divert them along other paths, where they might do service to the contemplative tendency favoured by my immobile state. I concerned myself with the study of my hosts and with reflections upon the spectacle afforded me by the observation of their intimate life. The liveliness of my imagination, the regrets which I could not prevent myself from feeling, and the dual nature, half man and half horse, with which the artist had endowed me – all this made it almost inevitable that my particular interest should dwell upon the love-life of the Haudouins. Whereas the mobile observer is obliged in his contemplation of the world to discover the harmonies of numbers and the secrets of series and permutations, the stationary witness may discern the very habits of life itself. I was, moreover, assisted in my purpose by the subtle powers of intuition which I owe to the brush of Murdoire: however, I shall offer no conclusions that are not based upon what I have seen or heard or deduced at first hand.

Observations of the Green Mare II

THE posthumous renown of Murdoire has led to my appearing in art exhibitions all over Europe. I have thus been able to see for myself how the people in the great cities make love and make ready for love, and I have for them nothing but pity. Whether it preys upon their minds, upon the nobler impulses of their hearts, or, as is most often the case, upon the appropriate regions of their bodies, love to them is no more than a gnat—swarm of desires, a succession of torrnents, a pursuit without end. They are consumed with petty lusts for which they seek solace wherever they go, in the street, in the folds of a skirt, in their dwellings, at the theatre, in the workshop and office, in books, in ink-pots. The ardent lovers and the virtuous husbands and wives imagine themselves to be faithful to a grand passion, stormy or tranquil as the case may be, for an object which changes in aspect, or which simply changes, an incalculable number of times a day. A man will swear that he is in love with a woman, that he knows none more alluring, very much as he might say, ‘It is at So—and—So’s Restaurant that one dines best and most inexpensively.’ He sets out for So—and- So’s fully intending to get there in good time. But should he take the wrong turning and chance upon some other establishment, seeming more attractive, he will very likely not get there at all. And if he does dine at So—and-So’s it will be with a secret regret in his heart for the place that was dearer, the place that was more crowded, the unknown. In the cities there is no true concupiscence, merely a diffused hankering after sexual love, a restless resolve to gratify each least desire. For three weeks, while I took part in an exhibition of Murdoire’s works, I hung opposite a well-known canvas entitled, ‘The Lonely Rider’. It depicted a man passing between two rows of women of all descriptions, beautiful and plain, young and old, fat and thin. He was staring straight in front of him, seeing nothing, his face tense with twinges of suffering and longing and regret, but with his nose still snifing the air, his hands still ready to grasp. In his sombre eyes, witless and despairing, Murdoire had depicted a tiny gleam like a plaintive cry, desiring but without hope: the cry of the Wandering Jew doomed to squander through all eternity the small change of life.

Marcel Aymé, 1902–1967. La Jument verte, 1930, The Green Mare, 1963

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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