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

m-ayme-la-jument-verte

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

Colette-La Vagabonde,1910

harrison-fisher1875-1934-pastel-portrait

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.

 

Xavier de Maistre – Voyage autour de ma chambre, 1794 Voyage Around My Room

x de maistre madame elisabeth vigee lebrun

Chapter 7

Doesn’t that seem clear enough to you? Here’s another example:

One day last summer, I was making my way on foot to court. I had spent the whole morning painting, and my soul, enjoying its meditations on painting, left it to the beast to transport me to the Kings’s Palace.

“What a sublime art is painting!” my soul was thinking. “Happy is the man who has been touched by the spectacle of nature, who is not obliged to paint pictures for a living, and who does not paint merely as a pastime, but is struck by the majesty of a beautiful physiognomy and the admirable play of the light that suffuses the human face with a thousand subtle hues! He attempts to approach in his works the sublime effects of nature. Happy too is the painter whom the love of landscape leads out on solitary excursions, who is able to express on canvas the feeling of melancholy inspired in him by a gloomy wood or a deserted countryside! His productions imitate and reproduce nature; he creates new dark seas and dark caves on which the sun has never shone: at his order, green copses emerge from nothingness, and the blue of the sky is reflected in his pictures; he knows the art of fanning the breezes and making the tempests roar. At other times, he offers to the eye of the bewitched spectator the delightful landscapes of ancient Sicily: you can see panic-stricken nymphs taking flight through the reeds from some satyr in hot pursuit; temples of majestic build raise their proud heads above the sacred forest that encloses them: the imagination loses itself along the silent roads of this ideal country; the blue horizons merge gently into the sky, and the whole landscape, mirrored in the waters of a tranquil river, forms a spectacle that no lagoon can describe.”

As my soul was reflecting thus, the other kept right on going – God knows where! Instead of making its way to court, as it had been ordered to, it drifted away so far leftwards that, by the time my soul had caught up with it, it was already at the door of Mme de Hautcastel, half a mile away from the royal palace.

I will leave it to the reader to imagine what would have happened if the other had entered all by itself the home of such a beautiful lady.

——-

Chapter 10

Don’t get the idea that, instead of keeping my word and giving a description of my journey around my room, I am merely beating about the bush and evading the issue; you’d be quite wrong. No, my journey is really and truly continuing; and while my soul, withdrawing into itself, was in the last chapter exploring the tangled and twisted paths of metaphysics, I was in my armchair, in which I had leant back so that its two front legs were raised two inches above the ground; and by leaning forward, I had imperceptibly come right up to the wall – this is the way I travel when I’m not in any hurry. Here my hand had mechanically taken down the portrait of Mme de Hautcastel, and the other was diverting itself by breathing off the dust with which the portrait was covered. This occupation gave it a tranquil pleasure, and this pleasure communicated itself to my soul, even though the latter was lost in the best plains of the sky. It is worth noting observing in this respect that, when the spirit travels thus through space, it is still attached to the senses by some secret link; as a result, without being distracted from its occupations, it can participate in the joys and pleasures of the other, but if this pleasure increases to a certain degree, or if it is struck by some unexpected sight, the soul immediately reassumes her place as quick as a flash of lightening.

This is just what happened to me as I was cleaning the portrait.

As the cloth wiped the dust away and revealed curls of blond hair, and the garland of roses that crown them, my soul, although far away in the sun to which she had transported herself, felt a slight quiver in her heart, and emphatically shared the pleasure of my heart. This pleasure became less indistinct and more intense when the cloth, in one single sweep, laid bare the gleaning forehead of that enchanting physiognomy; my soul was on the point of leaving the heavens to come and enjoy the spectacle. But if she had been at the Champs- Élysées, or attending a concert of cherubs, she wouldn’t have stayed there for even half a second, when her companion, taking an increasing interest in her work, decided to seize a wet sponge that was handed to her and immediately proceeded to draw it over the eyebrows and the eyes – over the nose – over the cheeks – over the mouth – ah, God! How my heart beats! – over the chin, over the breast: it took no more than a minute; the whole face seemed to be reborn and to emerge from nothingness. My soul came sweeping down from heaven like a falling star; she found the other in a state of enraptured ecstasy, and succeeded in increasing its bliss by sharing it. This strange and unforeseen situation made time and space disappear for me. I existed for a moment in the past, and I grew again, against the order of nature. Yes, here she is, that adored woman, it really is her, I can see her smiling; she’s going to speak, she’s going to tell me she loves me. What a gaze! Come, let me press you to my heart, soul of my life, my second existence! Come and share my exaltation and my happiness! – This moment was brief, but it was ravishing: frigid Reason soon regained control, and in the space of the twinkling of an eye, I grew a whole year older: my heart became cold and frozen, and I found myself on the same level as that host of indifferent people who weigh down the globe.

Xavier de Maistre, 1763-1852            Voyage autour de ma chambre, 1794 Voyage Around My Room. Translation by Andrew Brown. Published by Hesperus Press Ltd, 2004.

The French writer and critic Charles Saint-Beuve, 1805-1869, admired de Maistre’s technique of storytelling by digression, or “manière de confession d’ailleurs”. In the first chapter de Maistre explains the subject of his story “I have undertaken and completed a forty-two day journey around my room. The interesting observations I have made, and the continual pleasure I experienced en route, filled me with the desire to publish it;…” His journey starts at the armchair, observes the pictures on the wall, walks to his desk and concludes by the fire. That is the physical plot of the novella, but the narrative concerns a love affair with a Madame de Hautcastel. The story resulted from an incident in Turin where he was imprisoned for forty-two days in the citadel in Turin following a duel with a Piedmontese officer. De Maistre admired Lawrence Sterne and the absurdity of the inversion of space and time in the Voyage autour de ma chambre is a parody of the traditional travelogue. De Maistre was an army officer and an aristocrat, and also a painter of miniatures and landscapes with a sophisticated understanding of artistic ideas. Inspired by the ideas of Rousseau, his separation of his physical self, the other, and his emotional self, the soul, illustrates how pictures were perceived as sensitive mirrors of emotional states.

Image: Madame Élisabeth, (Élisabeth of France) (Elisabeth-Philippe-Marie-Hélène) 1764-1794, sister of Louis XVI, was guillotined during the French Revolution. Engraving after a painting of Madame Élisabeth, 1782 by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755–1842, Musée National du Château de Versailles

Édouard Levé – Oeuvres,2002

Oeuvre1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being.
72. The eraser residues of all the students in a fine arts institute are collected for a year and reconstituted into a cube.
84. Photographs catalogue an inventory of destroyed works. Once its destruction is complete, what’s left of a piece is rubble and ashes. Damages are classified by type: fire, flood, submersion, earthquake, shock, fall, collapse, bombardment, assault, vandalism, poor conservation . . .
89. Soap bubbles are blown into a space where the temperature is 100°C. Keeping the shape that the cold surprised them in, they are exhibited in a refrigerated aquarium.
95. An artist creates ten paintings on his fingernails. Those on his left hand are painted with those on his right hand, and vice versa. The exhibit takes place in the home of the viewer. He is given a ten-sided die and asked to throw it. The artist shows him the fingernail corresponding to the number on the die for as he long as the viewer wants. He keeps his other fingernails hidden. The exhibition ends after ten throws of the die. The viewer has a chance of thirty-six out of a hundred million to see all ten nails in the same session.
110. The atelier of Frenhofer, the painter in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, as imagined by four readers, is shown as slideshow projections onto the walls of a room. The readers explain their visual interpretation to an artist, who draws the scene, dutifully complying with each reader’s amendments, in the style of an identikit. These drawings form the basis for the construction of four ateliers that are then photographed, the result showing four real versions of this fictive place.
113. The silhouette of a dog is cut out of a pornographic picture.
142. “POISONWOOD FAIRYLAND” is painted in orange block capitals on canvas woven from flax linen taken from a field peppered with poisonous plants.
143. A labyrinth is painted in skimmed milk on a museum façade is destroyed in bad weather.
179. In an enormous hall lies a valley between two mountainous slopes made out of white Styrofoam. At the far end is a crashed Airbus A 320 made out of kebabs. Smaller parts of the wreck, also made out of kebabs are scattered throughout the valley, making visible the trajectory of the accident. The ensemble is looked upon through a panoramic window piercing the wall.
181. The Aleph. A dull glass sphere floats in the middle of a dark room. Random video images taken from cinema and television archives are projected onto its surface from the inside. Landscapes, houses, animals, automobiles, supermarkets, books, news, images, scenes of family, love, war . . .
212. A naked man, seated on a chair. His testicles are two tiny globes: the one the earth, the other the moon.
228. A misty black ring against a white wall—trace of a motorcycle tailpipe.
238. Places are photographed by their reflections in spit bubbles.
247. The paragraphs of a novel are replaced by black rectangles whose surface area corresponds to the number of letters used in the paragraph. Spaces and line breaks are not counted. The top of each rectangle is aligned with where the corresponding paragraph started. The narrative is reduced to a sequence of geometric paintings.
358. The labels on a sound system—CD, Tape, Tuner, Aux—are replaced with new ones: Love, Break-up, Friendship, Depression.
359. A naked man standing upright is adorned with pockets of colour created by using a syringe to inject ink into the layer of silicone he wears on his skin.
372. The daily sounds made by a family in a house are recorded. The family then moves out and the house is emptied. Only the marks made by their furniture on the floors and walls remain. In each room, the sounds made there while the house was occupied are played back.
378. The paintings in a museum of fine arts are temporarily taken down and replaced by monochrome paintings of identical dimensions. The colour of each monochrome is chosen by a computer that analyses all the brushstrokes of the original painting and comes up with its average colour. With rare exceptions, such as paintings of the sky, or night scenes, the dominant colour is brown.
385. A stream disappears into the earth somewhere in a French park where visitors throw flowers into it. Somewhere in a garden in New Zealand, is a spring where the emerging water contains the same flowers.
449. The letterboxes inside an apartment building bear the names of famous dead writers and artists.
499. A human puddle lies on the floor, halfway between a bearskin and a pool of polyurethane. Head, hands, feet, nipples, genitals, buttocks, elbows, knees, and shoulders poke up here and there out of a shapeless mass of pink silicone.
471. Schopenhauer’s The Art of Being Right is read in the tone of a televised soccer commentary.
512. Museum of the Answering Machine. Chosen at random from the phone book, ten thousand messages left on answering machines are collected. Kept on CD-ROM, they can be consulted using a computer, either by typing in a number between one and ten thousand, or through searching for a keyword corresponding to a type of language or to a word used in the message.
520. A novel is shot with a revolver, resulting in a bullet hole piercing its core. The missing words are found in another copy. A short story called “The Hole” is written, using only these words.
530: A Philip K. Dick story is written in reverse. The last sentence is the first, the second to last is the second, and so on, right up to the first sentence, which is the last.
533. After having published a book describing works he has not brought into being, the author gives public readings. The audience is invited to say the number of the work they wish to have read to them, and the author complies by reading the corresponding description. The reading ends when no one asks him to continue.

Édouard Levé,1965-2007. Oeuvres,2002 Works,2014

Édouard Levé, Oeuvres. Published by P.O.L Editeur, France, 2002.

Édouard Levé, Works. Published by Dalkey Archive Press, 2014. Translation by Jan Steyn.

Édouard Levé’s Oeuvres is modular rather than a narrative literature, describing in the style of a formal catalogue, a potential list of 533 conceptual artworks conceived by the author. Many of the ideas appear odd, banal or ridiculous as isolated conceptual artworks, although they are often closely related to contemporary artists’ statements and projects, and verge on satirizing the content of contemporary art. The first project described in this book, 1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being is in fact the book Oeuvres. Some ideas were completed by Levé, in the books Amérique and Pornographie. Oeuvres emerges from the Oulipo group and post-1945 French experimental writing.

Gustave Flaubert – Sentimental Education,1869

Arnoux quickly re-entered the dressing-room, rubbed some cosmetic over his moustaches, raised his braces, stretched his straps; and, while he was washing his hands:
“I would require two over the door at two hundred and fifty apiece, in Boucher’s style. Is that understood?”
“Be it so,” said the artist, his face reddening.
“Good! and don’t forget my wife!”
Frederick accompanied Pellerin to the top of the Faubourg Poissonnière, and asked his permission to come to see him sometimes, a favour which was graciously accorded.
Pellerin read every work on æsthetics, in order to find out the true theory of the Beautiful, convinced that, when he had discovered it, he would produce masterpieces. He surrounded himself with every imaginable auxiliary—drawings, plaster-casts, models, engravings; and he kept searching about, eating his heart out. He blamed the weather, his nerves, his studio, went out into the street to find inspiration there, quivered with delight at the thought that he had caught it, then abandoned the work in which he was engaged, and dreamed of another which should be finer. Thus, tormented by the desire for glory, and wasting his days in discussions, believing in a thousand fooleries—in systems, in criticisms, in the importance of a regulation or a reform in the domain of Art—he had at fifty as yet turned out nothing save mere sketches. His robust pride prevented him from experiencing any discouragement, but he was always irritated, and in that state of exaltation, at the same time factitious and natural, which is characteristic of comedians.
On entering his studio one’s attention was directed towards two large pictures, in which the first tones of colour laid on here and there made on the white canvas spots of brown, red, and blue. A network of lines in chalk stretched overhead, like stitches of thread repeated twenty times; it was impossible to understand what it meant. Pellerin explained the subject of these two compositions by pointing out with his thumb the portions that were lacking. The first was intended to represent “The Madness of Nebuchadnezzar,” and the second “The Burning of Rome by Nero.” Frederick admired them.
He admired academies of women with dishevelled hair, landscapes in which trunks of trees, twisted by the storm, abounded, and above all freaks of the pen, imitations from memory of Callot, Rembrandt, or Goya, of which he did not know the models. Pellerin no longer set any value on these works of his youth. He was now all in favour of the grand style; he dogmatised eloquently about Phidias and Winckelmann. The objects around him strengthened the force of his language; one saw a death’s head on a prie-dieu, yataghans, a monk’s habit. Frederick put it on.
When he arrived early, he surprised the artist in his wretched folding-bed, which was hidden from view by a strip of tapestry; for Pellerin went to bed late, being an assiduous frequenter of the theatres. An old woman in tatters attended on him. He dined at a cook-shop, and lived without a mistress. His acquirements, picked up in the most irregular fashion, rendered his paradoxes amusing. His hatred of the vulgar and the “bourgeois” overflowed in sarcasms, marked by a superb lyricism, and he had such religious reverence for the masters that it raised him almost to their level.

Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1880  L’Éducation sentimentale, 1869 Sentimental Education. Chapter 4

Octave Mirbeau – The Diary of a Chambermaid,1900

DG Rossetti Veronica Veronese

Chapter X, November 3rd.

The topic of correctness in society being exhausted, there followed an embarrassing lull in the conversation, which Kimberly broke by telling of his last trip to London.
“Yes,” said he, “I spent in London an intoxicating week; and, ladies, I witnessed a unique thing. I attended a ritual dinner which the great poet, John-Giotto Farfadetti, gave to some friends to celebrate his betrothal to the wife of his dear Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton.”
“How exquisite that must have been!” minced the Countess Fergus.
“You cannot imagine,” answered Kimberly, whose look and gestures, and even the orchid that adorned the button-hole of his coat, expressed the most ardent ecstasy.
And he continued:
“Fancy, my dear friends, in a large hall, whose blue walls, though scarcely blue, are decorated with white peacocks and gold peacocks,—fancy a table of jade, inconceivably and delightfully oval. On the table some cups, in which mauve and yellow bonbons harmonized, and in the centre a basin of pink crystal, filled with kanaka preserves … and nothing more. Draped in long white robes, we slowly passed in turn before the table, and we took, upon the points of our golden knives, a little of these mysterious preserves, which then we carried to our lips … and nothing more.”
“Oh! I find that moving,” sighed the countess, “so moving!”
“You cannot imagine. But the most moving thing—a thing that really transformed this emotion into a painful laceration of our souls—was when Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton sang the poem of the betrothal of his wife and his friend. I know nothing more tragically, more superhumanly beautiful.”
“Oh! I beg of you,” implored the Countess Fergus, “repeat this prodigious poem for our benefit, Kimberly.”
“The poem, alas! I cannot. I can give you only its essence.”
“That’s it, that’s it! The essence.”
In spite of his morals, in which they cut no figure, Kimberly filled women with mad enthusiasm, for his specialty was subtle stories of transgression and of extraordinary sensations. Suddenly a thrill ran round the table, and the flowers themselves, and the jewels on their beds of flesh, and the glasses on the table-cloth, took attitudes in harmony with the state of souls. Charrigaud felt his reason departing. He thought that he had suddenly fallen into a mad-house. Yet, by force of will, he was still able to smile, and say:
“Why, certainly … certainly.”
The butlers finished passing something that resembled a ham, from which, in a flood of yellow cream, cherries poured like red larvæ. As for the Countess Fergus, half swooning, she had already started for extra-terrestrial regions.
Kimberly began:
“Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton and his friend, John-Giotto Farfadetti, were finishing their daily tasks in the studio which they occupied in common. One was the great painter, the other the great poet; the former short and stout, the latter tall and thin; both alike clad in drugget robes, their heads alike adorned with Florentine BONNETS, both alike neurasthenics, for they had, in different bodies, like souls and lily-twin spirits. John-Giotto Farfadetti sang in his verses the marvelous symbols that his friend, Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton, painted on his canvases, so that the glory of the poet was inseparable from that of the painter, and that their works and their immortal geniuses had come to be confounded in one and the same adoration.”
Kimberly stopped for a moment. The silence was religious. Something sacred hovered over the table. He continued:
“The day was nearing its end. A very soft twilight was enveloping the studio in a pallor of fluid and lunar shade. Scarcely could one still distinguish on the mauve walls the long, supple, waving, golden algæ that seemed to move in obedience to the vibration of some deep and magic water. John-Giotto Farfadetti closed the sort of antiphonary on the vellum of which, with a Persian reed, he wrote, or rather engraved, his eternal poems; Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton turned his lyre-shaped easel against a piece of drapery, placed his heart-shaped palette upon a fragile piece of furniture, and the two, facing one another, stretched themselves, with august poses of fatigue, upon a triple row of cushions, of the color of sea-weed.”
“Hum!” said Mme. Tiercelet, with a slightly warning cough.
“No, not at all,” said Kimberly, reassuringly; “it is not what you think.”
And he continued:
“In the centre of the studio, from a marble basin in which the petals of roses were bathing, a violent perfume was rising. And on a little table long-stemmed narcissuses were dying, like souls, in a narrow vase whose neck opened into the calyx of a lily, strangely green and distorted.”
“Impossible to forget,” said the countess, in a quivering voice, so low that it could scarcely be heard.
And Kimberly, without stopping, went on with his narration:
“Outside, the street became more silent, because deserted. From the Thames came, muffled by the distance, the distracted voices of sirens, the gasping voices of marine boilers. It was the hour when the two friends, giving themselves over to dreaming, preserved an ineffable silence.”
“Oh! I see them so clearly!” said Madame Tiercelet, in a tone of admiration.
“And that ‘ineffable,’ how evocative it is!” applauded the Countess Fergus, “and so pure!”
Kimberly profited by these flattering interruptions to take a swallow of champagne. Then, feeling that he was listened to with more passionate attention than before, he repeated:
“Preserved an ineffable silence. But on this special evening John-Giotto Farfadetti murmured: ‘I have a poisoned flower in my heart.’ To which Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton answered: ‘This evening a sorrowful bird has been singing in my heart.’ The studio seemed moved by this unusual colloquy. On the mauve wall, which was gradually losing its color, the gold algæ seemed to spread and contract, and to spread and contract again, in harmony with the new rhythms of an unusual undulation, for it is certain that the soul of man communicates to the soul of things its troubles, its passions, its fervors, its transgressions, its life.”
“How true that is!”
This cry, coming from several mouths at once, did not prevent Kimberly from going on with the recital, which thenceforth was to unfold itself amid the silent emotion of his hearers. His voice became even more mysterious.
“This minute of silence was poignant and tragic. ‘Oh! my friend!’ implored John-Giotto Farfadetti, ‘you who have given me everything, you whose soul is so marvelously twin with mine, you must give me something of yourself that I have not yet had, and from the lack of which I am dying.’ ‘Is it, then, my life that you ask?’ said the painter; ‘it is yours; you can take it.’ ‘No, it is not your life; it is more than your life; it is your wife!’ ‘Botticellina!’ cried the poet. ‘Yes, Botticellina; Botticellinetta; flesh of your flesh, the soul of your soul, the dream of your dream, the magic sleep of your sorrows!’ ‘Botticellina! Alas! Alas! It was to be. You have drowned yourself in her, she has drowned herself in you, as in a bottomless lake, beneath the light of the moon. Alas! Alas! It was to be.’ Two tears, phosphorescent in the penumbra, rolled from the eyes of the painter. The poet answered: ‘Listen to me, oh! my friend! I love Botticellina, and Botticellina loves me, and we shall both die of loving one another, and of not daring to tell one another, and of not daring to unite. She and I are two fragments, long ago separated, of one and the same living being, which for perhaps two thousand years have been seeking and calling one another, and which meet at last to-day. Oh! my dear Pinggleton, unknown life has these strange, terrible, and delicious fatalities. Was there ever a more splendid poem than that which we are living to-night?’ But the painter kept on repeating, in a voice more and more sorrowful, this cry: ‘Botticellina! Botticellina!’ He rose from the triple row of cushions upon which he was lying, and walked back and forth in the studio, feverishly. After some minutes of anxious agitation, he said: ‘Botticellina was Mine. Henceforth must she be Thine?’ ‘She shall be Ours!’ replied the poet, imperiously; ‘for God has chosen you to be the point of suture for this severed soul which is She and which is I! If not, Botticellina possesses the magic pearl that dissipates dreams, I the dagger that delivers from corporeal chains. If you refuse, we shall love each other in death.’ And he added, in a deep tone that resounded through the studio like a voice from the abyss: ‘Perhaps it would be better so.’ ‘No,’ cried the painter, ‘you shall live. Botticellina shall be Thine, as she has been Mine. I will tear my flesh to shreds, I will tear my heart from my breast, I will break my head against the wall, but my friend shall be happy. I can suffer. Suffering, too, is voluptuousness, in another form!’ ‘And a voluptuousness more powerful, more bitter, more fierce than any other!’ exclaimed John-Giotto Farfadetti, ecstatically; ‘I envy your fate, do you know? As for me, I really believe that I shall die either of the joy of my love or of the sorrow of my friend. The hour has come. Adieu!’ He rose, like an archangel. At that moment the drapery moved, opening and closing again on an illuminating apparition. It was Botticellina, draped in a flowing robe, of the color of the moonlight. Her floating hair shone around her like artificial fire. In her hand she held a golden key. An ecstasy was on her lips, and the night-sky in her eyes. John-Giotto rushed forward, and disappeared behind the drapery. Then Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton lay down again on the triple row of cushions, of the colour of sea-weed. And, while he buried his nails in his flesh, and while the blood streamed from him as from a fountain, the golden algæ, now scarcely visible, gently quivered upon the wall, which was gradually taking on a coating of darkness. And the heart-shaped palette and the lyre-shaped easel resounded long and long, in nuptial songs.”
For some moments Kimberly was silent; then, while the emotion that prevailed around the table was choking throats and compressing hearts, he concluded:
“And this is why I have dipped the point of my golden knife in the preserves prepared by kanaka virgins in honor of a betrothal more magnificent than any that our century, in its ignorance of beauty, has ever known.”
The dinner was over. They rose from the table in religious silence, but thrilled through and through. In the salon Kimberly was closely surrounded and warmly congratulated. The looks of all the women converged radiantly upon his painted face, surrounding it with a halo of ecstasies.
“Ah! I should so like to have my portrait painted by Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton,” cried Mme. de Rambure; “I would give anything to enjoy such happiness.”
“Alas! Madame,” answered Kimberly, “since the sorrowful and sublime event which I have related, Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton has been unwilling to paint human faces, however charming they may be; he paints only souls.”
“And he is right! I should so like to be painted as a soul!”
“Of what sex?” asked Maurice Fernancourt, in a slightly sarcastic tone, visibly jealous of Kimberly’s success.
The latter said, simply:
“Souls have no sex, my dear Maurice. They have….”
“Hair on their paws,” said Victor Charrigaud, in a very low voice, so as to be heard only by the psychological novelist, to whom he was just then offering a cigar.

Octave Mirbeau,1848-1917

Le Journal d’une femme de chambre,1900 The Diary of a Chambermaid. Chapter X, November 3rd

Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti,1828-1882 Veronica Veronese,1872. Oil on canvas. 1092 x 889 mm. Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935

Translation: Benj. R. Tucker. Octave Mirbeau, A Chambermaid’s Diary. Published by Benj. R. Tucker, New York, 1900. Source: http://www.gutenberg.org

Honoré De Balzac – Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu. 1831 The Unknown Masterpiece

P Picasso_Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu 1934

II—CATHERINE LESCAULT

“Come in, come in,” cried the old man. He was radiant with delight. “My work is perfect. I can show her now with pride. Never shall painter, brushes, colours, light, and canvas produce a rival for ‘Catherine Lescault,’ the beautiful courtesan!”

Porbus and Poussin, burning with eager curiosity, hurried into a vast studio. Everything was in disorder and covered with dust, but they saw a few pictures here and there upon the wall. They stopped first of all in admiration before the life-size figure of a woman partially draped.

“Oh! never mind that,” said Frenhofer; “that is a rough daub that I made, a study, a pose, it is nothing. These are my failures,” he went on, indicating the enchanting compositions upon the walls of the studio.

This scorn for such works of art struck Porbus and Poussin dumb with amazement. They looked round for the picture of which he had spoken, and could not discover it.

“Look here!” said the old man. His hair was disordered, his face aglow with a more than human exaltation, his eyes glittered, he breathed hard like a young lover frenzied by love.

“Aha!” he cried, “you did not expect to see such perfection! You are looking for a picture, and you see a woman before you. There is such depth in that canvas, the atmosphere is so true that you can not distinguish it from the air that surrounds us. Where is art? Art has vanished, it is invisible! It is the form of a living girl that you see before you. Have I not caught the very hues of life, the spirit of the living line that defines the figure? Is there not the effect produced there like that which all natural objects present in the atmosphere about them, or fishes in the water? Do you see how the figure stands out against the background? Does it not seem to you that you pass your hand along the back? But then for seven years I studied and watched how the daylight blends with the objects on which it falls. And the hair, the light pours over it like a flood, does it not?… Ah! she breathed, I am sure that she breathed! Her breast—ah, see! Who would not fall on his knees before her? Her pulses throb. She will rise to her feet. Wait!”

“Do you see anything?” Poussin asked of Porbus.

“No… do you?”

“I see nothing.”

The two painters left the old man to his ecstasy, and tried to ascertain whether the light that fell full upon the canvas had in some way neutralized all the effect for them. They moved to the right and left of the picture; they came in front, bending down and standing upright by turns.

“Yes, yes, it is really canvas,” said Frenhofer, who mistook the nature of this minute investigation.

“Look! the canvas is on a stretcher, here is the easel; indeed, here are my colors, my brushes,” and he took up a brush and held it out to them, all unsuspicious of their thought.

“The old lansquenet is laughing at us,” said Poussin, coming once more toward the supposed picture. “I can see nothing there but confused masses of colour and a multitude of fantastical lines that go to make a dead wall of paint.”

“We are mistaken, look!” said Porbus.

In a corner of the canvas, as they came nearer, they distinguished a bare foot emerging from the chaos of colour, half-tints and vague shadows that made up a dim, formless fog. Its living delicate beauty held them spellbound. This fragment that had escaped an incomprehensible, slow, and gradual destruction seemed to them like the Parian marble torso of some Venus emerging from the ashes of a ruined town.

“There is a woman beneath,” exclaimed Porbus, calling Poussin’s attention to the coats of paint with which the old artist had overlaid and concealed his work in the quest of perfection.

Both artists turned involuntarily to Frenhofer. They began to have some understanding, vague though it was, of the ecstasy in which he lived.

“He believes it in all good faith,” said Porbus.

“Yes, my friend,” said the old man, rousing himself from his dreams, “it needs faith, faith in art, and you must live for long with your work to produce such a creation. What toil some of those shadows have cost me. Look! there is a faint shadow there upon the cheek beneath the eyes—if you saw that on a human face, it would seem to you that you could never render it with paint. Do you think that that effect has not cost unheard of toil?

“But not only so, dear Porbus. Look closely at my work, and you will understand more clearly what I was saying as to methods of modeling and outline. Look at the high lights on the bosom, and see how by touch on touch, thickly laid on, I have raised the surface so that it catches the light itself and blends it with the lustrous whiteness of the high lights, and how by an opposite process, by flattening the surface of the paint, and leaving no trace of the passage of the brush, I have succeeded in softening the contours of my figures and enveloping them in half-tints until the very idea of drawing, of the means by which the effect is produced, fades away, and the picture has the roundness and relief of nature. Come closer. You will see the manner of working better; at a little distance it can not be seen. There I Just there, it is, I think, very plainly to be seen,” and with the tip of his brush he pointed out a patch of transparent colour to the two painters.

Porbus, laying a hand on the old artist’s shoulder, turned to Poussin with a “Do you know that in him we see a very great painter?”

“He is even more of a poet than a painter,” Poussin answered gravely.

“There,” Porbus continued, as he touched the canvas, “Use the utmost limit of our art on earth.”

“Beyond that point it loses itself in the skies,” said Poussin.

“What joys lie there on this piece of canvas!” exclaimed Porbus.

The old man, deep in his own musings, smiled at the woman he alone beheld, and did not hear.

“But sooner or later he will find out that there is nothing there!” cried Poussin.

“Nothing on my canvas!” said Frenhofer, looking in turn at either painter and at his picture.

“What have you done?” muttered Porbus, turning to Poussin.

The old man clutched the young painter’s arm and said, “Do you see nothing? clodpatel Huguenot! varlet! cullion! What brought you here into my studio?—My good Porbus,” he went on, as he turned to the painter, “are you also making a fool of me? Answer! I am your friend. Tell me, have I ruined my picture after all?”

Porbus hesitated and said nothing, but there was such intolerable anxiety in the old man’s white face that he pointed to the easel.

“Look!” he said.

Frenhofer looked for a moment at his picture, and staggered back.

“Nothing! nothing! After ten years of work…” He sat down and wept.

“So I am a dotard, a madman, I have neither talent nor power! I am only a rich man, who works for his own pleasure, and makes no progress, I have done nothing after all!”

He looked through his tears at his picture. Suddenly he rose and stood proudly before the two painters.

“By the body and blood of Christ,” he cried with flashing eyes, “you are jealous! You would have me think that my picture is a failure because you want to steal her from me! Ah! I see her, I see her,” he cried “she is marvelously beautiful…”

At that moment Poussin heard the sound of weeping; Gillette was crouching forgotten in a corner. All at once the painter once more became the lover. “What is it, my angel?” he asked her.

“Kill me!” she sobbed. “I must be a vile thing if I love you still, for I despise you…. I admire you, and I hate you! I love you, and I feel that I hate you even now!”

While Gillette’s words sounded in Poussin’s ears, Frenhof er drew a green serge covering over his “Catherine” with the sober deliberation of a jeweler who locks his drawers when he suspects his visitors to be expert thieves. He gave the two painters a profoundly astute glance that expressed to the full his suspicions, and his contempt for them, saw them out of his studio with impetuous haste and in silence, until from the threshold of his house he bade them “Good-by, my young friends!”

That farewell struck a chill of dread into the two painters. Porbus, in anxiety, went again on the morrow to see Frenhofer, and learned that he had died in the night after burning his canvases.

Honoré De Balzac, 1799-1850

Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu. 1831 The Unknown Masterpiece, translation by Ellen Marriage (?)

Image: Pabo Picasso, Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu. Black ink and wash on paper, laid to card, c.15 x 15 inches

Émile Zola – L’Oeuvre,1886 [The Masterpiece]

(c) The Courtauld Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Édouard Manet, 1832-1883. Déjeuner sur l’herbe, c.1863–1868. © The Courtauld Gallery, London

Chapter 5

Then the five roamed about in Indian file, with their noses in the air, now separated by a sudden crush, now reunited by another, and ever carried along by the stream. An abomination of Chaine’s, a ‘Christ pardoning the Woman taken in Adultery,’ made them pause; it was a group of dry figures that looked as if cut out of wood, very bony of build, and seemingly painted with mud. But close by they admired a very fine study of a woman, seen from behind, with her head turned sideways. The whole show was a mixture of the best and the worst, all styles were mingled together, the drivellers of the historical school elbowed the young lunatics of realism, the pure simpletons were lumped together with those who bragged about their originality. A dead Jezabel, that seemed to have rotted in the cellars of the School of Arts, was exhibited near a lady in white, the very curious conception of a future great artist [Edouard Manet]; then a huge shepherd looking at the sea, a weak production, faced a little painting of some Spaniards playing at rackets, a dash of light of splendid intensity. Nothing execrable was wanting, neither military scenes full of little leaden soldiers, nor wan antiquity, nor the middle ages, smeared, as it were, with bitumen. But from amidst the incoherent ensemble, and especially from the landscapes, all of which were painted in a sincere, correct key, and also from the portraits, most of which were very interesting in respect to workmanship, there came a good fresh scent of youth, bravery and passion. If there were fewer bad pictures in the official Salon, the average there was assuredly more commonplace and mediocre. Here one found the smell of battle, of cheerful battle, given jauntily at daybreak, when the bugle sounds, and when one marches to meet the enemy with the certainty of beating him before sunset.

Claude, whose spirits had revived amidst that martial odour, grew animated and pugnacious as he listened to the laughter of the public. He looked as defiant, indeed, as if he had heard bullets whizzing past him. Sufficiently discreet at the entrance of the galleries, the laughter became more boisterous, more unrestrained, as they advanced.

In the third room the women ceased concealing their smiles behind their handkerchiefs, while the men openly held their sides the better to ease themselves. It was the contagious hilarity of people who had come to amuse themselves, and who were growing gradually excited, bursting out at a mere trifle, diverted as much by the good things as by the bad. Folks laughed less before Chaine’s Christ than before the back view of the nude woman, who seemed to them very comical indeed.

The ‘Lady in White’ also stupefied people and drew them together; folks nudged each other and went into hysterics almost; there was always a grinning group in front of it. Each canvas thus had its particular kind of success; people hailed each other from a distance
to point out something funny, and witticisms flew from mouth to mouth; to such a degree indeed that, as Claude entered the fourth gallery, lashed into fury by the tempest of laughter that was raging there as well, he all but slapped the face of an old lady whose chuckles exasperated him.

‘What idiots!’ he said, turning towards his friends. ‘One feels inclined to throw a lot of masterpieces at their heads.’

Sandoz had become fiery also, and Fagerolles continued praising the most dreadful daubs, which only tended to increase the laughter, while Gagniere, at sea amid the hubbub, dragged on the delighted Irma, whose skirts somehow wound round the legs of all the men.

But of a sudden Jory stood before them. His fair handsome face absolutely beamed. He cut his way through the crowd, gesticulated, and exulted, as if over a personal victory. And the moment he perceived Claude, he shouted:
‘Here you are at last! I have been looking for you this hour. A success, old fellow, oh! a success – ‘
‘What success?’
‘Why, the success of your picture. Come, I must show it you. You’ll see, it’s stunning.’

Claude grew pale. A great joy choked him, while he pretended to receive the news with composure. Bongrand’s words came back to him. He began to believe that he possessed genius.

‘Hallo, how are you?’ continued Jory, shaking hands with the others. And, without more ado, he, Fagerolles and Gagniere surrounded Irma, who smiled on them in a good-natured way.

‘Perhaps you’ll tell us where the picture is,’ said Sandoz, impatiently. ‘Take us to it.’

Jory assumed the lead, followed by the band. They had to fight their way into the last gallery. But Claude, who brought up the rear, still heard the laughter that rose on the air, a swelling clamour, the roll of a tide near its full. And as he finally entered the room, he beheld a vast, swarming, closely packed crowd pressing eagerly in front of his picture. All the laughter arose, spread, and ended there. And it was his picture that was being laughed at.

‘Eh!’ repeated Jory, triumphantly, ‘there’s a success for you.’ Gagniere, intimidated, as ashamed as if he himself had been slapped, muttered: ‘Too much of a success – I should prefer something different.’

‘What a fool you are,’ replied Jory, in a burst of exalted conviction. ‘That’s what I call success. Does it matter a curse if they laugh? We have made our mark; to-morrow every paper will talk about us.’

‘The idiots,’ was all that Sandoz could gasp, choking with grief.

Fagerolles, disinterested and dignified like a family friend following a funeral procession, said nothing. Irma alone remained gay, thinking it all very funny. And, with a caressing gesture, she leant against the shoulder of the derided painter, and whispered softly in his ear:

‘Don’t fret, my boy. It’s all humbug, be merry all the same.’

But Claude did not stir. An icy chill had come over him. For a moment his heart had almost ceased to beat, so cruel had been the disappointment And with his eyes enlarged, attracted and fixed by a resistless force, he looked at his picture. He was surprised, and scarcely recognised it; it certainly was not such as it had seemed to be in his studio. It had grown yellow beneath the livid light of the linen screens; it seemed, moreover, to have become smaller; coarser and more laboured also; and whether it was the effect of the light in which it now hung, or the contrast of the works beside it, at all events he now at the first glance saw all its defects, after having remained blind to them, as it were, for months. With a few strokes of the brush he, in thought, altered the whole of it, deepened the distances, set a badly drawn limb right, and modified a tone. Decidedly, the gentleman in the velveteen jacket was worth nothing at all, he was altogether pasty and badly seated; the only really good bit of work about him was his hand. In the background the two little wrestlers – the fair and the dark one–had remained too sketchy, and lacked substance; they were amusing only to an artist’s eye. But he was pleased with the trees, with the sunny glade; and the nude woman – the woman lying on the grass appeared to him superior to his own powers, as if some one else had painted her, and as if he had never yet beheld her in such resplendency of life.

He turned to Sandoz, and said simply: ‘They do right to laugh; it’s incomplete. Never mind, the woman is all right! Bongrand was not hoaxing me.’

His friend wished to take him away, but he became obstinate, and drew nearer instead. Now that he had judged his work, he listened and looked at the crowd. The explosion continued–culminated in an ascending scale of mad laughter. No sooner had visitors crossed the threshold than he saw their jaws part, their eyes grow small, their entire faces expand; and he heard the tempestuous puffing of the fat men, the rusty grating jeers of the lean ones, amidst all the shrill, flute-like laughter of the women. Opposite him, against the
hand-rails, some young fellows went into contortions, as if somebody had been tickling them. One lady had flung herself on a seat, stifling and trying to regain breath with her handkerchief over her mouth. Rumours of this picture, which was so very, very funny, must have been spreading, for there was a rush from the four corners of the Salon, bands of people arrived, jostling each other, and all eagerness to share the fun. ‘Where is it?’ ‘Over there.’ ‘Oh, what a joke!’ And the witticisms fell thicker than elsewhere. It was especially the subject that caused merriment; people failed to understand it, thought it insane, comical enough to make one ill with laughter. ‘You see the lady feels too hot, while the gentleman has put on his velveteen jacket for fear of catching cold.’ ‘Not at all; she is already blue; the gentleman has pulled her out of a pond, and he is resting at a distance, holding his nose.’ ‘I tell you it’s a young ladies’ school out for a ramble. Look at the two playing at leap-frog.’ ‘Hallo! washing day; the flesh is blue; the trees are blue; he’s dipped his picture in the blueing tub!’

Those who did not laugh flew into a rage: that bluish tinge, that novel rendering of light seemed an insult to them. Some old gentlemen shook their sticks. Was art to be outraged like this? One grave individual went away very wroth, saying to his wife that he did not like practical jokes. But another, a punctilious little man, having looked in the catalogue for the title of the work, in order to tell his daughter, read out the words, ‘Plein Air ‘ whereupon there came a formidable renewal of the clamour, hisses and shouts, and what not else besides. The title sped about; it was repeated, commented on. ‘Plein Air ! ah, yes, the open air, the nude woman in the air, everything in the air, tra la la laire.’ The affair was becoming a scandal. The crowd still increased. People’s faces grew red with congestion in the growing heat. Each had the stupidly gaping mouth of the ignoramus who judges painting, and between them they indulged in all the asinine ideas, all the preposterous reflections, all the stupid spiteful jeers that the sight of an original work can possibly elicit from bourgeois imbecility.

At that moment, as a last blow, Claude beheld Dubuche reappear, dragging the Margaillans along. As soon as he came in front of the picture, the architect, ill at ease, overtaken by cowardly shame, wished to quicken his pace and lead his party further on, pretending that he saw neither the canvas nor his friends. But the contractor had already drawn himself up on his short, squat legs, and was staring at the picture, and asking aloud in his thick hoarse voice:

‘I say, who’s the blockhead that painted this?’

Émile Zola, 1840-1902.  L’Oeuvre,1886 [The Masterpiece] translated by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly (1853-1922).

Image: Édouard Manet, 1832-1883. Déjeuner sur l’herbe, c.1863–1868. Oil on canvas, 89.5 x 116.5 cm. The Courtauld Gallery, London

 L’Oeuvre is he fourteenth novel in the twenty volume Rougon-Macquart series, and contrasts the Bohemian world which saw the emergence of the Impressionists against the conservative attitudes of the Academy and official Salon. The novel  concerns the story of Claude Lantier, partly based on Zola’s friend, Paul Cezanne, a talented painter from the provinces.  

Marie de La Fayette – La Princesse de Clèves,1678

m de lafayette- IsidoreThe Queen-Dauphin caused pictures in miniature to be drawn of all the beauties of the Court, in order to send them to the Queen her mother. One day, when that of Madam de Cleves was finishing, the Queen-Dauphin came to spend the afternoon with her; the Duke de Nemours did not fail to be there; he let slip no opportunities of seeing Madam de Cleves, yet without appearing to contrive them. She looked so pretty that day, that he would have fell in love with her, though he had not been so before: however he durst not keep his eyes fixed upon her, while she was sitting for her picture, for fear of showing too much the pleasure he took in looking at her.

The Queen-Dauphin asked Monsieur de Cleves for a little picture he had of his wife’s, to compare it with that which was just drawn; everybody gave their judgment of the one and the other; and Madam de Cleves ordered the painter to mend something in the headdress of that which had been just brought in; the painter in obedience to her took the picture out of the case in which it was, and having mended it laid it again on the table.

The Duke de Nemours had long wished to have a picture of Madam de Cleves; when he saw that which Monsieur de Cleves had, he could not resist the temptation of stealing it from a husband, who, he believed, was tenderly loved; and he thought that among so many persons as were in the same room he should be no more liable to suspicion than another.

The Queen-Dauphin was sitting on the bed, and whispering to Madam de Cleves, who was standing before her. Madam de Cleves, through one of the curtains that was but half-drawn, spied the Duke de Nemours with his back to the table, that stood at the bed’s feet, and perceived that without turning his face he took something very dextrously from off the table; she presently guessed it was her picture, and was in such concern about it, that the Queen-Dauphin observed she did not attend to what she said, and asked her aloud what it was she looked at. At those words, the Duke de Nemours turned about, and met full the eyes of Madam de Cleves that were still fixed upon him; he thought it not impossible but she might have seen what he had done.

Madam de Cleves was not a little perplexed; it was reasonable to demand her picture of him; but to demand it publicly was to discover to the whole world the sentiments which the Duke had for her, and to demand it in private would be to engage him to speak of his love; she judged after all it was better to let him keep it, and she was glad to grant him a favour which she could do without his knowing that she granted it. The Duke de Nemours, who observed her perplexity, and partly guessed the cause of it, came up, and told her softly, “If you have seen what I have ventured to do, be so good, Madam, as to let me believe you are ignorant of it; I dare ask no more”; having said this he withdrew, without waiting for her answer.

The Queen-Dauphin went to take a walk, attended with the rest of the ladies; and the Duke de Nemours went home to shut himself up in his closet, not being able to support in public the ecstasy he was in on having a picture of Madam de Cleves; he tasted everything that was sweet in love; he was in love with the finest woman of the Court; he found she loved him against her will, and saw in all her actions that sort of care and embarrassment which love produces in young and innocent hearts.

At night great search was made for the picture; and having found the case it used to be kept in, they never suspected it had been stolen but thought it might have fallen out by chance. The Prince of Cleves was very much concerned for the loss of it; and after having searched for it a great while to no purpose, he told his wife, but with an air that showed he did not think so, that without doubt she had some secret lover, to whom she had given the picture, or who had stole it, and that none but a lover would have been contented with the picture without the case.

Marie de La Fayette,1634-1693 Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne

La Princesse de Clèves,1678

Image: Marie de La Fayette. La Princesse de Clèves,1678. Le Portrait dérobé: Mme de Clèves aperçut M. de Nemours qui prenait quelque chose sur la table.

Artist: Pierre Jean Baptiste Isidore Choquet, 1774-1824; Engraver: Edme Bovinet, 1767-1832. Publisher: Vve Lepetit, 1820. Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Jean-Paul Sartre – La nausée,1938

musee de bordeauxSaturday Afternoon:

When I paid my first visit to the Bouville museum last year I was struck by the portrait of Olivier Blevigne. Faulty proportion? Perspective? I couldn’t tell, but something bothered me: this deputy didn’t seem plumb on his canvas.

I have gone back several times since then. But my worry persisted. I didn’t want to admit that Bordurin, Prix de Rome, had made a mistake in his drawing.

But this afternoon, turning the pages of an old collection of the Satirique Bouvillois, a blackmail- sheet whose owner was accused of high treason during the war, I caught a glimpse of the truth. I went to the museum as soon as I left the library.

I crossed the shadow of the vestibule quickly. My steps made no sound on the black and white tiles. A whole race of plaster folk twisted their arms. In passing I glanced, through two great openings, and saw cracked vases, plates, and a blue and yellow satyr on a pedestal. It was the Bernard Palissy Room, devoted to ceramics and minor arts. But ceramics do not amuse me. A lady and gentleman in mourning were respectfully contemplating the baked objects.

Above the entrance to the main hall—the Salon Bordurin-Renaudas—someone had hung, undoubtedly only a little while ago, a large canvas which I did not recognize. It was signed by Richard Severand and entitled “The Bachelor’s Death.” It was a gift of the State.

Naked to the waist, his body a little green, like that of a dead man, the bachelor was lying on an unmade bed. The disorder of sheets and blankets attested to a long death agony. I smiled, thinking about M. Fasquelle. But he wasn’t alone: his daughter was taking care of him. On the canvas, the maid, his mistress, her features marked by vice, had already opened a bureau drawer and was counting the money. An open door disclosed a man in a cap, a cigarette stuck to his lower lip, waiting in the shadows. Near the wall a cat lapped milk indifferently.

This man had lived only for himself. By a harsh and well-deserved punishment, no one had come to his bedside to close his eyes. This painting gave me a last warning: there was still time, I could retrace my steps. But if I were to turn a deaf ear, I had been forewarned: more than a hundred and fifty portraits were hanging on the wall of the room I was about to enter; with the exception of a few young people, prematurely taken from their families, and the mother superior of a boarding school, none of those painted had died a bachelor, none of them had died childless or intestate, none without the last rites. Their souls at peace that day as on other days, with God and the world, these men had slipped quietly into death, to claim their share of eternal life to which they had a right.

For they had a right to everything: to life, to work, to wealth, to command, to respect, and, finally, to immortality.

I took a moment to compose myself and entered. A guardian was sleeping near the window. A pale light, falling from the windows, made flecks on the paintings. Nothing alive in this great rectangular room, except a cat who was frightened at my approach and fled. But I felt the looks of a hundred and fifty pairs of eyes on me.

All who belonged to the Bouville elite between 1875 and 1910 were there, men and women, scrupulously painted by Renaudas and Bordurin.

The men had built Sainte-Cecile-de-la-Mer. In 1882, they founded the Federation of Shipowners and Merchants of Bouville “to group in one powerful entity all men of good will, to co-operate in national recovery and to hold in check the parties of disorder. . . .” They made Bouville the best equipped port in France for unloading coal and wood. The lengthening and widening of the quays were their work. They extended the Marine Terminal and, by constant dredging, brought the low-tide depth of anchorage to 10.7 meters. In twenty years, the catch of the fishing fleet which was 5,000 barrels in 1869, rose, thanks to them, to 18,000 barrels. Stopping at no sacrifice to assist the im- provement of the best elements in the working-class, they created, on their own initiative, various centres for technical and professional study which prospered under their lofty protection. They broke the famous shipping strike in 1898 and gave their sons to their country in 1914.

The women, worthy helpmates of these strugglers, founded most of the town’s charitable and philanthropic organizations. But above all, they were wives and mothers. They raised fine children, taught them rights and duties, religion, and a respect for the traditions which made France great.

The general complexion of these portraits bordered on dark brown. Lively colours had been banished, out of decency. However, in the portraits of Renaudas, who showed a partiality towards old men, the snowy hair and sidewhiskers showed up well against deep black backgrounds; he excelled in painting hands. Bordurin, who was a little weak on theory, sacrificed the hands somewhat but the collars shone like white marble.

It was very hot; the guardian was snoring gently. I glanced around the walls: I saw hands and eyes; here and there a spot of light obliterated a face. As I began walking towards the portrait of Olivier Blevigne, something held me back: from the moulding, Pacome, the merchant, cast a bright look down on me.

He was standing there, his head thrown slightly back; in one hand he held a top hat and gloves against his pearl-grey trousers. I could not keep myself from a certain admiration: I saw nothing mediocre in him, nothing which allowed of criticism: small feet, slender hands, wide wrestler’s shoulders, a hint of whimsy. He courteously offered visitors the unwrinkled purity of his face; the shadow of a smile played on the lips. But his grey eyes were not smiling. He must have been about fifty: but he was as young and fresh as a man of thirty. He was beautiful.

I gave up finding fault with him. But he did not let go of me. I read a calm and implacable judgment in his eyes.

Then I realized what separated us: what I thought about him could not reach him; it was psychology, the kind they write about in books. But his judgment went through me like a sword and questioned my very right to exist. And it was true, I had always realized it; I hadn’t the right to exist. I had appeared by chance, I existed like a stone, a plant or a microbe. My life put out feelers towards small pleasures in every direction. Sometimes it sent out vague signals; at other times I felt nothing more than a harmless buzzing.

But for this handsome, faultless man, now dead, for Jean Pacome, son of the Pacome of the Defence Nationale, it had been an entirely different matter: the beating of his heart and the mute rumblings of his organs, in his case, assumed the form of rights to be instantly obeyed. For sixty years, without a halt, he had used his right to live. The slightest doubt had never crossed those magnificent grey eyes. Pacome had never made a mistake. He had always done his duty, all his duty, his duty as son, husband, father, leader. He had never weakened in his demands for his due: as a child, the right to be well brought up, in a united family, the right to inherit a spotless name, a prosperous business; as a husband, the right to be cared for, surrounded with tender affection; as a father, the right to be venerated; as a leader, the right to be obeyed without a murmur. For a right is nothing more than the other aspect of duty. His extraordinary success (today the Pacomes are the richest family in Bouville) could never have surprised him. He never told himself he was happy, and while he was enjoying himself he must have done so with moderation, saying: “This is my refreshment.” Thus pleasure itself, also becoming a right, lost its aggressive futility. On the left, a little above his bluish-grey hair, I noticed a shelf of books. The bindings were handsome; they were surely classics. Every evening before going to sleep, Pacome undoubtedly read over a few pages of “his old Montaigne” or one of Horace’s odes in the Latin text. Sometimes, too, he must have read a contemporary work to keep up to date. Thus he knew Barres and Bourget. He would put his book down after a moment. He would smile. His look, losing its admirable circumspection, became almost dreamy. He would say: “How easy and how difficult it is to do one’s duty.”

He had never looked any further into himself: he was a leader.

There were other leaders on the walls: nothing but leaders. He was a leader—this tall, ver-de-gris man in his armchair. His white waistcoat was a happy reminder of his silver hair. (Attention to artistry was not excluded from these portraits, which were above all painted for moral edification, and exactitude was pushed to the furthest limit of scruple.) His long, slender hand was placed on the head of a small boy. An open book rested on his knees which were covered by a rug. But his look had strayed into the distance. He was seeing all those things which are invisible to young people. His name was written on a plaque of gilded wood below his portrait: his name must have been Pacome or Parrottin, or Chaigneau. I had not thought of looking: for his close relatives, for this child, for himself, he was simply the grandfather; soon, if he deemed the time fitting to instruct his grandson about the scope of his future duties, he would speak of himself in the third person:

“You’re going to promise your grandfather to be good, my boy, to work hard next year. Perhaps Grandfather won’t be here any more next year.”

In the evening of his life, he scattered his indulgent goodness over everyone. Even if he were to see me—though to him I was transparent—I would find grace in his eyes: he would think that I, too, had grandparents once. He demanded nothing: one has no more desires at that age. Nothing except for people to lower their voices slightly when he entered, nothing except a touch of tenderness and smiling respect when he passed, nothing except for his daughter-in-law to say sometimes: “Father is amazing; he’s younger than all of us”; nothing except to be the only one able to calm the temper of his grandson by putting his hands on the boy’s head and saying: “Grandfather knows how to take care of all those troubles”; nothing except for his son, several times a year, to come asking his advice on delicate matters; finally, nothing more than to feel himself serene, appeased, and infinitely wise. The old gentleman’s hand barely weighed on his grandson’s curls: it was almost a benediction. What could he be thinking of? Of his honourable past which conferred on him the right to speak on everything and to have the last word on everything. I had not gone far enough the other day: experience was much more than a defence against death; it was a right; the right of old men.

General Aubry, hanging against the moulding, with his great sabre, was a leader. Another leader: President Hebert, well read, friend of Impetraz. His face was long and symmetrical with an interminable chin, punctuated, just under the lip, by a goatee: he thrust out his jaw slightly, with the amused air of being distinguished, of rolling out an objection on principles like a faint belch. He dreamed, he held a quill pen: he was taking his relaxation too, by Heaven, and it was writing verses. But he had the eagle eye of a leader.

And soldiers? I was in the centre of the room, the cynosure of all these grave eyes. I was neither father nor grandfather, not even a husband. I did not have a vote, I hardly paid any taxes: I could not boast of being a taxpayer, an elector, nor even of having the humble right to honour which twenty years of obedience confers on an employee. My existence began to worry me seriously. Was I not a simple spectre? “Hey!” I suddenly told myself, “I am the soldier!” It really made me laugh.

A portly quinquagenarian politely returned a handsome smile. Renaudas had painted him with loving care, no touch was too tender for those fleshy, finely-chiselled little ears, especially for the hands, long, nervous, with loose fingers: the hands of a real savant or artist. His face was unknown to me: I must have passed before the canvas often without noticing it. I went up to it and read: Remy Parrottin, born in Bouville in 1849, Professor at the Ecole de Medecine, Paris. Parrottin: Doctor Wakefield had spoken to me of him: “Once in my life I met a great man, Remy Parrottin. I took courses under him during the winter of 1904 (you know I spent two years in Paris studying obstetrics). He made me realize what it was to be a leader. He had it in him, I swear he did. He electrified us, he could have led us to the ends of the earth. And with all that he was a gentleman: he had an immense fortune-gave a good part of it to help poor students.”

This is how this prince of science, the first time I heard him spoken of, inspired strong feelings in me. Now I stood before him and he was smiling at me. What intelligence and affability in his smile! His plump body rested leisurely in the hollow of a great leather armchair. This unpretentious wise man put people at their ease immediately. If it hadn’t been for the spirit in his look you would have taken him for just anybody.

It did not take long to guess the reason for his prestige: he was loved because he understood everything; you could tell him anything. He looked a little like Renan, all in all, with more distinction. He was one of those who say:

“Socialists? Well, I go further than they do!” When you followed him down this perilous road you were soon to leave behind, not without a shiver, family, country, private property rights, and the most sacred values. You even doubted for a second the right of the bourgeois elite to command. Another step and suddenly everything was re-established, miraculously founded on solid reason, good old reasons. You turned around and saw the Socialists, already far behind you, all tiny, waving their handkerchiefs and shouting: “Wait for us!”

Through Wakefield I knew that the Master liked, as he himself said with a smile, “to deliver souls.” To prolong his own, he surrounded himself with youth: he often received young men of good family who were studying medicine. Wakefield had often been to his house for luncheon. After the meal they retired to the smoking-room. The Master treated these students who were at their first cigarettes like men: he offered them cigars. He stretched out on a divan and discoursed at great length, his eyes half-closed, surrounded by an eager crowd of disciples. He evoked memories, told stories, drawing a sharp and profound moral from each. And if there were among those well-bred young men one who seemed especially headstrong, Parrottin would take a special interest in him. He made him speak, listened to him attentively, gave him ideas and subjects for meditation. It usually happened that one day the young man, full of generous ideas, excited by the hostility of his parents, weary of thinking alone, his hand against every man, asked to visit the Master privately, and, stammering with shyness, confided in him his most intimate thoughts, his indignations, his hopes. Par-rottin embraced him. He said: “I understand you. I understood you from the first day.” They talked on. Parrottin went far, still farther, so far that the young man followed him with great difficulty. After a few conversations of this sort one could detect a favourable change in the young rebel. He saw clearly within himself, he learned to know the deep bonds which attached him to his family, to his environment; at last he understood the admirable role of the elite. And finally, as if by magic, found himself once again, enlightened, repentant. “He cured more souls,” concluded Wakefield, “than I’ve cured bodies.”

Remy Parrottin smiled affably at me. He hesitated, tried to understand my position, to turn gently and lead me back to the fold. But I wasn’t afraid of him: I was no lamb. I looked at his fine forehead, calm and unwrinkled, his small belly, his hand set flat against his knee. I returned his smile and left.

Jean Parrottin, his brother, president of the S.A.B., leaned both hands on the edge of a table loaded with papers; his whole attitude signified to the visitor that the audience was over. His look was extraordinary; although abstracted yet shining with high endeavour. His dazzling eyes devoured his whole face. Behind this glow I noticed the thin, tight lips of a mystic. “It’s odd,” I said, “he looks like Remy Parrottin.” I turned to the Great Master: examining him in the light of this resemblance, a sense of aridity and desolation, a family resemblance took possession of his face. I went back to Jean Parrottin.

This man was one-ideaed. Nothing more was left in him but bones, dead flesh and Pure Right. A real case of possession, I thought. Once Right has taken hold of a man exorcism cannot drive it out; Jean Parrottin had consecrated his whole life to thinking about his Right: nothing else. Instead of the slight headache I feel coming on each time I visit a museum, he would have felt the painful right of having his temples cared for. It never did to make him think too much, or attract his attention to unpleasant realities, to his possible death, to the sufferings of others. Undoubtedly, on his death bed, at that moment when, ever since Socrates, it has been proper to pronounce certain elevated words, he told his wife, as one of my uncles told his, who had watched beside him for twelve nights, “I do not thank you, Therese; you have only done your duty.” When a man gets that far, you have to take your hat off to him.

His eyes, which I stared at in wonderment, indicated that

I must leave. I did not leave. I was resolutely indiscreet. I knew, as a result of studying at great length a certain portrait of Philip II in the library of the Escurial, that when one is confronted with a face sparkling with righteousness, after a moment this sparkle dies away, and only an ashy residue remains: this residue interested me.

Parrottin put up a good fight. But suddenly his look burned out, the picture grew dim. What was left? Blind eyes, the thin mouth of a dead snake, and cheeks. The pale, round cheeks of a child: they spread over the canvas. The employees of the S.A.B. never suspected it: they never stayed in Parrottin’s office long enough. When they went in, they came up against that terrible look like a wall. From behind it, the cheeks were in shelter, white and flabby. How long did it take his wife to notice them? Two years? Five years? One day, I imagine, as her husband was sleeping, on his side with a ray of light caressing his nose, or else on a hot day, while he was having trouble with his digestion, sunk into an armchair, his eyes half-closed, with a splash of sunlight on his chin, she dared to look him in the face: all this flesh appeared to her defenceless, bloated, slobbering, vaguely obscene. From that day on, Mme Parrottin undoubtedly took command.

I took a few steps backward and in one glance covered all these great personages: Pacome, President Hebert, both Parrot-tins, and General Aubry. They had worn top hats; every Sunday on the Rue Tournebride they met Mme Gratien, the mayor’s wife, who saw Sainte Cecile in a dream. They greeted her with great ceremonious salutes, the secret of which is now lost.

They had been painted very minutely; yet, under the brush, their countenances had been stripped of the mysterious weakness of men’s faces. Their faces, even the last powerful, were clear as porcelain: in vain I looked for some relation they could bear to trees and animals, to thoughts of earth or water. In life they evidently did not require it. But, at the moment of passing on to posterity, they had confided themselves to a renowned painter in order that he should discreetly carry out on their faces the system of dredgings, drillings, and irrigations by which, all around Bouville, they had transformed the sea and the land.

Thus, with the help of Renaudas and Bordurin, they had enslaved Nature: without themselves and within themselves. What these sombre canvases offered to me was man reconsidered by man, with, as sole adornment, the finest conquest of man: a bouquet of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Without mental reservation, I admired the reign of man.

A woman and a man came in. They were dressed in black and tried to make themselves inconspicuous. They stopped, enchanted, on the doorstep and the man automatically took off his hat.

“Ah!” the lady said, deeply touched.

The gentleman quickly regained his sang-froid. He said respectfully: “It’s a whole era!”

“Yes,” the lady said, “this is in the time of my grandmother.”

They took a few steps and met the look of Jean Parrottin. The woman stood gaping, but the man was not proud: he looked humble, he must have known intimidating looks and brief interviews well. He tugged gently at the woman’s arm.

“Look at that one,” he said.

Remy Parrottin’s smile had always put the humble at ease. The woman went forward and read studiously:

“Portrait of Remy Parrottin, born in Bouville in 1849. Professor of the Ecole de Medecine, Paris, by Renaudas.”

“Parrottin, of the Academy of Science,” her husband said, “by Renaudas of the Institute. That’s History!”

The lady nodded, then looked at the Great Master.

“How handsome he is,” she said, “how intelligent he looks!” The husband made an expansive gesture.

“They’re the ones who made Bouville what it is,” he said with simplicity. “It’s right to have had them put here, all together,” the woman said tenderly.

We were three soldiers manoeuvring in this immense hall. The husband who laughed with respect, silently, shot me a troubled glance and suddenly stopped laughing. A sweet joy flooded over me: well, I was right! It was really too funny.

The woman came near me.

“Gaston,” she said, suddenly bold, “come here!” The husband came towards us.

“Look,” she went on, “he has a street named after him:

Olivier Blevigne. You know, the little street that goes up the Coteau Vert just before you get to Jouxtebouville.”

After an instant, she added: “He doesn’t look exactly easy.”

“No. Some people must have found him a pretty awkward customer.”

These words were addressed to me. The man, watching me out of the corner of his eye, began to laugh softly, this time with a conceited air, a busy-body, as if he were Olivier Blevigne himself.

Olivier Blevigne did not laugh. He thrust his compact jaw towards us and his Adam’s apple jutted out.

There was a moment of ecstatic silence.

“You’d think he was going to move,” the lady said. The husband explained obligingly:

“He was a great cotton merchant. Then he went into politics; he was a deputy.”

I knew it. Two years ago I had looked him up in the Petit Dictionnaire des Grands Hommes de Bouville by Abbe Morellet. I copied the article.

“Blevigne, Olivier-Martial, son of the late Olivier-Martial Blevigne, horn and died in Bouville (1849-1908), studied law in Paris, passed Bar examinations in 1872. Deeply impressed lay the Commune insurrection, which forced him, as it did so many other Parisians, to take refuge in Versailles under the protection of the National Assembly, he swore, at an age when young men think only of pleasure, ‘to consecrate his life to the re-establishment of order.’ He kept his word: immediately after his return to our city, he founded the famous Club de I’Ordre which every evening for many years united the principal businessmen and shipowners of Bouville. This aristocratic circle, which one might jokingly describe as being more restricted than the jockey Club, exerted, until 1908, a salutary influence on the destiny of our great commercial port. In 1880, Olivier Blevigne married Marie-Louise Pacome, younger daughter of Charles Pacome, businessman (see Pacome’), and at the death of the latter, founded the company of Pacome-Blevigne & Son. Shortly thereafter he entered actively into politics and placed his candidature before the deputation.

” ‘The country,’ he said in a celebrated speech, ‘is suffering from a most serious malady: the ruling class no longer wants to rule. And who then shall rule, gentlemen, if those who, by their heredity, their education, their experience, have been rendered most fit for the exercising of power, turn from it in resignation or weariness? I have often said: to rule is not a right of the elite; it is a primary duty of the elite. Gentlemen, I beg of you: let us restore the principle of authority?

“Elected first on October 4, 1885, he was constantly re-elected thereafter. Of an energetic and virile eloquence, he delivered many brilliant speeches. He was in Paris in 1898 when the terrible strike broke out. He returned to Bouville immediately and became the guiding spirit of the resistance. He took the initiative of negotiating with the strikers. These negotiations, inspired by an open-minded attempt at conciliation, were interrupted by the small uprising in Jouxtebouville. We know that the timely intervention of the military restored calm to our minds.

“The premature death of his son Octave, who had entered the Ecole Poly’technique at a very early age and of whom he wanted to ‘make a leader’ was a terrible blow to Olivier Blevigne. He was never to recover from it and died two years later, in February, 1908.

“Collected speeches: Moral Forces (1894: out of print), The Duty to Punish (1900: all speeches in this collection were given a propos of the Dreyfus Case: out of print), Will-power (1902: out of print). After his death, his last speeches and a few letters to intimate friends were collected under the title Labour Im-probus (Plon, 1910). Iconography: there is an excellent portrait of him, by Bordurin, at the Bouville museum.”

An excellent portrait, granted. Olivier Blevigne had a small black moustache, and his olive-tinted face somewhat resembled Maurice Barres. The two men had surely met each other: they used to sit on the same benches. But the deputy from Bouville did not have the nonchalance of the President of the League of Patriots. He was stiff as a poker and sprang at you from his canvas like a jack-in-the-box. His eyes sparkled: the pupil was black, the cornea reddish. He pursed up his fleshy little mouth and held his right hand against his breast.

How this portrait annoyed me! Sometimes Blevigne seemed too large or too small to me. But today I knew what to look for.

I had learned the truth turning over the pages of the Satirique Bouvillois. The issue of 6 November, 1905 was devoted entirely to Blevigne. He was pictured on the cover, tiny, hanging on to the mane of old Combes, and the caption read: “The Lion’s Louse.” Everything was explained from the first page on: Olivier Blevigne was only five feet tall. They mocked his small stature and squeaking voice which more than once threw the whole Chamber into hysterics. They accused him of putting rubber lifts in his shoes. On the other hand, Mme Blevigne, nee Pacome, was a horse. “Here we can well say,” the paper added, “that his other half is his double.”

Five feet tall! Yes, Bordurin, with jealous care, had surrounded him with objects which ran no risk of diminishing him; a hassock, a low armchair, a shelf with a few little books, a small Persian table. Only he had given him the same stature as his neighbour Jean Parrottin and both canvases had the same dimensions. The result was that the small table, in one picture, was almost as large as the immense table in the other, and that the hassock would have almost reached Parrottin’s shoulder. The eye instinctively made a comparison between the two: my discomfort had come from that.

Now I wanted to laugh. Five feet tall! If I had wanted to talk to Blevigne I would have had to lean over or bend my knees. I was no longer surprised that he held up his nose so impetuously: the destiny of these small men is always working itself out a few inches above their head.

Admirable power of art. From this shrill-voiced mannikin, nothing would pass on to posterity save a threatening face, a superb gesture and the bloodshot eyes of a bull. The student terrorised by the Commune, the deputy, a bad-tempered midget; that was what death had taken. But, thanks to Bordurin, the President of the Club de l’Ordre, the orator of “Moral Forces,” was immortal.

“Oh, poor little Pipo!”

The woman gave a stifled cry: under the portrait of Octave Blevigne “son of the late …” a pious hand had traced these words:

“Died at the Ecole Poly technique in 1904.” “He’s dead! Just like the Arondel boy. He looked intelligent. How hard it must have been for his poor mother! They make them work too hard in those big schools. The brain works, while you’re asleep. I like those two-cornered hats, it looks so stylish. Is that what you call a ‘cassowary?'”

“No. They have cassowaries at Saint-Cyr.” In my turn I studied the prematurely dead polytechnician. His wax complexion and well-groomed moustache would have been enough to turn one’s idea to approaching death. He had foreseen his fate as well: a certain resignation could be read in his clear, far-seeing eyes. But at the same time he carried his head high; in this uniform he represented the French Army.

Tu Marcellus erisl Manibus date lilia flenis . . .

A cut rose, a dead poly technician: what could be sadder?

I quietly followed the long gallery, greeting in passing, without stopping, the distinguished faces which peered from the shadows: M. Bossoire, President of the Board of Trade; M. Faby, President of the Board of Directors of the Autonomous Port of Bouville; M. Boulange, businessman, with his family; M. Ranne-quin, Mayor of Bouville; M. de Lucien, born in Bouville, French Ambassador to the United States and a poet as well; an unknown dressed like a prefect; Mother Sainte-Marie-Louise, Mother Superior of the Orphan Asylum; M. and Mme Thereson; M. Thi-boust-Gouron, General President of the Trades Council; M. Bo-bot, principle administrator of the Inscription Maritime; Messrs. Brion, Minette, Grelot, Lefebvre, Dr. and Mme Pain, Bordurin himself, painted by his son, Pierre Bordurin. Clear, cold looks, fine features, thin lips, M. Boulange was economical and patient, Mother Sainte-Marie-Louise of an industrious piety, M. Thiboust-Gouron was as hard on himself as on others. Mme Thereson struggled without weakening against deep illness. Her infinitely weary mouth told unceasingly of her suffering. But this pious woman had never said: “It hurts.” She took the upper hand: she made up bills of fare and presided over welfare societies. Sometimes, she would slowly close her eyes in the middle of a sentence and all traces of life would leave her face. This fainting spell lasted hardly more than a second; shortly afterward, Mme Thereson would re-open her eyes and finish her sentence. And in the work room they whispered: “Poor Mme Thereson! She never complains.”

I had crossed the whole length of the salon Bordurin-Renaudas. I turned back. Farewell, beautiful lilies, elegant in your painted little sanctuaries, good-bye, lovely lilies, our pride and reason for existing, good-bye you bastards!

 

Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905-1980   La nausée,1938 Nausea