The Masterpiece, by Émile Zola

5

ON the 15th May, a Friday, Claude, who had returned at three o’clock in the morning from Sandoz’s, was still asleep at nine, when Madame Joseph brought him up a large bouquet of white lilac which a commissionaire had just left downstairs. He understood at once. Christine had wished to be beforehand in celebrating the success of his painting. For this was a great day for him, the opening day of the ‘Salon of the Rejected,’ which was first instituted that year,* and at which his picture — refused by the hanging committee of the official Salon — was to be exhibited.

* This was in 1863. — ED.

That delicate attention on Christine’s part, that fresh and fragrant lilac, affected him greatly, as if presaging a happy day. Still in his nightshirt, with his feet bare, he placed the flowers in his water-jug on the table. Then, with his eyes still swollen with sleep, almost bewildered, he dressed, scolding himself the while for having slept so long. On the previous night he had promised Dubuche and Sandoz to call for them at the latter’s place at eight o’clock, in order that they might all three go together to the Palais de l’Industrie, where they would find the rest of the band. And he was already an hour behind time.

Then, as luck would have it, he could not lay his hands upon anything in his studio, which had been turned topsy-turvy since the despatch of the big picture. For more than five minutes he hunted on his knees for his shoes, among a quantity of old chases. Some particles of gold leaf flew about, for, not knowing where to get the money for a proper frame, he had employed a joiner of the neighbourhood to fit four strips of board together, and had gilded them himself, with the assistance of his friend Christine, who, by the way, had proved a very unskilful gilder. At last, dressed and shod, and having his soft felt hat bespangled with yellow sparks of the gold, he was about to go, when a superstitious thought brought him back to the nosegay, which had remained alone on the centre of the table. If he did not kiss the lilac he was sure to suffer an affront. So he kissed it and felt perfumed by its strong springtide aroma.

Under the archway, he gave his key as usual to the doorkeeper. ‘Madame Joseph,’ he said, ‘I shall not be home all day.’

In less than twenty minutes he was in the Rue d’Enfer, at Sandoz’s . But the latter, whom he feared would have already gone, was equally late in consequence of a sudden indisposition which had come upon his mother. It was nothing serious. She had merely passed a bad night, but it had for a while quite upset him with anxiety. Now, easy in mind again, Sandoz told Claude that Dubuche had written saying that they were not to wait for him, and giving an appointment at the Palais. They therefore started off, and as it was nearly eleven, they decided to lunch in a deserted little cremerie in the Rue St. Honore, which they did very leisurely, seized with laziness amidst all their ardent desire to see and know; and enjoying, as it were, a kind of sweet, tender sadness from lingering awhile and recalling memories of their youth.

One o’clock was striking when they crossed the Champs Elysees. It was a lovely day, with a limpid sky, to which the breeze, still somewhat chilly, seemed to impart a brighter azure. Beneath the sun, of the hue of ripe corn, the rows of chestnut trees showed new foliage of a delicate and seemingly freshly varnished green; and the fountains with their leaping sheafs of water, the well-kept lawns, the deep vistas of the pathways, and the broad open spaces, all lent an air of luxurious grandeur to the panorama. A few carriages, very few at that early hour, were ascending the avenue, while a stream of bewildered, bustling people, suggesting a swarm of ants, plunged into the huge archway of the Palais de l’Industrie.

When they were inside, Claude shivered slightly while crossing the gigantic vestibule, which was as cold as a cellar, with a damp pavement which resounded beneath one’s feet, like the flagstones of a church. He glanced right and left at the two monumental stairways, and asked contemptuously: ‘I say, are we going through their dirty Salon?’

‘Oh! no, dash it!’ answered Sandoz. ‘Let’s cut through the garden. The western staircase over there leads to “the Rejected."’

Then they passed disdainfully between the two little tables of the catalogue vendors. Between the huge red velvet curtains and beyond a shady porch appeared the garden, roofed in with glass. At that time of day it was almost deserted; there were only some people at the buffet under the clock, a throng of people lunching. The crowd was in the galleries on the first floor, and the white statues alone edged the yellow-sanded pathways which with stretches of crude colour intersected the green lawns. There was a whole nation of motionless marble there steeped in the diffuse light falling from the glazed roof on high. Looking southwards, some holland screens barred half of the nave, which showed ambery in the sunlight and was speckled at both ends by the dazzling blue and crimson of stained-glass windows. Just a few visitors, tired already, occupied the brand-new chairs and seats, shiny with fresh paint; while the flights of sparrows, who dwelt above, among the iron girders, swooped down, quite at home, raking up the sand and twittering as they pursued each other.

Claude and Sandoz made a show of walking very quickly without giving a glance around them. A stiff classical bronze statue, a Minerva by a member of the Institute, had exasperated them at the very door. But as they hastened past a seemingly endless line of busts, they recognised Bongrand, who, all alone, was going slowly round a colossal, overflowing, recumbent figure, which had been placed in the middle of the path. With his hands behind his back, quite absorbed, he bent his wrinkled face every now and then over the plaster.

‘Hallo, it’s you?’ he said, as they held out their hands to him. ‘I was just looking at our friend Mahoudeau’s figure, which they have at least had the intelligence to admit, and to put in a good position.’ Then, breaking off: ‘Have you been upstairs?’ he asked.

‘No, we have just come in,’ said Claude.

Thereupon Bongrand began to talk warmly about the Salon of the Rejected. He, who belonged to the Institute, but who lived apart from his colleagues, made very merry over the affair; the everlasting discontent of painters; the campaign conducted by petty newspapers like ‘The Drummer’; the protestations, the constant complaints that had at last disturbed the Emperor, and the artistic coup d’etat carried out by that silent dreamer, for this Salon of the Rejected was entirely his work. Then the great painter alluded to all the hubbub caused by the flinging of such a paving-stone into that frog’s pond, the official art world.

‘No,’ he continued, ‘you can have no idea of the rage and indignation among the members of the hanging committee. And remember I’m distrusted, they generally keep quiet when I’m there. But they are all furious with the realists. It was to them that they systematically closed the doors of the temple; it is on account of them that the Emperor has allowed the public to revise their verdict; and finally it is they, the realists, who triumph. Ah! I hear some nice things said; I wouldn’t give a high price for your skins, youngsters.’

He laughed his big, joyous laugh, stretching out his arms the while as if to embrace all the youthfulness that he divined rising around him.

‘Your disciples are growing,’ said Claude, simply.

But Bongrand, becoming embarrassed, silenced him with a wave of his hand. He himself had not sent anything for exhibition, and the prodigious mass of work amidst which he found himself — those pictures, those statues, all those proofs of creative effort — filled him with regret. It was not jealousy, for there lived not a more upright and better soul; but as a result of self-examination, a gnawing fear of impotence, an unavowed dread haunted him.

‘And at “the Rejected,"’ asked Sandoz; ‘how goes it there?’

‘Superb; you’ll see.’

Then turning towards Claude, and keeping both the young man’s hands in his own, ‘You, my good fellow, you are a trump. Listen! they say I am clever: well, I’d give ten years of my life to have painted that big hussy of yours.’

Praise like that, coming from such lips, moved the young painter to tears. Victory had come at last, then? He failed to find a word of thanks, and abruptly changed the conversation, wishing to hide his emotion.

‘That good fellow Mahoudeau!’ he said, ‘why his figure’s capital! He has a deuced fine temperament, hasn’t he?’

Sandoz and Claude had begun to walk round the plaster figure. Bongrand replied with a smile.

‘Yes, yes; there’s too much fulness and massiveness in parts. But just look at the articulations, they are delicate and really pretty. Come, good-bye, I must leave you. I’m going to sit down a while. My legs are bending under me.’

Claude had raised his head to listen. A tremendous uproar, an incessant crashing that had not struck him at first, careered through the air; it was like the din of a tempest beating against a cliff, the rumbling of an untiring assault, dashing forward from endless space.

‘Hallow, what’s that?’ he muttered.

‘That,’ said Bongrand, as he walked away, ‘that’s the crowd upstairs in the galleries.’

And the two young fellows, having crossed the garden, then went up to the Salon of the Rejected.

It had been installed in first-rate style. The officially received pictures were not lodged more sumptuously: lofty hangings of old tapestry at the doors; ‘the line’ set off with green baize; seats of crimson velvet; white linen screens under the large skylights of the roof. And all along the suite of galleries the first impression was the same — there were the same gilt frames, the same bright colours on the canvases. But there was a special kind of cheerfulness, a sparkle of youth which one did not altogether realise at first. The crowd, already compact, increased every minute, for the official Salon was being deserted. People came stung by curiosity, impelled by a desire to judge the judges, and, above all, full of the conviction that they were going to see some very diverting things. It was very hot; a fine dust arose from the flooring; and certainly, towards four o’clock people would stifle there.

‘Hang it!’ said Sandoz, trying to elbow his way, ‘it will be no easy job to move about and find your picture.’

A burst of fraternal feverishness made him eager to get to it. That day he only lived for the work and glory of his old chum.

‘Don’t worry!’ exclaimed Claude; ‘we shall get to it all right. My picture won’t fly off.’

And he affected to be in no hurry, in spite of the almost irresistible desire that he felt to run. He raised his head and looked around him; and soon, amidst the loud voices of the crowd that had bewildered him, he distinguished some restrained laughter, which was almost drowned by the tramp of feet and the hubbub of conversation. Before certain pictures the public stood joking. This made him feel uneasy, for despite all his revolutionary brutality he was as sensitive and as credulous as a woman, and always looked forward to martyrdom, though he was ever grieved and stupefied at being repulsed and railed at.

‘They seem gay here,’ he muttered.

‘Well, there’s good reason,’ remarked Sandoz. ‘Just look at those extravagant jades!’

At the same moment, while still lingering in the first gallery, Fagerolles ran up against them without seeing them. He started, being no doubt annoyed by the meeting. However, he recovered his composure immediately, and behaved very amiably.

‘Hallo! I was just thinking of you. I have been here for the last hour.’

‘Where have they put Claude’s picture?’ asked Sandoz. Fagerolles, who had just remained for twenty minutes in front of that picture studying it and studying the impression which it produced on the public, answered without wincing, ‘I don’t know; I haven’t been able to find it. We’ll look for it together if you like.’

And he joined them. Terrible wag as he was, he no longer affected low-bred manners to the same degree as formerly; he already began to dress well, and although with his mocking nature he was still disposed to snap at everybody as of old, he pursed his lips into the serious expression of a fellow who wants to make his way in the world. With an air of conviction he added: ‘I must say that I now regret not having sent anything this year! I should be here with all the rest of you, and have my share of success. And there are really some astonishing things, my boys! those horses, for instance.’

He pointed to a huge canvas in front of them, before which the crowd was gathering and laughing. It was, so people said, the work of an erstwhile veterinary surgeon, and showed a number of life-size horses in a meadow, fantastic horses, blue, violet, and pink, whose astonishing anatomy transpierced their sides.

‘I say, don’t you humbug us,’ exclaimed Claude, suspiciously.

But Fagerolles pretended to be enthusiastic. ‘What do you mean? The picture’s full of talent. The fellow who painted it understands horses devilish well. No doubt he paints like a brute. But what’s the odds if he’s original, and contributes a document?’

As he spoke Fagerolles’ delicate girlish face remained perfectly grave, and it was impossible to tell whether he was joking. There was but the slightest yellow twinkle of spitefulness in the depths of his grey eyes. And he finished with a sarcastic allusion, the drift of which was as yet patent to him alone. ‘Ah, well! if you let yourself be influenced by the fools who laugh, you’ll have enough to do by and by.’

The three friends had gone on again, only advancing, however, with infinite difficulty amid that sea of surging shoulders. On entering the second gallery they gave a glance round the walls, but the picture they sought was not there. In lieu thereof they perceived Irma Becot on the arm of Gagniere, both of them pressed against a hand-rail, he busy examining a small canvas, while she, delighted at being hustled about, raised her pink little mug and laughed at the crowd.

‘Hallo!’ said Sandoz, surprised, ‘here she is with Gagniere now!’

‘Oh, just a fancy of hers!’ exclaimed Fagerolles quietly. ‘She has a very swell place now. Yes, it was given her by that young idiot of a marquis, whom the papers are always talking about. She’s a girl who’ll make her way; I’ve always said so! But she seems to retain a weakness for painters, and every now and then drops into the Cafe Baudequin to look up old friends!’

Irma had now seen them, and was making gestures from afar. They could but go to her. When Gagniere, with his light hair and little beardless face, turned round, looking more grotesque than over, he did not show the least surprise at finding them there.

‘It’s wonderful,’ he muttered.

‘What’s wonderful?’ asked Fagerolles.

‘This little masterpiece — and withal honest and naif, and full of conviction.’

He pointed to a tiny canvas before which he had stood absorbed, an absolutely childish picture, such as an urchin of four might have painted; a little cottage at the edge of a little road, with a little tree beside it, the whole out of drawing, and girt round with black lines. Not even a corkscrew imitation of smoke issuing from the roof was forgotten.

Claude made a nervous gesture, while Fagerolles repeated phlegmatically:

‘Very delicate, very delicate. But your picture, Gagniere, where is it?’

‘My picture, it is there.’

In fact, the picture he had sent happened to be very near the little masterpiece. It was a landscape of a pearly grey, a bit of the Seine banks, painted carefully, pretty in tone, though somewhat heavy, and perfectly ponderated without a sign of any revolutionary splash.

‘To think that they were idiotic enough to refuse that!’ said Claude, who had approached with an air of interest. But why, I ask you, why?’

‘Because it’s realistic,’ said Fagerolles, in so sharp a voice that one could not tell whether he was gibing at the jury or at the picture.

Meanwhile, Irma, of whom no one took any notice, was looking fixedly at Claude with the unconscious smile which the savage loutishness of that big fellow always brought to her lips. To think that he had not even cared to see her again. She found him so much altered since the last time she had seen him, so funny, and not at all prepossessing, with his hair standing on end, and his face wan and sallow, as if he had had a severe fever. Pained that he did not seem to notice her, she wanted to attract his attention, and touched his arm with a familiar gesture.

‘I say, isn’t that one of your friends over there, looking for you?’

It was Dubuche, whom she knew from having seen him on one occasion at the Cafe Baudequin. He was, with difficulty, elbowing his way through the crowd, and staring vaguely at the sea of heads around him. But all at once, when Claude was trying to attract his notice by dint of gesticulations, the other turned his back to bow very low to a party of three — the father short and fat, with a sanguine face; the mother very thin, of the colour of wax, and devoured by anemia; and the daughter so physically backward at eighteen, that she retained all the lank scragginess of childhood.

‘All right!’ muttered the painter. ‘There he’s caught now. What ugly acquaintances the brute has! Where can he have fished up such horrors?’

Gagniere quietly replied that he knew the strangers by sight. M. Margaillan was a great masonry contractor, already a millionaire five or six times over, and was making his fortune out of the great public works of Paris, running up whole boulevards on his own account. No doubt Dubuche had become acquainted with him through one of the architects he worked for.

However, Sandoz, compassionating the scragginess of the girl, whom he kept watching, judged her in one sentence.

‘Ah! the poor little flayed kitten. One feels sorry for her.’

‘Let them alone!’ exclaimed Claude, ferociously. ‘They have all the crimes of the middle classes stamped on their faces; they reek of scrofula and idiocy. It serves them right. But hallo! our runaway friend is making off with them. What grovellers architects are! Good riddance. He’ll have to look for us when he wants us!’

Dubuche, who had not seen his friends, had just offered his arm to the mother, and was going off, explaining the pictures with gestures typical of exaggerated politeness.

‘Well, let’s proceed then,’ said Fagerolles; and, addressing Gagniere, he asked, ‘Do you know where they have put Claude’s picture?’

‘I? no, I was looking for it — I am going with you.’

He accompanied them, forgetting Irma Becot against the ‘line.’ It was she who had wanted to visit the Salon on his arm, and he was so little used to promenading a woman about, that he had constantly lost her on the way, and was each time stupefied to find her again beside him, no longer knowing how or why they were thus together. She ran after them, and took his arm once more in order to follow Claude, who was already passing into another gallery with Fagerolles and Sandoz.

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*; 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.

* Edouard Manet. — ED.

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, ’In the Open 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. ’In the Open 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?’

That good-natured bluster, that cry of a millionaire parvenu resuming the average opinion of the assembly, increased the general merriment; and he, flattered by his success, and tickled by the strange style of the painting, started laughing in his turn, so sonorously that he could be heard above all the others. This was the hallelujah, a final outburst of the great organ of opinion.

‘Take my daughter away,’ whispered pale-faced Madame Margaillan in Dubuche’s ear.

He sprang forward and freed Regine, who had lowered her eyelids, from the crowd; displaying in doing so as much muscular energy as if it had been a question of saving the poor creature from imminent death. Then having taken leave of the Margaillans at the door, with a deal of handshaking and bows, he came towards his friends, and said straightway to Sandoz, Fagerolles, and Gagniere:

‘What would you have? It isn’t my fault — I warned him that the public would not understand him. It’s improper; yes, you may say what you like, it’s improper.’

‘They hissed Delacroix,’ broke in Sandoz, white with rage, and clenching his fists. ‘They hissed Courbet. Oh, the race of enemies! Oh, the born idiots!’

Gagniere, who now shared this artistic vindictiveness, grew angry at the recollection of his Sunday battles at the Pasdeloup Concerts in favour of real music.

‘And they hiss Wagner too; they are the same crew. I recognise them. You see that fat fellow over there —’

Jory had to hold him back. The journalist for his part would rather have urged on the crowd. He kept on repeating that it was famous, that there was a hundred thousand francs’ worth of advertisements in it. And Irma, left to her own devices once more, went up to two of her friends, young Bourse men who were among the most persistent scoffers, but whom she began to indoctrinate, forcing them, as it were, into admiration, by rapping them on the knuckles.

Fagerolles, however, had not opened his lips. He kept on examining the picture, and glancing at the crowd. With his Parisian instinct and the elastic conscience of a skilful fellow, he at once fathomed the misunderstanding. He was already vaguely conscious of what was wanted for that style of painting to make the conquest of everybody — a little trickery perhaps, some attenuations, a different choice of subject, a milder method of execution. In the main, the influence that Claude had always had over him persisted in making itself felt; he remained imbued with it; it had set its stamp upon him for ever. Only he considered Claude to be an arch-idiot to have exhibited such a thing as that. Wasn’t it stupid to believe in the intelligence of the public? What was the meaning of that nude woman beside that gentleman who was fully dressed? And what did those two little wrestlers in the background mean? Yet the picture showed many of the qualities of a master. There wasn’t another bit of painting like it in the Salon! And he felt a great contempt for that artist, so admirably endowed, who through lack of tact made all Paris roar as if he had been the worst of daubers.

This contempt became so strong that he was unable to hide it. In a moment of irresistible frankness he exclaimed:

‘Look here, my dear fellow, it’s your own fault, you are too stupid.’

Claude, turning his eyes from the crowd, looked at him in silence. He had not winced, he had only turned pale amidst the laughter, and if his lips quivered it was merely with a slight nervous twitching; nobody knew him, it was his work alone that was being buffeted. Then for a moment he glanced again at his picture, and slowly inspected the other canvases in the gallery. And amidst the collapse of his illusions, the bitter agony of his pride, a breath of courage, a whiff of health and youth came to him from all that gaily-brave painting which rushed with such headlong passion to beat down classical conventionality. He was consoled and inspirited by it all; he felt no remorse nor contrition, but, on the contrary, was impelled to fight the popular taste still more. No doubt there was some clumsiness and some puerility of effort in his work, but on the other hand what a pretty general tone, what a play of light he had thrown into it, a silvery grey light, fine and diffuse, brightened by all the dancing sunbeams of the open air. It was as if a window had been suddenly opened amidst all the old bituminous cookery of art, amidst all the stewing sauces of tradition, and the sun came in and the walls smiled under that invasion of springtide. The light note of his picture, the bluish tinge that people had been railing at, flashed out among the other paintings also. Was this not the expected dawn, a new aurora rising on art? He perceived a critic who stopped without laughing, some celebrated painters who looked surprised and grave, while Papa Malgras, very dirty, went from picture to picture with the pout of a wary connoisseur, and finally stopped short in front of his canvas, motionless, absorbed. Then Claude turned round to Fagerolles, and surprised him by this tardy reply:

‘A fellow can only be an idiot according to his own lights, my dear chap, and it looks as if I am going to remain one. So much the better for you if you are clever!’

Fagerolles at once patted him on the shoulder, like a chum who had only been in fun, and Claude allowed Sandoz to take his arm. They led him off at last. The whole band left the Salon of the Rejected, deciding that they would pass on their way through the gallery of architecture; for a design for a museum by Dubuche had been accepted, and for some few minutes he had been fidgeting and begging them with so humble a look, that it seemed difficult indeed to deny him this satisfaction.

‘Ah!’ said Jory, jocularly, on entering the gallery, ‘what an ice-well! One can breathe here.’

They all took off their hats and wiped their foreheads, with a feeling of relief, as if they had reached some big shady trees after a long march in full sunlight. The gallery was empty. From the roof, shaded by a white linen screen, there fell a soft, even, rather sad light, which was reflected like quiescent water by the well-waxed, mirror-like floor. On the four walls, of a faded red, hung the plans and designs in large and small chases, edged with pale blue borders. Alone — absolutely alone — amidst this desert stood a very hirsute gentleman, who was lost in the contemplation of the plan of a charity home. Three ladies who appeared became frightened and fled across the gallery with hasty steps.

Dubuche was already showing and explaining his work to his comrades. It was only a drawing of a modest little museum gallery, which he had sent in with ambitious haste, contrary to custom and against the wishes of his master, who, nevertheless, had used his influence to have it accepted, thinking himself pledged to do so.

‘Is your museum intended for the accommodation of the paintings of the “open air” school?’ asked Fagerolles, very gravely.

Gagniere pretended to admire the plan, nodding his head, but thinking of something else; while Claude and Sandoz examined it with sincere interest.

‘Not bad, old boy,’ said the former. ‘The ornamentation is still bastardly traditional; but never mind; it will do.’

Jory, becoming impatient at last, cut him short.

‘Come along, let’s go, eh? I’m catching my death of cold here.’

The band resumed its march. The worst was that to make a short cut they had to go right through the official Salon, and they resigned themselves to doing so, notwithstanding the oath they had taken not to set foot in it, as a matter of protest. Cutting their way through the crowd, keeping rigidly erect, they followed the suite of galleries, casting indignant glances to right and left. There was none of the gay scandal of their Salon, full of fresh tones and an exaggeration of sunlight, here. One after the other came gilt frames full of shadows; black pretentious things, nude figures showing yellowish in a cellar-like light, the frippery of so-called classical art, historical, genre and landscape painting, all showing the same conventional black grease. The works reeked of uniform mediocrity, they were characterised by a muddy dinginess of tone, despite their primness — the primness of impoverished, degenerate blood. And the friends quickened their steps: they ran to escape from that reign of bitumen, condemning everything in one lump with their superb sectarian injustice, repeating that there was nothing in the place worth looking at — nothing, nothing at all!

At last they emerged from the galleries, and were going down into the garden when they met Mahoudeau and Chaine. The former threw himself into Claude’s arms.

‘Ah, my dear fellow, your picture; what artistic temperament it shows!’

The painter at once began to praise the ‘Vintaging Girl.’

‘And you, I say, you have thrown a nice big lump at their heads!’

But the sight of Chaine, to whom no one spoke about the ‘Woman taken in Adultery,’ and who went silently wandering around, awakened Claude’s compassion. He thought there was something very sad about that execrable painting, and the wasted life of that peasant who was a victim of middle-class admiration. He always gave him the delight of a little praise; so now he shook his hand cordially, exclaiming:

‘Your machine’s very good too. Ah, my fine fellow, draughtsmanship has no terrors for you!’

‘No, indeed,’ declared Chaine, who had grown purple with vanity under his black bushy beard.

He and Mahoudeau joined the band, and the latter asked the others whether they had seen Chambouvard’s ‘Sower.’ It was marvellous; the only piece of statuary worth looking at in the Salon. Thereupon they all followed him into the garden, which the crowd was now invading.

‘There,’ said Mahoudeau, stopping in the middle of the central path: ‘Chambouvard is standing just in front of his “Sower."’

In fact, a portly man stood there, solidly planted on his fat legs, and admiring his handiwork. With his head sunk between his shoulders, he had the heavy, handsome features of a Hindu idol. He was said to be the son of a veterinary surgeon of the neighbourhood of Amiens. At forty-five he had already produced twenty masterpieces: statues all simplicity and life, flesh modern and palpitating, kneaded by a workman of genius, without any pretension to refinement; and all this was chance production, for he furnished work as a field bears harvest, good one day, bad the next, in absolute ignorance of what he created. He carried the lack of critical acumen to such a degree that he made no distinction between the most glorious offspring of his hands and the detestably grotesque figures which now and then he chanced to put together. Never troubled by nervous feverishness, never doubting, always solid and convinced, he had the pride of a god.

‘Wonderful, the “Sower”!’ whispered Claude. ‘What a figure! and what an attitude!’

Fagerolles, who had not looked at the statue, was highly amused by the great man, and the string of young, open-mouthed disciples whom as usual he dragged at his tail.

‘Just look at them, one would think they are taking the sacrament, ‘pon my word — and he himself, eh? What a fine brutish face he has!’

Isolated, and quite at his ease, amidst the general curiosity, Chambouvard stood there wondering, with the stupefied air of a man who is surprised at having produced such a masterpiece. He seemed to behold it for the first time, and was unable to get over his astonishment. Then an expression of delight gradually stole over his broad face, he nodded his head, and burst into soft, irresistible laughter, repeating a dozen times, ‘It’s comical, it’s really comical!’

His train of followers went into raptures, while he himself could find nothing more forcible to express how much he worshipped himself. All at once there was a slight stir. Bongrand, who had been walking about with his hands behind his back, glancing vaguely around him, had just stumbled on Chambouvard, and the public, drawing back, whispered, and watched the two celebrated artists shaking hands; the one short and of a sanguine temperament, the other tall and restless. Some expressions of good-fellowship were overheard. ‘Always fresh marvels.’ ‘Of course! And you, nothing this year?’ ‘No, nothing; I am resting, seeking —’ ‘Come, you joker! There’s no need to seek, the thing comes by itself.’ ‘Good-bye.’ ‘Good-bye.’ And Chambouvard, followed by his court, was already moving slowly away among the crowd, with the glances of a king, who enjoys life, while Bongrand, who had recognised Claude and his friends, approached them with outstretched feverish hands, and called attention to the sculptor with a nervous jerk of the chin, saying, ‘There’s a fellow I envy! Ah! to be confident of always producing masterpieces!’

He complimented Mahoudeau on his ‘Vintaging Girl’; showed himself paternal to all of them, with that broad-minded good-nature of his, the free and easy manner of an old Bohemian of the romantic school, who had settled down and was decorated. Then, turning to Claude:

‘Well, what did I tell you? Did you see upstairs? You have become the chief of a school.’

‘Ah! yes,’ replied Claude. ‘They are giving it me nicely. You are the master of us all.’

But Bongrand made his usual gesture of vague suffering and went off, saying, ‘Hold your tongue! I am not even my own master.’

For a few moments longer the band wandered through the garden. They had gone back to look at the ‘Vintaging Girl,’ when Jory noticed that Gagniere no longer had Irma Becot on his arm. Gagniere was stupefied; where the deuce could he have lost her? But when Fagerolles had told him that she had gone off in the crowd with two gentlemen, he recovered his composure, and followed the others, lighter of heart now that he was relieved of that girl who had bewildered him.

People now only moved about with difficulty. All the seats were taken by storm; groups blocked up the paths, where the promenaders paused every now and then, flowing back around the successful bits of bronze and marble. From the crowded buffet there arose a loud buzzing, a clatter of saucers and spoons which mingled with the throb of life pervading the vast nave. The sparrows had flown up to the forest of iron girders again, and one could hear their sharp little chirps, the twittering with which they serenaded the setting sun, under the warm panes of the glass roof. The atmosphere, moreover, had become heavy, there was a damp greenhouse-like warmth; the air, stationary as it was, had an odour as of humus, freshly turned over. And rising above the garden throng, the din of the first-floor galleries, the tramping of feet on their iron-girdered flooring still rolled on with the clamour of a tempest beating against a cliff.

Claude, who had a keen perception of that rumbling storm, ended by hearing nothing else; it had been let loose and was howling in his ears. It was the merriment of the crowd whose jeers and laughter swept hurricane-like past his picture. With a weary gesture he exclaimed:

‘Come, what are we messing about here for? I sha’n’t take anything at the refreshment bar, it reeks of the Institute. Let’s go and have a glass of beer outside, eh?’

They all went out, with sinking legs and tired faces, expressive of contempt. Once outside, on finding themselves again face to face with healthy mother Nature in her springtide season, they breathed noisily with an air of delight. It had barely struck four o’clock, the slanting sun swept along the Champs Elysees and everything flared: the serried rows of carriages, like the fresh foliage of the trees, and the sheaf-like fountains which spouted up and whirled away in golden dust. With a sauntering step they went hesitatingly down the central avenue, and finally stranded in a little cafe, the Pavillon de la Concorde, on the left, just before reaching the Place. The place was so small that they sat down outside it at the edge of the footway, despite the chill which fell from a vault of leaves, already fully grown and gloomy. But beyond the four rows of chestnut-trees, beyond the belt of verdant shade, they could see the sunlit roadway of the main avenue where Paris passed before them as in a nimbus, the carriages with their wheels radiating like stars, the big yellow omnibuses, looking even more profusely gilded than triumphal chariots, the horsemen whose steeds seemed to raise clouds of sparks, and the foot passengers whom the light enveloped in splendour.

And during nearly three hours, with his beer untasted before him, Claude went on talking and arguing amid a growing fever, broken down as he was in body, and with his mind full of all the painting he had just seen. It was the usual winding up of their visit to the Salon, though this year they were more impassioned on account of the liberal measure of the Emperor.

‘Well, and what of it, if the public does laugh?’ cried Claude. ‘We must educate the public, that’s all. In reality it’s a victory. Take away two hundred grotesque canvases, and our Salon beats theirs. We have courage and audacity — we are the future. Yes, yes, you’ll see it later on; we shall kill their Salon. We shall enter it as conquerors, by dint of producing masterpieces. Laugh, laugh, you big stupid Paris — laugh until you fall on your knees before us!’

And stopping short, he pointed prophetically to the triumphal avenue, where the luxury and happiness of the city went rolling by in the sunlight. His arms stretched out till they embraced even the Place de la Concorde, which could be seen slantwise from where they sat under the trees — the Place de la Concorde, with the plashing water of one of its fountains, a strip of balustrade, and two of its statues — Rouen, with the gigantic bosom, and Lille, thrusting forward her huge bare foot.

‘“In the open air”— it amuses them, eh?’ he resumed. ‘All right, since they are bent on it, the “open air” then, the school of the “open air!” Eh! it was a thing strictly between us, it didn’t exist yesterday beyond the circle of a few painters. But now they throw the word upon the winds, and they found the school. Oh! I’m agreeable. Let it be the school of the “open air!"’

Jory slapped his thighs.

‘Didn’t I tell you? I felt sure of making them bite with those articles of mine, the idiots that they are. Ah! how we’ll plague them now.’

Mahoudeau also was singing victory, constantly dragging in his ‘Vintaging Girl,’ the daring points of which he explained to the silent Chaine, the only one who listened to him; while Gagniere, with the sternness of a timid man waxing wroth over questions of pure theory, spoke of guillotining the Institute; and Sandoz, with the glowing sympathy of a hard worker, and Dubuche, giving way to the contagion of revolutionary friendship, became exasperated, and struck the table, swallowing up Paris with each draught of beer. Fagerolles, very calm, retained his usual smile. He had accompanied them for the sake of amusement, for the singular pleasure which he found in urging his comrades into farcical affairs that were bound to turn out badly. At the very moment when he was lashing their spirit of revolt, he himself formed the firm resolution to work in future for the Prix de Rome. That day had decided him; he thought it idiotic to compromise his prospects any further.

The sun was declining on the horizon, there was now only a returning stream of carriages, coming back from the Bois in the pale golden shimmer of the sunset. And the exodus from the Salon must have been nearly over; a long string of pedestrians passed by, gentlemen who looked like critics, each with a catalogue under his arm.

But all at once Gagniere became enthusiastic: ‘Ah! Courajod, there was one who had his share in inventing landscape painting! Have you seen his “Pond of Gagny” at the Luxembourg?’

‘A marvel!’ exclaimed Claude. ‘It was painted thirty years ago, and nothing more substantial has been turned out since. Why is it left at the Luxembourg? It ought to be in the Louvre.’

‘But Courajod isn’t dead,’ said Fagerolles.

‘What! Courajod isn’t dead! No one ever sees him or speaks of him now.’

There was general stupefaction when Fagerolles assured them that the great landscape painter, now seventy years of age, lived somewhere in the neighbourhood of Montmartre, in a little house among his fowls, ducks, and dogs. So one might outlive one’s own glory! To think that there were such melancholy instances of old artists disappearing before their death! Silence fell upon them all; they began to shiver when they perceived Bongrand pass by on a friend’s arm, with a congestive face and a nervous air as he waved his hand to them; while almost immediately behind him, surrounded by his disciples, came Chambouvard, laughing very loudly, and tapping his heels on the pavement with the air of absolute mastery that comes from confidence in immortality.

‘What! are you going?’ said Mahoudeau to Chaine, who was rising from his chair.

The other mumbled some indistinct words in his beard, and went off after distributing handshakes among the party.

‘I know,’ said Jory to Mahoudeau. ‘I believe he has a weakness for your neighbour, the herbalist woman. I saw his eyes flash all at once; it comes upon him like toothache. Look how he’s running over there.’

The sculptor shrugged his shoulders amidst the general laughter.

But Claude did not hear. He was now discussing architecture with Dubuche. No doubt, that plan of a museum gallery which he exhibited wasn’t bad; only there was nothing new in it. It was all so much patient marquetry of the school formulas. Ought not all the arts to advance in one line of battle? Ought not the evolution that was transforming literature, painting, even music itself, to renovate architecture as well? If ever the architecture of a period was to have a style of its own, it was assuredly the architecture of the period they would soon be entering, a new period when they would find the ground freshly swept, ready for the rebuilding of everything. Down with the Greek temples! there was no reason why they should continue to exist under our sky, amid our society! down with the Gothic cathedrals, since faith in legend was dead! down with the delicate colonnades, the lace-like work of the Renaissance — that revival of the antique grafted on mediaevalism — precious art-jewellery, no doubt, but in which democracy could not dwell. And he demanded, he called with violent gestures for an architectural formula suited to democracy; such work in stone as would express its tenets; edifices where it would really be at home; something vast and strong, great and simple at the same time; the something that was already being indicated in the new railway stations and markets, whose ironwork displayed such solid elegance, but purified and raised to a standard of beauty, proclaiming the grandeur of the intellectual conquests of the age.

‘Ah! yes, ah! yes,’ repeated Dubuche, catching Claude’s enthusiasm; ‘that’s what I want to accomplish, you’ll see some day. Give me time to succeed, and when I’m my own master — ah! when I’m my own master.’

Night was coming on apace, and Claude was growing more and more animated and passionate, displaying a fluency, an eloquence which his comrades had not known him to possess. They all grew excited in listening to him, and ended by becoming noisily gay over the extraordinary witticisms he launched forth. He himself, having returned to the subject of his picture, again discussed it with a deal of gaiety, caricaturing the crowd he had seen looking at it, and imitating the imbecile laughter. Along the avenue, now of an ashy hue, one only saw the shadows of infrequent vehicles dart by. The side-walk was quite black; an icy chill fell from the trees. Nothing broke the stillness but the sound of song coming from a clump of verdure behind the cafe; there was some rehearsal at the Concert de l’Horloge, for one heard the sentimental voice of a girl trying a love-song.

‘Ah! how they amused me, the idiots!’ exclaimed Claude, in a last burst. ‘Do you know, I wouldn’t take a hundred thousand francs for my day’s pleasure!’

Then he relapsed into silence, thoroughly exhausted. Nobody had any saliva left; silence reigned; they all shivered in the icy gust that swept by. And they separated in a sort of bewilderment, shaking hands in a tired fashion. Dubuche was going to dine out; Fagerolles had an appointment; in vain did Jory, Mahoudeau, and Gagniere try to drag Claude to Foucart’s, a twenty-five sous’ restaurant; Sandoz was already taking him away on his arm, feeling anxious at seeing him so excited.

‘Come along, I promised my mother to be back for dinner. You’ll take a bit with us. It will be nice; we’ll finish the day together.’

They both went down the quay, past the Tuileries, walking side by side in fraternal fashion. But at the Pont des Saints-Peres the painter stopped short.

‘What, are you going to leave me?’ exclaimed Sandoz.

‘Why, I thought you were going to dine with me?’

‘No, thanks; I’ve too bad a headache — I’m going home to bed.’

And he obstinately clung to this excuse.

‘All right, old man,’ said Sandoz at last, with a smile. ‘One doesn’t see much of you nowadays. You live in mystery. Go on, old boy, I don’t want to be in your way.’

Claude restrained a gesture of impatience; and, letting his friend cross the bridge, he went his way along the quays by himself. He walked on with his arms hanging beside him, with his face turned towards the ground, seeing nothing, but taking long strides like a somnambulist who is guided by instinct. On the Quai de Bourbon, in front of his door, he looked up, full of surprise on seeing a cab waiting at the edge of the foot pavement, and barring his way. And it was with the same automatical step that he entered the doorkeeper’s room to take his key.

‘I have given it to that lady,’ called Madame Joseph from the back of the room. ‘She is upstairs.’

‘What lady?’ he asked in bewilderment.

‘That young person. Come, you know very well, the one who always comes.’

He had not the remotest idea whom she meant. Still, in his utter confusion of mind, he decided to go upstairs. The key was in the door, which he slowly opened and closed again.

For a moment Claude stood stock still. Darkness had invaded the studio; a violet dimness, a melancholy gloom fell from the large window, enveloping everything. He could no longer plainly distinguish either the floor, or the furniture, or the sketches; everything that was lying about seemed to be melting in the stagnant waters of a pool. But on the edge of the couch there loomed a dark figure, stiff with waiting, anxious and despairing amid the last gasp of daylight. It was Christine; he recognised her.

She held out her hands, and murmured in a low, halting voice:

‘I have been here for three hours; yes, for three hours, all alone, and listening. I took a cab on leaving there, and I only wanted to stay a minute, and get back as soon as possible. But I should have stayed all night; I could not go away without shaking hands with you.’

She continued, and told him of her mad desire to see the picture; her prank of going to the Salon, and how she had tumbled into it amidst the storm of laughter, amidst the jeers of all those people. It was she whom they had hissed like that; it was on herself that they had spat. And seized with wild terror, distracted with grief and shame, she had fled, as if she could feel that laughter lashing her like a whip, until the blood flowed. But she now forgot about herself in her concern for him, upset by the thought of the grief he must feel, for her womanly sensibility magnified the bitterness of the repulse, and she was eager to console.

‘Oh, friend, don’t grieve! I wished to see and tell you that they are jealous of it all, that I found the picture very nice, and that I feel very proud and happy at having helped you — at being, if ever so little, a part of it.’

Still, motionless, he listened to her as she stammered those tender words in an ardent voice, and suddenly he sank down at her feet, letting his head fall upon her knees, and bursting into tears. All his excitement of the afternoon, all the bravery he had shown amidst the jeering, all his gaiety and violence now collapsed, in a fit of sobs which well nigh choked him. From the gallery where the laughter had buffeted him, he heard it pursuing him through the Champs Elysees, then along the banks of the Seine, and now in his very studio. His strength was utterly spent; he felt weaker than a child; and rolling his head from one side to another he repeated in a stifled voice:

‘My God! how I do suffer!’

Then she, with both hands, raised his face to her lips in a transport of passion. She kissed him, and with her warm breath she blew to his very heart the words: ‘Be quiet, be quiet, I love you!’

They adored each other; it was inevitable. Near them, on the centre of the table, the lilac she had sent him that morning embalmed the night air, and, alone shiny with lingering light, the scattered particles of gold leaf, wafted from the frame of the big picture, twinkled like a swarming of stars.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 15:06