By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To The Lieutenant-Colonel of Artillery, Periollas,
As a Testimony of the Affectionate Esteem of the Author,
Whenever you have gone to take a serious look at the exhibition of works
of sculpture and painting, such as it has been since the revolution of
1830, have you not been seized by a sense of uneasiness, weariness,
sadness, at the sight of those long and over-crowded galleries? Since
1830, the true Salon no longer exists. The Louvre has again been taken by
assault,—this time by a populace of artists who have maintained
themselves in it.
In other days, when the Salon presented only the choicest works of art, it
conferred the highest honor on the creations there exhibited. Among the
two hundred selected paintings, the public could still choose: a crown was
awarded to the masterpiece by hands unseen. Eager, impassioned discussions
arose about some picture. The abuse showered on Delacroix, on Ingres,
contributed no less to their fame than the praises and fanaticism of their
adherents. To-day, neither the crowd nor the criticism grows impassioned
about the products of that bazaar. Forced to make the selection for
itself, which in former days the examining jury made for it, the attention
of the public is soon wearied and the exhibition closes. Before the year
1817 the pictures admitted never went beyond the first two columns of the
long gallery of the old masters; but in that year, to the great
astonishment of the public, they filled the whole space. Historical,
high-art, genre paintings, easel pictures, landscapes, flowers, animals,
and water-colors,—these eight specialties could surely not offer
more than twenty pictures in one year worthy of the eyes of the public,
which, indeed, cannot give its attention to a greater number of such
works. The more the number of artists increases, the more careful and
exacting the jury of admission ought to be.
The true character of the Salon was lost as soon as it spread along the
galleries. The Salon should have remained within fixed limits of
inflexible proportions, where each distinct specialty could show its
masterpieces only. An experience of ten years has shown the excellence of
the former institution. Now, instead of a tournament, we have a mob;
instead of a noble exhibition, we have a tumultuous bazaar; instead of a
choice selection we have a chaotic mass. What is the result? A great
artist is swamped. Decamps' "Turkish Cafe," "Children at a Fountain,"
"Joseph," and "The Torture," would have redounded far more to his credit
if the four pictures had been exhibited in the great Salon with the
hundred good pictures of that year, than his twenty pictures could, among
three thousand others, jumbled together in six galleries.
By some strange contradiction, ever since the doors are open to every one
there has been much talk of unknown and unrecognized genius. When, twelve
years earlier, Ingres' "Courtesan," and that of Sigalon, the "Medusa" of
Gericault, the "Massacre of Scio" by Delacroix, the "Baptism of Henri IV."
by Eugene Deveria, admitted by celebrated artists accused of jealousy,
showed the world, in spite of the denials of criticism, that young and
vigorous palettes existed, no such complaint was made. Now, when the
veriest dauber of canvas can send in his work, the whole talk is of genius
neglected! Where judgment no longer exists, there is no longer anything
judged. But whatever artists may be doing now, they will come back in time
to the examination and selection which presents their works to the
admiration of the crowd for whom they work. Without selection by the
Academy there will be no Salon, and without the Salon art may perish.
Ever since the catalogue has grown into a book, many names have appeared
in it which still remain in their native obscurity, in spite of the ten or
a dozen pictures attached to them. Among these names perhaps the most
unknown to fame is that of an artist named Pierre Grassou, coming from
Fougeres, and called simply "Fougeres" among his brother-artists, who, at
the present moment holds a place, as the saying is, "in the sun," and who
suggested the rather bitter reflections by which this sketch of his life
is introduced,—reflections that are applicable to many other
individuals of the tribe of artists.
In 1832, Fougeres lived in the rue de Navarin, on the fourth floor of one
of those tall, narrow houses which resemble the obelisk of Luxor, and
possess an alley, a dark little stairway with dangerous turnings, three
windows only on each floor, and, within the building, a courtyard, or, to
speak more correctly, a square pit or well. Above the three or four rooms
occupied by Grassou of Fougeres was his studio, looking over to
Montmartre. This studio was painted in brick-color, for a background; the
floor was tinted brown and well frotted; each chair was furnished with a
bit of carpet bound round the edges; the sofa, simple enough, was clean as
that in the bedroom of some worthy bourgeoise. All these things denoted
the tidy ways of a small mind and the thrift of a poor man. A bureau was
there, in which to put away the studio implements, a table for breakfast,
a sideboard, a secretary; in short, all the articles necessary to a
painter, neatly arranged and very clean. The stove participated in this
Dutch cleanliness, which was all the more visible because the pure and
little changing light from the north flooded with its cold clear beams the
vast apartment. Fougeres, being merely a genre painter, does not need the
immense machinery and outfit which ruin historical painters; he has never
recognized within himself sufficient faculty to attempt high-art, and he
therefore clings to easel painting.
At the beginning of the month of December of that year, a season at which
the bourgeois of Paris conceive, periodically, the burlesque idea of
perpetuating their forms and figures already too bulky in themselves,
Pierre Grassou, who had risen early, prepared his palette, and lighted his
stove, was eating a roll steeped in milk, and waiting till the frost on
his windows had melted sufficiently to let the full light in. The weather
was fine and dry. At this moment the artist, who ate his bread with that
patient, resigned air that tells so much, heard and recognized the step of
a man who had upon his life the influence such men have on the lives of
nearly all artists,—the step of Elie Magus, a picture-dealer, a
usurer in canvas. The next moment Elie Magus entered and found the painter
in the act of beginning his work in the tidy studio.
"How are you, old rascal?" said the painter.
Fougeres had the cross of the Legion of honor, and Elie Magus bought his
pictures at two and three hundred francs apiece, so he gave himself the
airs of a fine artist.
"Business is very bad," replied Elie. "You artists have such pretensions!
You talk of two hundred francs when you haven't put six sous' worth of
color on a canvas. However, you are a good fellow, I'll say that. You are
steady; and I've come to put a good bit of business in your way."
"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes," said Fougeres. "Do you know Latin?"
"Well, it means that the Greeks never proposed a good bit of business to
the Trojans without getting their fair share of it. In the olden time they
used to say, 'Take my horse.' Now we say, 'Take my bear.' Well, what do
you want, Ulysses-Lagingeole-Elie Magus?"
These words will give an idea of the mildness and wit with which Fougeres
employed what painters call studio fun.
"Well, I don't deny that you are to paint me two pictures for nothing."
"I'll leave you to do it, or not; I don't ask it. But you're an honest
"Come, out with it!"
"Well, I'm prepared to bring you a father, mother, and only daughter."
"All for me?"
"Yes—they want their portraits taken. These bourgeois—they are
crazy about art—have never dared to enter a studio. The girl has a
'dot' of a hundred thousand francs. You can paint all three,—perhaps
they'll turn out family portraits."
And with that the old Dutch log of wood who passed for a man and who was
called Elie Magus, interrupted himself to laugh an uncanny laugh which
frightened the painter. He fancied he heard Mephistopheles talking
"Portraits bring five hundred francs apiece," went on Elie; "so you can
very well afford to paint me three pictures."
"True for you!" cried Fougeres, gleefully.
"And if you marry the girl, you won't forget me."
"Marry! I?" cried Pierre Grassou,—"I, who have a habit of sleeping
alone; and get up at cock-crow, and all my life arranged—"
"One hundred thousand francs," said Magus, "and a quiet girl, full of
golden tones, as you call 'em, like a Titian."
"What class of people are they?"
"Retired merchants; just now in love with art; have a country-house at
Ville d'Avray, and ten or twelve thousand francs a year."
"What business did they do?"
"Now don't say that word; it makes me think of corks and sets my teeth on
"Am I to bring them?"
"Three portraits—I could put them in the Salon; I might go in for
portrait-painting. Well, yes!"
Old Elie descended the staircase to go in search of the Vervelle family.
To know to what extend this proposition would act upon the painter, and
what effect would be produced upon him by the Sieur and Dame Vervelle,
adorned by their only daughter, it is necessary to cast an eye on the
anterior life of Pierre Grassou of Fougeres.
When a pupil, Fougeres had studied drawing with Servin, who was thought a
great draughtsman in academic circles. After that he went to Schinner's,
to learn the secrets of the powerful and magnificent color which
distinguishes that master. Master and scholars were all discreet; at any
rate Pierre discovered none of their secrets. From there he went to
Sommervieux' atelier, to acquire that portion of the art of painting which
is called composition, but composition was shy and distant to him. Then he
tried to snatch from Decamps and Granet the mystery of their interior
effects. The two masters were not robbed. Finally Fougeres ended his
education with Duval-Lecamus. During these studied and these different
transformations Fougeres' habits and ways of life were tranquil and moral
to a degree that furnished matter of jesting to the various ateliers where
he sojourned; but everywhere he disarmed his comrades by his modesty and
by the patience and gentleness of a lamblike nature. The masters, however,
had no sympathy for the good lad; masters prefer bright fellows, eccentric
spirits, droll or fiery, or else gloomy and deeply reflective, which argue
future talent. Everything about Pierre Grassou smacked of mediocrity. His
nickname "Fougeres" (that of the painter in the play of "The Eglantine")
was the source of much teasing; but, by force of circumstances, he
accepted the name of the town in which he had first seen light.
Grassou of Fougeres resembled his name. Plump and of medium height, he had
a dull complexion, brown eyes, black hair, a turned-up nose, rather wide
mouth, and long ears. His gentle, passive, and resigned air gave a certain
relief to these leading features of a physiognomy that was full of health,
but wanting in action. This young man, born to be a virtuous bourgeois,
having left his native place and come to Paris to be clerk with a
color-merchant (formerly of Mayenne and a distant connection of the
Orgemonts) made himself a painter simply by the fact of an obstinacy which
constitutes the Breton character. What he suffered, the manner in which he
lived during those years of study, God only knows. He suffered as much as
great men suffer when they are hounded by poverty and hunted like wild
beasts by the pack of commonplace minds and by troops of vanities athirst
As soon as he thought himself able to fly on his own wings, Fougeres took
a studio in the upper part of the rue des Martyrs, where he began to delve
his way. He made his first appearance in 1819. The first picture he
presented to the jury of the Exhibition at the Louvre represented a
village wedding rather laboriously copied from Greuze's picture. It was
rejected. When Fougeres heard of the fatal decision, he did not fall into
one of those fits of epileptic self-love to which strong natures give
themselves up, and which sometimes end in challenges sent to the director
or the secretary of the Museum, or even by threats of assassination.
Fougeres quietly fetched his canvas, wrapped it in a handkerchief, and
brought it home, vowing in his heart that he would still make himself a
great painter. He placed his picture on the easel, and went to one of his
former masters, a man of immense talent,—to Schinner, a kind and
patient artist, whose triumph at that year's Salon was complete. Fougeres
asked him to come and criticise the rejected work. The great painter left
everything and went at once. When poor Fougeres had placed the work before
him Schinner, after a glance, pressed Fougeres' hand.
"You are a fine fellow," he said; "you've a heart of gold, and I must not
deceive you. Listen; you are fulfilling all the promises you made in the
studios. When you find such things as that at the tip of your brush, my
good Fougeres, you had better leave colors with Brullon, and not take the
canvas of others. Go home early, put on your cotton night-cap, and be in
bed by nine o'clock. The next morning early go to some government office,
ask for a place, and give up art."
"My dear friend," said Fougeres, "my picture is already condemned; it is
not a verdict that I want of you, but the cause of that verdict."
"Well—you paint gray and sombre; you see nature being a crape veil;
your drawing is heavy, pasty; your composition is a medley of Greuze, who
only redeemed his defects by the qualities which you lack."
While detailing these faults of the picture Schinner saw on Fougeres' face
so deep an expression of sadness that he carried him off to dinner and
tried to console him. The next morning at seven o'clock Fougeres was at
his easel working over the rejected picture; he warmed the colors; he made
the corrections suggested by Schinner, he touched up his figures. Then,
disgusted with such patching, he carried the picture to Elie Magus. Elie
Magus, a sort of Dutch-Flemish-Belgian, had three reasons for being what
he became,—rich and avaricious. Coming last from Bordeaux, he was
just starting in Paris, selling old pictures and living on the boulevard
Bonne-Nouvelle. Fougeres, who relied on his palette to go to the baker's,
bravely ate bread and nuts, or bread and milk, or bread and cherries, or
bread and cheese, according to the seasons. Elie Magus, to whom Pierre
offered his first picture, eyed it for some time and then gave him fifteen
"With fifteen francs a year coming in, and a thousand francs for
expenses," said Fougeres, smiling, "a man will go fast and far."
Elie Magus made a gesture; he bit his thumbs, thinking that he might have
had that picture for five francs.
For several days Pierre walked down from the rue des Martyrs and stationed
himself at the corner of the boulevard opposite to Elie's shop, whence his
eye could rest upon his picture, which did not obtain any notice from the
eyes of the passers along the street. At the end of a week the picture
disappeared; Fougeres walked slowly up and approached the dealer's shop in
a lounging manner. The Jew was at his door.
"Well, I see you have sold my picture."
"No, here it is," said Magus; "I've framed it, to show it to some one who
fancies he knows about painting."
Fougeres had not the heart to return to the boulevard. He set about
another picture, and spent two months upon it,—eating mouse's meals
and working like a galley-slave.
One evening he went to the boulevard, his feet leading him fatefully to
the dealer's shop. His picture was not to be seen.
"I've sold your picture," said Elie Magus, seeing him.
"For how much?"
"I got back what I gave and a small interest. Make me some Flemish
interiors, a lesson of anatomy, landscapes, and such like, and I'll buy
them of you," said Elie.
Fougeres would fain have taken old Magus in his arms; he regarded him as a
father. He went home with joy in his heart; the great painter Schinner was
mistaken after all! In that immense city of Paris there were some hearts
that beat in unison with Pierre's; his talent was understood and
appreciated. The poor fellow of twenty-seven had the innocence of a lad of
sixteen. Another man, one of those distrustful, surly artists, would have
noticed the diabolical look on Elie's face and seen the twitching of the
hairs of his beard, the irony of his moustache, and the movement of his
shoulders which betrayed the satisfaction of Walter Scott's Jew in
swindling a Christian.
Fougeres marched along the boulevard in a state of joy which gave to his
honest face an expression of pride. He was like a schoolboy protecting a
woman. He met Joseph Bridau, one of his comrades, and one of those
eccentric geniuses destined to fame and sorrow. Joseph Bridau, who had, to
use his own expression, a few sous in his pocket, took Fougeres to the
Opera. But Fougeres didn't see the ballet, didn't hear the music; he was
imagining pictures, he was painting. He left Joseph in the middle of the
evening, and ran home to make sketches by lamp-light. He invented thirty
pictures, all reminiscence, and felt himself a man of genius. The next day
he bought colors, and canvases of various dimensions; he piled up bread
and cheese on his table, he filled a water-pot with water, he laid in a
provision of wood for his stove; then, to use a studio expression, he dug
at his pictures. He hired several models and Magus lent him stuffs.
After two months' seclusion the Breton had finished four pictures. Again
he asked counsel of Schinner, this time adding Bridau to the invitation.
The two painters saw in three of these pictures a servile imitation of
Dutch landscapes and interiors by Metzu, in the fourth a copy of
Rembrandt's "Lesson of Anatomy."
"Still imitating!" said Schinner. "Ah! Fougeres can't manage to be
"You ought to do something else than painting," said Bridau.
"What?" asked Fougeres.
"Fling yourself into literature."
Fougeres lowered his head like a sheep when it rains. Then he asked and
obtained certain useful advice, and retouched his pictures before taking
them to Elie Magus. Elie paid him twenty-five francs apiece. At that price
of course Fougeres earned nothing; neither did he lose, thanks to his
sober living. He made a few excursions to the boulevard to see what became
of his pictures, and there he underwent a singular hallucination. His
neat, clean paintings, hard as tin and shiny as porcelain, were covered
with a sort of mist; they looked like old daubs. Magus was out, and Pierre
could obtain no information on this phenomenon. He fancied something was
wrong with his eyes.
The painter went back to his studio and made more pictures. After seven
years of continued toil Fougeres managed to compose and execute quite
passable work. He did as well as any artist of the second class. Elie
bought and sold all the paintings of the poor Breton, who earned
laboriously about two thousand francs a year while he spent but twelve
At the Exhibition of 1829, Leon de Lora, Schinner, and Bridau, who all
three occupied a great position and were, in fact, at the head of the art
movement, were filled with pity for the perseverance and the poverty of
their old friend; and they caused to be admitted into the grand salon of
the Exhibition, a picture by Fougeres. This picture, powerful in interest
but derived from Vigneron as to sentiment and from Dubufe's first manner
as to execution, represented a young man in prison, whose hair was being
cut around the nape of the neck. On one side was a priest, on the other
two women, one old, one young, in tears. A sheriff's clerk was reading
aloud a document. On a wretched table was a meal, untouched. The light
came in through the bars of a window near the ceiling. It was a picture
fit to make the bourgeois shudder, and the bourgeois shuddered. Fougeres
had simply been inspired by the masterpiece of Gerard Douw; he had turned
the group of the "Dropsical Woman" toward the window, instead of
presenting it full front. The condemned man was substituted for the dying
woman—same pallor, same glance, same appeal to God. Instead of the
Dutch doctor, he had painted the cold, official figure of the sheriff's
clerk attired in black; but he had added an old woman to the young one of
Gerard Douw. The cruelly simple and good-humored face of the executioner
completed and dominated the group. This plagiarism, very cleverly
disguised, was not discovered. The catalogue contained the following:—
510. Grassou de Fougeres (Pierre), rue de Navarin, 2.
Death-toilet of a Chouan, condemned to execution in 1809.
Though wholly second-rate, the picture had immense success, for it
recalled the affair of the "chauffeurs," of Mortagne. A crowd collected
every day before the now fashionable canvas; even Charles X. paused to
look at it. "Madame," being told of the patient life of the poor Breton,
became enthusiastic over him. The Duc d'Orleans asked the price of the
picture. The clergy told Madame la Dauphine that the subject was
suggestive of good thoughts; and there was, in truth, a most satisfying
religious tone about it. Monseigneur the Dauphin admired the dust on the
stone-floor,—a huge blunder, by the way, for Fougeres had painted
greenish tones suggestive of mildew along the base of the walls. "Madame"
finally bought the picture for a thousand francs, and the Dauphin ordered
another like it. Charles X. gave the cross of the Legion of honor to this
son of a peasant who had fought for the royal cause in 1799. (Joseph
Bridau, the great painter, was not yet decorated.) The minister of the
Interior ordered two church pictures of Fougeres.
This Salon of 1829 was to Pierre Grassou his whole fortune, fame, future,
and life. Be original, invent, and you die by inches; copy, imitate, and
you'll live. After this discovery of a gold mine, Grassou de Fougeres
obtained his benefit of the fatal principle to which society owes the
wretched mediocrities to whom are intrusted in these days the election of
leaders in all social classes; who proceed, naturally, to elect themselves
and who wage a bitter war against all true talent. The principle of
election applied indiscriminately is false, and France will some day
Nevertheless the modesty, simplicity, and genuine surprise of the good and
gentle Fougeres silenced all envy and all recriminations. Besides, he had
on his side all of his clan who had succeeded, and all who expected to
succeed. Some persons, touched by the persistent energy of a man whom
nothing had discouraged, talked of Domenichino and said:—
"Perseverance in the arts should be rewarded. Grassou hasn't stolen his
successes; he has delved for ten years, the poor dear man!"
That exclamation of "poor dear man!" counted for half in the support and
the congratulations which the painter received. Pity sets up mediocrities
as envy pulls down great talents, and in equal numbers. The newspapers, it
is true, did not spare criticism, but the chevalier Fougeres digested them
as he had digested the counsel of his friends, with angelic patience.
Possessing, by this time, fifteen thousand francs, laboriously earned, he
furnished an apartment and studio in the rue de Navarin, and painted the
picture ordered by Monseigneur the Dauphin, also the two church pictures,
and delivered them at the time agreed on, with a punctuality that was very
discomforting to the exchequer of the ministry, accustomed to a different
course of action. But—admire the good fortune of men who are
methodical—if Grassou, belated with his work, had been caught by the
revolution of July he would not have got his money.
By the time he was thirty-seven Fougeres had manufactured for Elie Magus
some two hundred pictures, all of them utterly unknown, by the help of
which he had attained to that satisfying manner, that point of execution
before which the true artist shrugs his shoulders and the bourgeoisie
worships. Fougeres was dear to friends for rectitude of ideas, for
steadiness of sentiment, absolute kindliness, and great loyalty; though
they had no esteem for his palette, they loved the man who held it.
"What a misfortune it is that Fougeres has the vice of painting!" said his
But for all this, Grassou gave excellent counsel, like those
feuilletonists incapable of writing a book who know very well where a book
is wanting. There was this difference, however, between literary critics
and Fougeres; he was eminently sensitive to beauties; he felt them, he
acknowledged them, and his advice was instinct with a spirit of justice
that made the justness of his remarks acceptable. After the revolution of
July, Fougeres sent about ten pictures a year to the Salon, of which the
jury admitted four or five. He lived with the most rigid economy, his
household being managed solely by an old charwoman. For all amusement he
visited his friends, he went to see works of art, he allowed himself a few
little trips about France, and he planned to go to Switzerland in search
of inspiration. This detestable artist was an excellent citizen; he
mounted guard duly, went to reviews, and paid his rent and provision-bills
with bourgeois punctuality.
Having lived all his life in toil and poverty, he had never had the time
to love. Poor and a bachelor, until now he did not desire to complicate
his simple life. Incapable of devising any means of increasing his little
fortune, he carried, every three months, to his notary, Cardot, his
quarterly earnings and economies. When the notary had received about three
thousand francs he invested them in some first mortgage, the interest of
which he drew himself and added to the quarterly payments made to him by
Fougeres. The painter was awaiting the fortunate moment when his property
thus laid by would give him the imposing income of two thousand francs, to
allow himself the otium cum dignitate of the artist and paint pictures;
but oh! what pictures! true pictures! each a finished picture! chouette,
Koxnoff, chocnosoff! His future, his dreams of happiness, the superlative
of his hopes—do you know what it was? To enter the Institute and
obtain the grade of officer of the Legion of honor; to side down beside
Schinner and Leon de Lora, to reach the Academy before Bridau, to wear a
rosette in his buttonhole! What a dream! It is only commonplace men who
think of everything.
Hearing the sound of several steps on the staircase, Fougeres rubbed up
his hair, buttoned his jacket of bottle-green velveteen, and was not a
little amazed to see, entering his doorway, a simpleton face vulgarly
called in studio slang a "melon." This fruit surmounted a pumpkin, clothed
in blue cloth adorned with a bunch of tintinnabulating baubles. The melon
puffed like a walrus; the pumpkin advanced on turnips, improperly called
legs. A true painter would have turned the little bottle-vendor off at
once, assuring him that he didn't paint vegetables. This painter looked at
his client without a smile, for Monsieur Vervelle wore a
three-thousand-franc diamond in the bosom of his shirt.
Fougeres glanced at Magus and said: "There's fat in it!" using a slang
term then much in vogue in the studios.
Hearing those words Monsieur Vervelle frowned. The worthy bourgeois drew
after him another complication of vegetables in the persons of his wife
and daughter. The wife had a fine veneer of mahogany on her face, and in
figure she resembled a cocoa-nut, surmounted by a head and tied in around
the waist. She pivoted on her legs, which were tap-rooted, and her gown
was yellow with black stripes. She proudly exhibited unutterable mittens
on a puffy pair of hands; the plumes of a first-class funeral floated on
an over-flowing bonnet; laces adorned her shoulders, as round behind as
they were before; consequently, the spherical form of the cocoa-nut was
perfect. Her feet, of a kind that painters call abatis, rose above the
varnished leather of the shoes in a swelling that was some inches high.
How the feet were ever got into the shoes, no one knows.
Following these vegetable parents was a young asparagus, who presented a
tiny head with smoothly banded hair of the yellow-carroty tone that a
Roman adores, long, stringy arms, a fairly white skin with reddish spots
upon it, large innocent eyes, and white lashes, scarcely any brows, a
leghorn bonnet bound with white satin and adorned with two honest bows of
the same satin, hands virtuously red, and the feet of her mother. The
faces of these three beings wore, as they looked round the studio, an air
of happiness which bespoke in them a respectable enthusiasm for Art.
"So it is you, monsieur, who are going to take our likenesses?" said the
father, assuming a jaunty air.
"Yes, monsieur," replied Grassou.
"Vervelle, he has the cross!" whispered the wife to the husband while the
painter's back was turned.
"Should I be likely to have our portraits painted by an artist who wasn't
decorated?" returned the former bottle-dealer.
Elie Magus here bowed to the Vervelle family and went away. Grassou
accompanied him to the landing.
"There's no one but you who would fish up such whales."
"One hundred thousand francs of 'dot'!"
"Yes, but what a family!"
"Three hundred thousand francs of expectations, a house in the rue
Boucherat, and a country-house at Ville d'Avray!"
"Bottles and corks! bottles and corks!" said the painter; "they set my
teeth on edge."
"Safe from want for the rest of your days," said Elie Magus as he
That idea entered the head of Pierre Grassou as the daylight had burst
into his garret that morning.
While he posed the father of the young person, he thought the
bottle-dealer had a good countenance, and he admired the face full of
violent tones. The mother and daughter hovered about the easel, marvelling
at all his preparations; they evidently thought him a demigod. This
visible admiration pleased Fougeres. The golden calf threw upon the family
its fantastic reflections.
"You must earn lots of money; but of course you don't spend it as you get
it," said the mother.
"No, madame," replied the painter; "I don't spend it; I have not the means
to amuse myself. My notary invests my money; he knows what I have; as soon
as I have taken him the money I never think of it again."
"I've always been told," cried old Vervelle, "that artists were baskets
with holes in them."
"Who is your notary—if it is not indiscreet to ask?" said Madame
"A good fellow, all round," replied Grassou. "His name is Cardot."
"Well, well! if that isn't a joke!" exclaimed Vervelle. "Cardot is our
"Take care! don't move," said the painter.
"Do pray hold still, Antenor," said the wife. "If you move about you'll
make monsieur miss; you should just see him working, and then you'd
"Oh! why didn't you have me taught the arts?" said Mademoiselle Vervelle
to her parents.
"Virginie," said her mother, "a young person ought not to learn certain
things. When you are married—well, till then, keep quiet."
During this first sitting the Vervelle family became almost intimate with
the worthy artist. They were to come again two days later. As they went
away the father told Virginie to walk in front; but in spite of this
separation, she overheard the following words, which naturally awakened
"Decorated—thirty-seven years old—an artist who gets orders—puts
his money with our notary. We'll consult Cardot. Hein! Madame de Fougeres!
not a bad name—doesn't look like a bad man either! One might prefer
a merchant; but before a merchant retires from business one can never know
what one's daughter may come to; whereas an economical artist—and
then you know we love Art—Well, we'll see!"
While the Vervelle family discussed Pierre Grassou, Pierre Grassou
discussed in his own mind the Vervelle family. He found it impossible to
stay peacefully in his studio, so he took a walk on the boulevard, and
looked at all the red-haired women who passed him. He made a series of the
oddest reasonings to himself: gold was the handsomest of metals; a tawny
yellow represented gold; the Romans were fond of red-haired women, and he
turned Roman, etc. After two years of marriage what man would ever care
about the color of his wife's hair? Beauty fades,—but ugliness
remains! Money is one-half of all happiness. That night when he went to
bed the painter had come to think Virginie Vervelle charming.
When the three Vervelles arrived on the day of the second sitting the
artist received them with smiles. The rascal had shaved and put on clean
linen; he had also arranged his hair in a pleasing manner, and chosen a
very becoming pair of trousers and red leather slippers with pointed toes.
The family replied with smiles as flattering as those of the artist.
Virginie became the color of her hair, lowered her eyes, and turned aside
her head to look at the sketches. Pierre Grassou thought these little
affectations charming, Virginie had such grace; happily she didn't look
like her father or her mother; but whom did she look like?
During this sitting there were little skirmishes between the family and
the painter, who had the audacity to call pere Vervelle witty. This
flattery brought the family on the double-quick to the heart of the
artist; he gave a drawing to the daughter, and a sketch to the mother.
"What! for nothing?" they said.
Pierre Grassou could not help smiling.
"You shouldn't give away your pictures in that way; they are money," said
At the third sitting pere Vervelle mentioned a fine gallery of pictures
which he had in his country-house at Ville d'Avray—Rubens, Gerard
Douw, Mieris, Terburg, Rembrandt, Titian, Paul Potter, etc.
"Monsieur Vervelle has been very extravagant," said Madame Vervelle,
ostentatiously. "He has over one hundred thousand francs' worth of
"I love Art," said the former bottle-dealer.
When Madame Vervelle's portrait was begun that of her husband was nearly
finished, and the enthusiasm of the family knew no bounds. The notary had
spoken in the highest praise of the painter. Pierre Grassou was, he said,
one of the most honest fellows on earth; he had laid by thirty-six
thousand francs; his days of poverty were over; he now saved about ten
thousand francs a year and capitalized the interest; in short, he was
incapable of making a woman unhappy. This last remark had enormous weight
in the scales. Vervelle's friends now heard of nothing but the celebrated
The day on which Fougeres began the portrait of Mademoiselle Virginie, he
was virtually son-in-law to the Vervelle family. The three Vervelles
bloomed out in this studio, which they were now accustomed to consider as
one of their residences; there was to them an inexplicable attraction in
this clean, neat, pretty, and artistic abode. Abyssus abyssum, the
commonplace attracts the commonplace. Toward the end of the sitting the
stairway shook, the door was violently thrust open by Joseph Bridau; he
came like a whirlwind, his hair flying. He showed his grand haggard face
as he looked about him, casting everywhere the lightning of his glance;
then he walked round the whole studio, and returned abruptly to Grassou,
pulling his coat together over the gastric region, and endeavouring, but
in vain, to button it, the button mould having escaped from its capsule of
"Wood is dear," he said to Grassou.
"The British are after me" (slang term for creditors) "Gracious! do you
paint such things as that?"
"Hold your tongue!"
"Ah! to be sure, yes."
The Vervelle family, extremely shocked by this extraordinary apparition,
passed from its ordinary red to a cherry-red, two shades deeper.
"Brings in, hey?" continued Joseph. "Any shot in your locker?"
"How much do you want?"
"Five hundred. I've got one of those bull-dog dealers after me, and if the
fellow once gets his teeth in he won't let go while there's a bit of me
left. What a crew!"
"I'll write you a line for my notary."
"Have you got a notary?"
"That explains to me why you still make cheeks with pink tones like a
Grassou could not help coloring, for Virginie was sitting.
"Take Nature as you find her," said the great painter, going on with his
lecture. "Mademoiselle is red-haired. Well, is that a sin? All things are
magnificent in painting. Put some vermillion on your palette, and warm up
those cheeks; touch in those little brown spots; come, butter it well in.
Do you pretend to have more sense than Nature?"
"Look here," said Fougeres, "take my place while I go and write that
Vervelle rolled to the table and whispered in Grassou's ear:—
"Won't that country lout spoilt it?"
"If he would only paint the portrait of your Virginie it would be worth a
thousand times more than mine," replied Fougeres, vehemently.
Hearing that reply the bourgeois beat a quiet retreat to his wife, who was
stupefied by the invasion of this ferocious animal, and very uneasy at his
co-operation in her daughter's portrait.
"Here, follow these indications," said Bridau, returning the palette, and
taking the note. "I won't thank you. I can go back now to d'Arthez'
chateau, where I am doing a dining-room, and Leon de Lora the tops of the
doors—masterpieces! Come and see us."
And off he went without taking leave, having had enough of looking at
"Who is that man?" asked Madame Vervelle.
"A great artist," answered Grassou.
There was silence for a moment.
"Are you quite sure," said Virginie, "that he has done no harm to my
portrait? He frightened me."
"He has only done it good," replied Grassou.
"Well, if he is a great artist, I prefer a great artist like you," said
The ways of genius had ruffled up these orderly bourgeois.
The phase of autumn so pleasantly named "Saint Martin's summer" was just
beginning. With the timidity of a neophyte in presence of a man of genius,
Vervelle risked giving Fougeres an invitation to come out to his
country-house on the following Sunday. He knew, he said, how little
attraction a plain bourgeois family could offer to an artist.
"You artists," he continued, "want emotions, great scenes, and witty talk;
but you'll find good wines, and I rely on my collection of pictures to
compensate an artist like you for the bore of dining with mere merchants."
This form of idolatry, which stroked his innocent self-love, was charming
to our poor Pierre Grassou, so little accustomed to such compliments. The
honest artist, that atrocious mediocrity, that heart of gold, that loyal
soul, that stupid draughtsman, that worthy fellow, decorated by royalty
itself with the Legion of honor, put himself under arms to go out to Ville
d'Avray and enjoy the last fine days of the year. The painter went
modestly by public conveyance, and he could not but admire the beautiful
villa of the bottle-dealer, standing in a park of five acres at the summit
of Ville d'Avray, commanding a noble view of the landscape. Marry
Virginie, and have that beautiful villa some day for his own!
He was received by the Vervelles with an enthusiasm, a joy, a kindliness,
a frank bourgeois absurdity which confounded him. It was indeed a day of
triumph. The prospective son-in-law was marched about the grounds on the
nankeen-colored paths, all raked as they should be for the steps of so
great a man. The trees themselves looked brushed and combed, and the lawns
had just been mown. The pure country air wafted to the nostrils a most
enticing smell of cooking. All things about the mansion seemed to say:
"We have a great artist among us."
Little old Vervelle himself rolled like an apple through his park, the
daughter meandered like an eel, the mother followed with dignified step.
These three beings never let go for one moment of Pierre Grassou for seven
hours. After dinner, the length of which equalled its magnificence,
Monsieur and Madame Vervelle reached the moment of their grand theatrical
effect,—the opening of the picture gallery illuminated by lamps, the
reflections of which were managed with the utmost care. Three neighbours,
also retired merchants, an old uncle (from whom were expectations), an
elderly Demoiselle Vervelle, and a number of other guests invited to be
present at this ovation to a great artist followed Grassou into the
picture gallery, all curious to hear his opinion of the famous collection
of pere Vervelle, who was fond of oppressing them with the fabulous value
of his paintings. The bottle-merchant seemed to have the idea of competing
with King Louis-Philippe and the galleries of Versailles.
The pictures, magnificently framed, each bore labels on which was read in
black letters on a gold ground:
Dance of fauns and nymphs
Interior of a dissecting room. The physician van Tromp
instructing his pupils.
In all, there were one hundred and fifty pictures, varnished and dusted.
Some were covered with green baize curtains which were not undrawn in
presence of young ladies.
Pierre Grassou stood with arms pendent, gaping mouth, and no word upon his
lips as he recognized half his own pictures in these works of art. He was
Rubens, he was Rembrandt, Mieris, Metzu, Paul Potter, Gerard Douw! He was
twenty great masters all by himself.
"What is the matter? You've turned pale!"
"Daughter, a glass of water! quick!" cried Madame Vervelle. The painter
took pere Vervelle by the button of his coat and led him to a corner on
pretence of looking at a Murillo. Spanish pictures were then the rage.
"You bought your pictures from Elie Magus?"
"Yes, all originals."
"Between ourselves, tell me what he made you pay for those I shall point
out to you."
Together they walked round the gallery. The guests were amazed at the
gravity in which the artist proceeded, in company with the host, to
examine each picture.
"Three thousand francs," said Vervelle in a whisper, as they reached the
last, "but I tell everybody forty thousand."
"Forty thousand for a Titian!" said the artist, aloud. "Why, it is nothing
"Didn't I tell you," said Vervelle, "that I had three hundred thousand
francs' worth of pictures?"
"I painted those pictures," said Pierre Grassou in Vervelle's ear, "and I
sold them one by one to Elie Magus for less than ten thousand francs the
"Prove it to me," said the bottle-dealer, "and I double my daughter's
'dot,' for if it is so, you are Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, Gerard Douw!"
"And Magus is a famous picture-dealer!" said the painter, who now saw the
meaning of the misty and aged look imparted to his pictures in Elie's
shop, and the utility of the subjects the picture-dealer had required of
Far from losing the esteem of his admiring bottle-merchant, Monsieur de
Fougeres (for so the family persisted in calling Pierre Grassou) advanced
so much that when the portraits were finished he presented them
gratuitously to his father-in-law, his mother-in-law and his wife.
At the present day, Pierre Grassou, who never misses exhibiting at the
Salon, passes in bourgeois regions for a fine portrait-painter. He earns
some twenty thousand francs a year and spoils a thousand francs' worth of
canvas. His wife has six thousand francs a year in dowry, and he lives
with his father-in-law. The Vervelles and the Grassous, who agree
delightfully, keep a carriage, and are the happiest people on earth.
Pierre Grassou never emerges from the bourgeois circle, in which he is
considered one of the greatest artists of the period. Not a family
portrait is painted between the barrier du Trone and the rue du Temple
that is not done by this great painter; none of them costs less than five
hundred francs. The great reason which the bourgeois families have for
employing him is this:—
"Say what you will of him, he lays by twenty thousand francs a year with
As Grassou took a creditable part on the occasion of the riots of May 12th
he was appointed an officer of the Legion of honor. He is a major in the
National Guard. The Museum of Versailles felt it incumbent to order a
battle-piece of so excellent a citizen, who thereupon walked about Paris
to meet his old comrades and have the happiness of saying to them:—
"The King has given me an order for the Museum of Versailles."
Madame de Fougeres adores her husband, to whom she has presented two
children. This painter, a good father and a good husband, is unable to
eradicate from his heart a fatal thought, namely, that artists laugh at
his work; that his name is a term of contempt in the studios; and that the
feuilletons take no notice of his pictures. But he still works on; he aims
for the Academy, where, undoubtedly, he will enter. And—oh!
vengeance which dilates his heart!—he buys the pictures of
celebrated artists who are pinched for means, and he substitutes these
true works of arts that are not his own for the wretched daubs in the
collection at Ville d'Avray.
There are many mediocrities more aggressive and more mischievous than that
of Pierre Grassou, who is, moreover, anonymously benevolent and truly