Portraits of an Artist
Portraits of an Artist
Edward Darley Boit
For my part, I can trace the beginning of all that happened to that day early in June at our house in Paris, Florence's fourteenth birthday; John was there to help us celebrate, but he and I had crept off to my library for a chat before luncheon. We were discussing his meteoric rise to recognition at the Salon, about which he and I disagreed.
"This will never do," John was saying, "if you count them all up, so far I've got an actor and his wife, their monstrous children, the alluring Dr. Pozzi, and the wives of three petits civil servants!"
My friend threw up his hands in frustration, and strode over to the cart to pour himself a whiskey. He downed it in one gulp, and turned to me, sitting patiently through his furious lament. "She keeps me out! Paris looks down her nose at me, because I am a foreigner, un Américainr !
"Come, come, John," I said. "This is the fourth year - in a row, mind you - that the Salon has accepted one or more of your paintings for the exhibition - and you are barely twenty-six years old." I leaned back in my leather chair, lightly caressing the cigar which, unlit, tempted me to reach for a match and set it alight. I resisted with an inward sigh, hearing my physician's admonishing voice. No more than one a day . I picked up my glass of sherry instead, and brought it to my lips.
"Oh yes, of course," John said, pouring himself another whiskey. "The Salon recognizes my talent, I know it well - but those paintings come with no money attached to them. With the exception of Pail leron, great actor and playwright that he is, I paint no one but petites bourgeoisies and such friends of my own who oblige me by sitting in my cold studio and drinking up my wine!"
I looked at my young friend - he was indeed very young, to me, old and tired and worn as I felt these days. "Are you in such straits, John, that you cannot afford refreshment for your sitters? If you need something - " I broke off at the look on his face.
"How kind you are," he said, shaking his head. "I'm horrified that I've shown you what an ungrateful brute I can be." He held out his hand to me, and I took it and clasped it in my own. "I have no need of a loan, my friend," he went on. "I've just collected my fee from Madame Subercaseaux, the wife of the Chilean consul here, you know, and also Isabel Valle, that is, Mrs. George Austen now, she just married that chap in the foreign affairs office." He released my hand and sat down heavily on the leather chair next to me. As I watched his face, I could almost see the calculations as he mentally reviewed the state of his finances. I knew that most of his income went to supporting his parents and two sisters - but I thought he had been doing well enough the last two years to make that an easier burden than previously. How else could he have afforded his own studio and separate apartments in the city?
"No," he repeated, reaching for a match to light the cigarette he took from a gold case. "No, it's not money I lack at the present moment." He drew deeply of the fragrant tobacco, and looked sharply at me. "I have a reputation to build, Ned. My art, my talent shall - must - command not only the highest prices but also the honor due to great art." He grinned and rapped his knuckles on the wooden table near his chair. "I say this in all modesty, of course!"
He picked up his sherry glass from the table and drained the contents. "And all the beautiful Parisiennes ," he went on, "all those ladies of ancient lineage and pedigree and delicate sensibilities - they will swoon when they see me