CHAPTER XII

I move to the Rue Fontaine St Georges — I am commissioned to paint the portrait of Madame Thomas — Buying more furniture — A house-warming — Amusing jeu d'esprit — I take a studio with a friend — The Passage Lathuille — A bad neighborhood — Low rental — Studio furniture — Lady visitors — Impromptu lunches — The amateur model — An amusing experience — Attractive personality of the average female model — "Wrong uns" — Earnings of models — Faux manages— Long "collages " — Cat-and-dog existence — Middle-aged ex-models — The morals of the ancienne cocotte — How a collage usually commences — An artistic anecdote — Coolness of Frenchmen nowadays — An incident in a café — Mon amie in the Rue Frochot — Laughable incident — A lapse of memory

I HAD now been at the Rue de la Rochefoucauld about a year when a friend who had a small appartement de garçon in the Rue Fontaine St Georges just round the corner asked me if I would take it off his hands. It was so much more convenient in every way than my one room, and, above all, so cheap that I jumped at the chance of having a real apartment all to myself. It would seem like getting on, anyway, I said to myself, as an excuse for my extravagance. So I took it and moved in.

Monsieur Thomas, to still further encourage me, commissioned me to paint Madame's portrait as a pendant to his own, so I felt quite arrivé. Up till then I had had very little in the way of furniture of my own, so this commande was more particularly acceptable as it enabled me to increase my meager stock of household goods and chattels. There were lots of marchands de bibelots round about the Boulevard de Clichy, where I managed to pick up quite a lot of artistic odds and ends; so my rooms looked quite well filled when I had finished. And as I was only paying four pounds a year more rent I had reason to feel satisfied with my bargain. I gave a sort of house-warming, I remember — and found when my friends turned up I was short of glasses, so had to borrow some from the concierge.

Not having sufficient chairs didn't so much matter, as one could always sit on the floor. Mentioning chairs reminds me of a very amusing jeu d'esprit. I had got to know une dame mariée just about the time I moved into the Rue Fontaine, and after a lot of persuasion she agreed to come and fetch me one evening at my rooms instead of meeting me at the corner of the street. At lunch that day I casually asked an artist friend — who was always looked upon as a Don Juan, so many adventures was he supposed to have on hand — what he would advise me to do with her, since she really was a married woman; meaning, of course, whether to take her to a café concert or to dinner or to supper. It was doubtless a stupid thing to ask him at all, but I wanted also to let him see that he was not the only lady-killer in Montmartre. He leaned on the table, and stroking his moustache reflectively, replied after a pause, "Is it the first time this belle dame is visiting you?"

"Yes, of course," I replied unguardedly.

"Then in that case," he rejoined gravely, "I should advise you before she arrives to put something on every chair — books, hats, anything."

"What on earth for? " I exclaimed.

"Parce que alors mon cher elle sera forcée de s'asseoir sur le lit."

I stared at him for a moment, and then it dawned on me that either he was pulling my leg, or had misconstrued my query.

Not long after I had settled down in the Rue Fontaine a friend suggested my sharing with him a studio he felt like taking close to the Place Clichy. From what he told me it struck me as being a bargain, and as I wanted some place where I could paint a picture for the following year, I said I would go with him to see it and think it over. It was situated in a narrow, tortuous-like alley leading from the Boulevard to the Avenue de Clichy — named the Passage Lathuille, and was one of the queerest places imaginable. Though leading directly from two very busy thoroughfares, it was as ill-paved and as quiet as a street in a small provincial town; at night so badly lighted and so deserted as to suggest the possibility of any crime being committed in its dark purlieus with comparative impunity. Short cut though it is, I fancy that even nowadays most people would prefer to avoid it late at night, for the neighborhood has an unsavory reputation.

So far as the cheapness of the atelier in question was concerned, there was nothing to be said against it, for it was only fifteen pounds a year. One couldn't well expect a studio for less — but there was nothing attractive about it, and the neighborhood was particularly squalid. Still it was an atelier and it had been built as such. It was on the ground floor of a very old house and the door opened on to the courtyard; there was only the studio and a small lumber closet which could be used as a cabinet de toilette. Well, I decided to share it with him, so we took it at once. He had a lot of odds and ends in the way of furniture, bits of tapestry, old chairs, and cupboards, and such like. I bought some studio rubbish such as pewter plates, a few old casts, an easel, and so forth, and these, with heaps of canvases we had, made the place look really quite cheerful. I am sure that we both felt that it was now only a question of time and then we should be moving to the Boulevard itself.

He was a painter of "Nature morte," and I aimed at portraiture, so our work did not clash. We got on very well together, as our temperaments and tastes were very similar, and we were both ardent admirers at the shrine of feminine beauty.

Models

Now the studio, small and unpretentious as it was, had been occupied before we took it by a painter who was very fond of the fair sex, or else was constantly employing models — judging from the number of good-looking girls who called during the first few weeks to ask after him. As we didn't know him, and he had not left any address, of course the very least we could do, as gallant young men, was to invite them in, and do our best to console them for his departure — usually not an over-difficult task. Many a delightful impromptu déjeuner did we thus owe to the popularity of our predecessor. There was a very good charcutier in the avenue close by, where the galantine was excellen ; also an epicier, who sold a wonderful vin blanc at fifty cents le litre (bottle included). We managed, therefore, to get a good deal of fun as well as work, one way and another, out of the studio — and the great charm of it was that it was generally à l'improviste. One could never tell when something amusing might turn up.

I remember one instance in particular, which will bear recounting, as it was the only experience of the kind I ever had whilst in Paris. My friend was away in the country staying with his people, and I was pottering about alone in the studio one afternoon. It was not an over-cheerful place when one had it all to oneself, as there was no look-out whatever — and I was pondering whether I would go round to the café and have my aperitif when there came a timid knock at the door. "Entrez," I called out, only too glad of a visitor. There was a moment's pause — then the door opened and a young woman entered. From her diffident manner I saw at once she was not a model, or a friend of our predecessor. She might have been a girl from a small shop judging from her very plain and homely attire.

"Que voulez-vous, Mademoiselle?" I asked, noting her evident embarrassment.

With much hesitation she then to my surprise explained that she wanted to become a model.

"A model for what ?" I replied thoughtlessly — for she had no pretension whatever to beauty; in fact, she was a very plain and commonplace-looking girl.

"I've been told I've got a good figure. Monsieur," she nervously answered, and then she continued with sudden volubility that she came from Amiens, was only nineteen, had been employed as a bonne up till now, but that she didn't like the work, and didn't want to go back to the country again; and someone had told her she could earn quite a lot of money as a model — and that's why she had knocked at my door. The concierge had told her I used models.

I was for a moment sorry for the stupid girl, as I could see at a glance that she was no earthly good as a figure model. Someone had evidently been poking fun at her — and I was about to tell her that I was not in want of anyone for the moment, when a devilish idea of a joke flashed through my mind.

"Well, Mademoiselle," I said, after a pause, "of course I cannot give you sittings without seeing your figure first; it's impossible to judge what it's like with all your clothes on. Please undress and let's have a look at it."

"Oh, Monsieur," she replied with renewed embarrassment, "I have never done so before — I don't like to."

"Well, do as you please," I replied, "but if you want to become a model you must not have any false modesty. However, don't worry about it today; come and see me again some other time."

She was on the point of going and had her hand on the door when she suddenly appeared to make up her mind, and, coming back, she blurted out, "I'll show it you now, since I'm here — but where shall I undress; not here in the studio before you."

"Oh you can manage in there, no doubt," said I nonchalantly, indicating the lumber closet.

She went in and was an unconscionable time, I thought, so I called out, "Please come along when you're ready — don't be shy. I'm not going to eat you."

With a sort of nervous giggle, she then appeared in a long white shift of some coarse material such as I imagine peasants wear, and stood irresolute before me where I sat at my easel.

"Allons," I said in a friendly tone to encourage her, for she was trembling painfully, "you'll have to take that off also."

With much hesitation she let it fall off one shoulder, then off the other, till at last, as if with a great effort, she let it drop and stood before me in puris naturalibus. A glance was sufficient to confirm what I had surmised, that she would not be the slightest use as a model. Had it not been for the tale she had pitched me and the fuss she had made about undressing, I should not have looked at her twice. However, for form's sake, I told her to take a pose or two, which she did with about as much grace and elegance as a young elephant. Then I said, "Thank you, you can put on your things again."

She did not require to be told twice; she made a snatch at her garment and rushed back into the lumber-room. She was far quicker dressing than undressing, and soon reappeared, looking very hot and untidy — but she had quite recovered her composure.

"Will I do for you, Monsieur? " she asked with a flippant smile as she fixed on her hat.

Her manner irritated me. She was no longer the demure little person that had entered the studio a few minutes previously. I simply could not resist the temptation to carry out my joke.

Stood Irresolute...
"Well," I replied gravely, "if Mademoiselle will leave her address with me I will give it to my master on his return."

She stood as if transfixed. "Your master on his return," she repeated. "What! Aren't you the artist?"

"No, I'm only his valet," I replied; "but that doesn't matter. I will make a report on your beautiful figure to him."

"Oh, you wretch," she exclaimed with rage; "and to think that I undressed before you."

She was about to create a scene and start abusing me when at this moment there was a knock at the studio door. Who could it be ?

"Attendez ici un instant," I said to the girl. " Voilà du monde qui arrive."

Going out I found a friend of mine, not an artist — as a matter of fact he was on the Bourse.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," he said with a significant laugh, for he evidently had heard the girl's voice.

A positive inspiration came to me; so, in a few words, I hastily told him what had happened, and asked if he would like to have a good joke, and follow it up by pretending he was my master.

He entered into the spirit of the idea at once. " ll right," he said, "I'll do it, and I bet I'll get her to show me her figure also, if you give me time."

So I arranged that I would go and wait for him at the café at the corner for half an hour. It was nearer an hour and a half before he turned up. He looked somewhat disheveled.

"I'm simply bursting for a drink," he said. "What a hot afternoon, and such an adventure, mon vieux." Then seeing that I expected some details, he added, "Mais elle n'êtait pas si mal que cela cette jeune fille." He wouldn't tell me any more, and I never saw her again.

As a rule I found the average model — I refer to the female ones — a very sympathetic and attractive personality, who actually took an intelligent interest in your work if she liked you. There are, of course, "wrong uns," as one would find in any calling — women who were simply nothing more or less than "des grues" — who would be found in the low cafés and brasseries on the Boulevard's exterieurs, who exercised two professions, one by day and the other by night. Of these I have nothing to say — but the modèle serieux, if she had any pretension to good-looks or beauté du corps, could always find work if she stuck to it, and could easily earn her three hundred francs a month.

Unfortunately — if one can put it so — the atmosphere of France seems to lend itself to romance and the entente, or sympathy, or what one will, which so often exists between artist and model, frequently in Paris takes a serious and lasting form. A slight penchant or a dog-in-the-manger desire to keep her entirely to himself ends eventually by his persuading her to become his mistress et de se mettre en ménage ensemble.

A Very Sympathetic...

In the cafés mostly frequented by artists round Montmartre — the Café de la Rochefoucauld, of course, excepted — one saw many of these faux ménages, happy enough no doubt so long as the woman retained her good looks, but afterwards often developing into a cat-and-dog existence as her middle age approached. To me these " collages" always appeared pathetic; it seemed such a pity that a man beyond the prime of life, and with a reputation, should live in this ambiguous and undignified fashion; when arrived at an age when his position almost demanded a certain pose, he should be under the thumb of a woman whom he had rescued perhaps from the streets, and who had never anything but her looks to recommend her when young — for these middle-aged passée ex-model maîtresses become more and more exigeante as time goes on.

In some cases, artists I knew — men of standing — had married their maîtresses, and this, with scarcely an exception, turned out disastrously for the man. It was merely exchanging one's fetters of one's own free will without the slightest material advantage — except for the woman. It may be replied that the women had given up the best years of their lives while living with these men. Soit! but it was generally done with their eyes wide open; they knew their men, and it was usually with but one object in view — a certain aisance, or perhaps marriage, in their middle age. Moreover, it was, as far as I could see, only when they got passées that they were really faithful to their amants, and that their virtue became unassailable. Never was there truer an axiom than:"Il n'y a pas de vertue plus sévere que celle de l'ancienne cocotte." When still endowed with youth and beauty they seldom had any compunction en faisant des petites queues, when the opportunity presented itself, as it often would.

Although in all these sordid affairs one was constantly being reminded of La Rochefoucauld's aphorism that "Everything is reducible to the motive of self-mterest" it often appeared to me that conceit on the part of the man was the initial cause of many of these miserable collages. A middle-aged man by some accident came across an exceptionally good-looking girl; whether he picked her up in the street or was introduced didn't matter. She took a fancy to him. All his friends must immediately know of — well, say — his good-fortune. "Une beauté mon cher je te la ferai voir," he would tell them confidentially. Then he would bring her to his café. If she really was something quite out of the common, his pals, middle-aged men like himself, would leer at her, pay her compliments which would turn her silly head; they would tell him she was "ravissante mon cher — quel chançard que tu es," and the mischief was done. His vanity was tickled, and if his means allowed it, he would henceforth make her his maîtresse — and then she would be his alone, as the poor fool would imagine. After which, if the collage continued long enough, it would develop gradually into another of these faux ménages I have described — which must not, of course, be confounded with the charming little "liaisons" amongst students and petites ouvrières in the Quartier Latin. These collages were, as far as I could judge, generally confined to the artists, sculptors, and musicians who lived in the district — doubtless owing to the Bohemian existence attaching to their professions.

Talking of models, there was a story told of an artist who had just moved into a studio on the Avenue de Villiers. Every morning he used to take a constitutional, and on several occasions he had met a very beautiful woman, who apparently lived a few doors away from him. He was so struck with her that he used to make a point of always going for his stroll at the same hour on the chance of meeting her, although she had not given him the slightest indication of desiring to make his acquaintance. This went on for some days, till at last she gave him a glance, the meaning of which was unmistakable, so the next morning he purchased a large bouquet of flowers, and waited. She came out as usual, and as she did so, he went up to her, and raising his hat, he asked her acceptance of the flowers — at the same time telling her how long he had admired her from a distance, and how much he would like to paint her; and ended by asking her if she would come and sit for him. She said nothing in reply to all this, but when he had finished she went back into her doorway and blew a small whistle she carried on a chain. A man-servant appeared. "Jean," she said, "put Monsieur's name on my list."

We hear a great deal nowadays of Frenchmen having lost a lot of their old excitability. Even in those far-off days of which I write I found that on occasions the Parisian, as well as the Parisienne, could under provocation be cool enough to make me feel very hot. One instance in particular comes to my mind. I found myself one night in an enterprising mood seated at a café next to a very charming little lady who was in the company of a middle-aged man. In the conceit of my youth I magnified to myself what was probably but a very casual glance into a desire on her part to love me for myself alone. To tear a leaf out of my sketch-book and scrawl a hurried line thereon was the work of but a moment. Another moment and I had managed to let her see it, and pushed it along the seat into her hand. Swifter still the denouement! To my horror, I saw my billet-doux handed to her attendant cavalier, who read it as calmly as if it had been the wine list, and then tearing it carefully into four pieces, handed it back to me in full view of the whole café — with an exaggerated gesture of politeness, more withering than the most studied verbal insult. I had asked for it and got it, and there being no reply possible, I suddenly remembered an important appointment outside. It is many years ago, but I tingle all over when I recall my very poor attempt at a dignified exit.

At about this time a very good-looking lady who was living in the Rue Frochot under the protection of a wealthy but aged gentleman honored me with her affection — and would often come and sit for me when I wanted a model, and in return for this kindness on her part, when she sent round word to me to say she felt lonely as her guardian was away, I would go round and do my best to cheer her up of an evening for a few hours. And as I was young and full of spirits I generally succeeded. She had a nice apartment on the ground floor with windows on the street, a very quiet one, and I was pretty agile in those days, so there was no need to ring the house bell when the hall door was closed at night, which was very fortunate, as in her residence, like in many others in the eccentric quarters of Paris, if one was not known one had to call out to the concierge the name of the person you were visiting, if it was after dark.

By the way, this peculiar custom was the cause of a most irritating, though laughable incident that happened to me late one night not far from where I lived. A beauteous dame had invited me to call on her, but as she had an engagement for supper she asked me to defer my visit till her return in the early hours of the morning — not an unusual time for a call in Montmartre, So I went to keep the appointment — rang the bell — the door opened, and as it was pitch dark inside I lit a match and started groping my way upstairs, for she had told me her apartment was situated on the fourth floor. I had scarcely gone a dozen steps when the concierge came out of his room holding a lamp. "Who's that? " he called out.

"Someone for the lady on the fourth floor," I replied.

"What's the name of the lady you are going to see. Monsieur?" he called out again.

At that moment my memory played me a trick it has occasionally served me since, but never under such awkward circumstances. For the life of me I could not recollect her name. I tried all I could to remember it quickly, as there was no time to spare — but to no effect. The concierge hurried up to where I was standing.

"Who are you going to visit?" he repeated roughly this time — and holding up the lamp to see me better.

I thought it perhaps best to treat it as a joke.

"To tell you the truth," I said, with a sickly attempt at a laugh," I've clean forgotten her name."

"Oh, that's it, is it," he exclaimed; "then if you don't know who you want to see you must come down again and get out quick."

I saw it was useless arguing with him, as he might have called for the police and created a scene, so down I returned very sheepishly.

"I am sorry you don't believe me, but I will return tomorrow and prove to you what I say is true," I said as I went out. For all reply he slammed the door in my face.

I went and sat in a café and racked my memory, hoping her name would come back to me so that I could write and explain — but it was no use. I never remembered it again. A few days later we met by accident, and I was on the point of speaking to her, but she gave me a look that froze me up. I had a good deal of nerve, but after that I did not dare to go up to her and say the reason I had not kept the appointment was because I had forgotten her name.



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