CHAPTER III

I leave the Rue de Reuilly — My new quarters — I make a start at the École — The three ateliers de peinture — Gérome's, Cabanel's and Lehmann's — The routine in the Antique — A probationer — My fair neighbor in the Rue de Seine — A disillusion — Working hours of Paris as compared with London — The goûter — Types of students — French, English, and American — A stroll after work — Weekends en famille — The house in the Pare des Princes at Auteull — Practical joking — An incident at the Théâtre des Italiens — The fête at Versailles — An interesting experience

It was with considerable misgiving that I dragged myself away from the delightful house in the Rue de Reuilly, although it was arranged that I should always spend my weekends either at Auteuil or with the Thomases. I felt a lump in my throat when the time came for me to be leaving; it seemed to me that I was on the threshold of a new life, and that my boyhood was over. Hitherto I had lived at home, where I had no worries or responsibilities, but henceforth I was to be practically dependent on my own individual resources. Not unnaturally I felt a certain diffidence, but I pulled myself together and determined to get on if it lay in my power to do so. My room in the Rue de Seine seemed particularly dreary and poverty-stricken after the luxury I had been accustomed to, and the few personal belongings I possessed appeared but a sorry lot when they were brought upstairs. There was however naught for it but to make the best of the situation, so I unpacked and then made my way to the École, where Stott had promised to meet me.

Under his guidance it did not take long to get into the routine of the work. All new-comers, however much experience they might have had previously, were obliged to start in the "antique." This was obligatory. All that was necessary in the shape of equipment were a chair and a stool, a cardboard portfolio to hold one's paper and serve also as drawing-board, some charcoal, and, most necessary of all to the novice, stale bread to rub out with. (It would be interesting to know how much bread is used in a year by beginners.)

There were three ateliers de peinture at the École — Gérome's, Cabanel's and Lehmann's. They were all situated on the first floor, and entirely distinct from one another, but in the novitiate stage, when drawing in the antique, everyone worked in the big hall where he pleased.

The Patron, as one's master was affectionately termed, visited his atelier twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and after inspecting the painters, he would come through the antique to look at the work of his new pupils. As soon as he entered, it was customary to stand up by one's easel, as otherwise he would not know which were his élèves amongst the crowd at work. His visit did not usually occupy more than a few minutes. A few words of encouragement — or the reverse — and one was left to one's own devices, to work hard or otherwise — as one chose.

Every now and then, when there was room in the atelier, a sort of informal concours was held for admittance, and a certain number of drawings selected. Until then one was only a probationer and could not go upstairs even to visit a friend in the atelier. It may be imagined, therefore, how eagerly one looked forward to getting out of the first stage; but it was long and heart-breaking, for, under the French system, all previous notions of drawing had to be changed. Still, experience helped considerably to shorten one's time in the antique; it was different to being an absolute beginner. Whilst working downstairs, therefore, one could do practically as one pleased, work or play — as for the matter of that was the case in the atelier, but there was none of the incentive and enthusiasm one found later when painting from the life. The antique was the drudgery of the training, but everyone had been through it at the École by the time he went into the atelier. You were not supposed to even possess a paint-box till you could draw — such was the thoroughness of the system; straightforward, broad draughtsmanship with none of the superfluous detail and finish which was required of the student in those days by the Royal Academy in London. I had already done a considerable amount of drawing from the cast before I went to Paris, so it did not appear quite so tedious to me; still I had not thought I should have to go through it all again.

Later in the afternoon I went to the Cours Yvon, which was held in an amphitheatre of the École. In those days only a very limited number
of élèves were allowed, so I could consider myself fortunate in having been accepted. Here, at any rate, was a break from the monotony of the antique, as the class was held simply for rapid drawing from the life; but it was a very serious affair, and no talking whatever was permitted.

I was up betimes the following morning, not entirely because I wanted to get down to the school early, but in the hope of catching a glimpse of my fair neighbor before I went out. I opened my window, when, to my annoyance, I saw a big, bearded individual in scanty attire leaning over the rail smoking a pipe. I was wondering if he was the occupant of the room on the other side of mine, when he was joined by a fat, fair woman of uncertain age, and not the least attractive in appearance, in a loose peignoir, who came from the room which, in my mind's eye, I had pictured as containing the elements of a romance. This was the owner of the arm and hand that had conjured in my youthful imagination such visions of female loveliness and romance. I felt very disappointed, but as my room was really not uncomfortable and very conveniently situated, I consoled myself with the thought that I might have been worse off elsewhere, and that, as I was not going to be indoors very often, it didn't much matter — all of which was doubtless very philosophical. I remember I told Stott about it, and he roared with laughter, and said it was the richest thing he'd heard for a long time, my jumping at the room on the sight of a plump arm at the next window.

"Never mind, old man," he added, " you'll probably have lots of new neighbors if you stay there long enough, so better luck next time."

But this couple had evidently got a lease of their room, for they were still there when I left. My neighbor on the other side of the terrace turned out to be a student — a young Hungarian — with whom I got to be on rather friendly terms. My home surroundings were, therefore, of the most prosaic and unromantic character for the moment.

In Paris the day practically begins two hours ahead of London, and although there was no fixed hour for starting work in the antique, one unconsciously got into the habit of commencing as early as possible, so by eight o'clock in the summer one had already got into full swing.

I soon found my way about the Quartier. There was a little crémerie close by, where one got a bowl of excellent coffee and a roll for thirty centimes. This, at half-past seven, constituted breakfast; at ten, Stott and I used to knock off for a little while and go across the road to the marchand de vin for goûter, which consisted of a glass of white wine and a croissant. This cost another thirty centimes; and this goûter made a welcome break in the long morning. For déjeuner, there was the choice of several little cheap restaurants round about, where one could suit one's meal — not to one's appetite, that would never have done — but to one's purse; then after a coffee and a cigarette, back to the school to work all the afternoon.

It was hard and monotonous, but buoyed up with the thought that it would not be long before one got into the atelier, the days passed quick enough. I recollect the envy with which one looked on the men who were working upstairs — bearded, long-haired fellows in all manner of fantastic garb, with slouch hats rakishly worn, cigarette on lip, and big paint-boxes slung by a strap on their shoulders. These men to our eyes were what were known as "arrivés," and we all hoped to be like them some day.

The types of students varied curiously, and formed quite a study in itself. There were three categories. The "rapins," or veriest beginners — youths who looked like a drawing by Gavarni, and affected a "get-up" which they fondly imagined proved them to be born artists — long hair cut a la Leonardo da Vinci, flat-brimmed, black, sombrero hats, enormous bow ties, velvet coats, and pegtop trousers. These fellows were always talking Art, and laying down their views on it, whilst running down the works of all the great old masters of any school, indiscriminately. It was condescension on their part to even admit there were any artists before their own advent in the world. Then there were the "poseurs" — most insufferable snobs — who would talk loudly to their pals, whilst working, about their friend, the dear Duchess of this, or their uncle, the Vicomte of that, and so forth, for the benefit of all around. But this big talk didn't impress us much if we happened to hear it. The aristocracy inspired no awe in the mind of the average student; rather the contrary — it and the sale bourgeois, who were born rich and idle, excited disgust and contempt, which was often expressed in forcible terms.

Across The Road

There was a funny way of letting the "poseurs" know what was thought of their bombastic talk, when, for instance, one of them mentioned perhaps how he had been dining the evening previously with someone of title. Immediately the crowd working round would imitate in chorus the bugle call with which it is customary to receive a general when he rides on to parade. There would be a yell of laughter, and this usually stopped them bragging, for that day at any rate.

Then there were the English and the Americans, mostly quiet, reserved, and well-dressed fellows, who kept themselves very much to themselves, seldom attempting to join in any "ragging," probably because their knowledge of French was as a rule very limited; in fact, it was this reserve which accounted for so few of them acquiring any proficiency in the language. I knew several men who had lived several years in Paris, yet could scarcely speak a word of French; they were always speaking English, and did not appear to care to associate with anyone outside their own set.

With the exception of the English and the Americans, the majority of the students at the École were as poor as church mice, and how they managed to live was always a mystery to me, yet they seemed happy enough. There was one chap in particular — he has made a name for himself since — who only had fifty francs a month. His parents were peasants, he told me, and it was only by pinching themselves that they were able to send him even this modest pittance. Still he managed to exist on it somehow, to his great credit, and was already doing good work. I remember he confided in me that he had contrived to make his own colors; otherwise he could not have afforded to buy them at the marchand de couleurs. Of course, most of the students were quite young — some scarcely more than lads — but there were several who were long past the conventional age of the étudiant of the Quartier; they had started too late, as a rule, and would always remain novices.

Types Of Students

When work was over, or if, as not infrequently happened, after déjeuner, the weather was particularly warm, Stott and I would have a stroll, and perhaps make our way across the river to the Louvre, or else to the Champs Elysées, and watch the gay traffic, and discuss what we should do with all our wealth if ever we became famous, and rich in consequence. Ah! those dreams of youth!

And so the weeks passed, and on Sundays I always spent the day like a good boy — en famille. Not that there was anything in the nature of an irksome duty about it; very much to the contrary, in fact, and I quite looked forward to the weekends at Auteuil, where I usually went, as the old people liked to have all the family round them on Sundays. There was always a lively gathering — endless badinage and laughing, and never a dull moment.

Déjeuner, in particular, was a great affair on Sundays, as friends would often drive out from Paris and arrive unexpectedly, so one never knew beforehand how many would sit down; but the house was so large that it did not really matter — the more the merrier.

Monsieur Thomas and I would often arrange some harmless practical joke on someone present, which was always laughable, because it was quite inoffensive, and even the pompous old butler had difficulty at times in keeping his countenance. I remember one of these jokes particularly, as it ended rather curiously. There was a young fellow, a relative of the family, a student at the École de Droit. He was a particularly timid and retiring youth, and so nervous that he would blush and simper like a schoolgirl on the slightest provocation. One Sunday Monsieur Thomas and I got up a joke at his expense to see what he would do. We managed to procure some dummy cakes made of a sort of canvas, and very much like the real thing. I recollect they represented brioches with chocolate on them, and looked exactly like the sort which are sold with cream inside, and I arranged to put them in a dish separately. Everybody at table was in the secret, and when it came to handing round the sweets I persuaded him to try one of the dummy cakes. We all of us went on talking loudly and looking the other way so as not to burst out laughing; then after giving him time, as we thought, to find out the joke, we turned round to ask how he liked this particular kind of éclair. To our amazement we discovered he was eating it with gusto, apparently being too timid to make any remark.

Naturally, I felt a bit nervous as to what the result might be, but thought it better to say nothing in order not to frighten him; but he had evidently got a digestion like an ostrich for all the effect it had on him. He seemed rather to like it, in fact. I was passing through the salle à manger after lunch when I happened to notice something lying on the floor under the table. To my surprise, I found it was the cake in question; our timid friend was not quite such a fool as we took him for.

Apart, however, from practical joking, there was always such an atmosphere of gaiety, and, if I can put it so, of youth, at the house in the Pare des Princes that it was almost impossible to pass a dull day there. The whole family all took the keenest interest in my work, and as soon as I arrived on Sunday or Saturday, as the case might be, I had to give them a full account of my doings during the week. As I was the first Art student they had had in their midst, my description of the life in the studio and the Quartier came, I imagine, as a sort of revelation to them all, to the ladies especially — though, of course, I had to somewhat veil my stories. They would have been a bit too hot for these simple bourgeois, who looked upon Paul de Kock and Henri Murger as mere romancers. What a splendid audience they made. Over lunch or dinner I was always a privileged raconteur, and if I happened to hit on something particularly interesting, their rapt attention well repaid me for having to eat my food cold, as often would happen, and then they would all have to wait. "Mais laissez le manger," someone would exclaim. "He'll finish the story afterwards."

But there were some very pretty women there sometimes, and, young as I was then, I felt how delightful it was to be able to interest them even a little bit. Occasionally we would make up a theatre party on Saturdays and drive into Paris in the landau with the two big horses, and when we came back it was almost like returning to the country, so quiet was Auteuil in those days.

Talking of theatres reminds me of a somewhat curious incident that happened on one of these occasions. We had gone to the Theatre des Italiens, which was then one of the most fashionable places in Paris. It has long since been pulled down. My friends always did things well — besides which, as they were very rich, they could afford to; so they generally had a box, and on this particular occasion we had the best loge in the house. There were four of us, one lady and three men. As there was plenty of room I happened to be sitting well in front, and in full view of the house. The curtain was not yet up when we entered, and we had not been seated many minutes before we noticed everyone looking in our direction. Glasses were leveled on us from all sides. We could see we were being talked about, and altogether there was no mistaking it, we had attracted attention, for some reason or other which we did not know. Still, the interest we had excited was evidently not of a disrespectful nature — rather the contrary; of that there was no doubt. We began to wonder what was the cause of it all, when a discreet knock came at the door of the box and Monsieur Thomas went to see who it was. He was outside for a few seconds, and when he returned there was an amused smile on his face, which we all knew from experience meant he had something up his sleeve.

"Well, what is it?" we all asked.

"Keep perfectly calm and don't laugh, because we are being looked at," he replied with an assumed air of great dignity," and I will tell you. It has got about that Julius is the Prince Imperial visiting Paris incognito, and I was asked if such is the case. We shall have to be very circumspect as there may be a demonstration when we leave."

I may here mention that I was supposed to bear some resemblance at that time to the ill-fated Prince.

"But what did you reply? " I naturally asked.

"I told them I was not at liberty to tell who you were — which is true, isn't it? you haven't given me permission. Anyhow, c'est assez amusant n'est ce pas? "

"Well, you'll have to be very deferential to me all the evening," said I, scenting a good joke, and they all agreed to follow it up. So when it was the entr'acte, and we went into the foyer, I got the two men to walk obsequiously on either side of me with their opera hats in their hands, whilst I remained covered. In the meantime the rumor had got round that I was the Prince, and the people gathered round to such an extent that it became quite embarrassing, and I was at last glad to return to the box. At the conclusion of the performance we found quite a crowd waiting outside, and as I got into the carriage several hats were raised in respectful salutation. It was indeed an amusing experience. The following day one or two of the papers gave out that the Prince Imperial had been seen at the Théâtre des Italiens the previous evening, but that no political importance need be attached to his visit to Paris, as he desired to remain quite incognito.

All my souvenirs of those early days at Auteuil are delightful. Here is another which is well worth recounting, as it was quite as interesting in its way. A big fête was given at the Palace of Versailles, in honor of some royal personage if I
remember rightly. Anyhow, it was intended to outshine any previous entertainment of its kind given since the war. The papers for days before hand were full of descriptions of the wonderful decorations and the preparations for the illuminations of the gardens, for it was intended that on this occasion all the ancient glories of Versailles under Louis XIV. should be revived. The spectacle promised to be unique, so it may be imagined how eagerly the invitations were sought after, for everybody wanted to be present. To our great satisfaction Monsieur Thomas received one of the coveted cards.

Well, the Sunday before the fête we were at Auteuil as usual, and after lunch one of the ladies mentioned how much she would have liked to be able to see the illuminations on the great night. We all agreed that they would be a sight the like of which had never before been seen anywhere, if they were carried out as the papers described they would be.

Unfortunately, however, the public were not to be allowed to approach anywhere near the Palace, so there was no chance of anyone without a card of invitation getting through the cordon of police. Suddenly someone suggested a way by which a few of us at any rate could see the gardens, if the scheme was carried out successfully.

And this is what he proposed: That instead of Monsieur Thomas going in the carriage he should take the factory van, and we would stow ourselves in it somehow, and if we got through the lines we should have plenty of opportunity of seeing all that was going on. This, of course, was only the rough idea; how he proposed to carry it out I will describe.

Well, Monsieur Thomas, sportsman as he was, agreed to risk it; so it was arranged that the van should come early, so as to give us ample time to make our preparations. I may here explain that the covered-in vans used in France are known as "tapissières." They are very large vehicles, solidly built, and with a hood projecting over the driver's seat. When they belong to a big private firm or a factory they seldom have any name on them, and therefore have a certain air of distinction. The tapissière from the Rue de Reuilly was quite well-appointed and clean. The importance of this having been the case will be seen, and the driver Antoine had been with the firm since he was a lad, and his father and grandfather before him, so he could be fully trusted to carry out any instructions without remark.

The eventful night arrived, and punctually to time the van perfectly empty and thoroughly clean inside and out. Everything had been well thought out and was in readiness. Four of us were to accompany Monsieur Thomas. A very pretty girl of eighteen a niece of his, Alexandre Thomas, another young fellow, and myself.

As I have explained, the van was a very large one, and there was plenty of space. We, therefore, put into it chairs, a fauteuil for the lady, a small table and a lamp, which made it look like a tiny sitting-room; but we knew it was likely we should be out all night, so it was necessary to arrange to be comfortable. Of course, the reason for the table had not been overlooked, and Madame Thomas had it well stocked with sandwiches, fruit, sweets and wine. We were going to make a delightful picnic of the adventure, and all were in the gayest spirits.

At last we were ready to start, and amidst much laughter we all climbed into the vehicle, the door of which could be bolted from the inside. Monsieur Thomas looked positively magnificent in evening dress with his big fur coat, and very much out of place in the van, but that was part of the plot that he should, as will be seen. Well, off we started, and the two powerful horses made light of their easy load. It does not take long to cover the distance between Auteuil and Versailles as a rule, but on this eventful occasion we had no sooner got into the main road than we found ourselves in the midst of an endless stream of carriages of every possible description conveying guests to the Palace. We made but slow progress as we gradually approached our destination, and at last barely moved at a walking pace, so dense was the crowd of vehicles; but we took the delays in very good part. The lamp was extinguished, and we sat with the door at the back wide open, so had a fine view of all that was going on around, as, so far, our peculiar carriage had been allowed to proceed without hindrance — it might have been a van going anywhere in the direction of Versailles, and the road was only blocked after a certain point, which had been announced by the police. At last we knew we were within touch of the military cordon round the Palace, so the door was closed, and we sat in darkness, though we could see all that was going on through the front of the van. We could see the carriages ahead of us pulled up whilst the occupants produced their tickets of invitation. The regulations were very stringent on this point.

Now the culminating point of our adventure was at hand, and it was necessary for Monsieur Thomas to enact his part in it. Seating himself in the front of the van next to Antoine, he waited events. We proceeded at a snail's pace. Suddenly an officer rode up and demanded furiously to know "what that tapissière was doing there." Then Monsieur, standing up, called out to him. The sight of this resplendent personage in evening dress and heavy fur coat on the humble van had the desired effect. The officer was evidently much surprised, and he came up alongside to investigate personally. Then Monsieur Thomas produced the gorgeous card of invitation to the Palace, and explained that his carriage had broken down on the road from Paris, and this "brav homme," indicating Antoine, who sat as stolid as a deaf mute, had kindly offered to give him a lift. Of course we could not be seen, as we were sitting in the darkness inside. The officer was much impressed, and congratulated Monsieur Thomas on his luck in arriving at all; and then turning to Antoine, added, "I will give you a pass so that you can get through and out again without difficulty," and handed him an official card.

This done, we then proceeded, and soon found ourselves in the midst of the splendor of the fête. It was like driving through fairyland, as our pretty companion expressed it, and really the effect was very beautiful. On all sides were illuminations, and in every possible place — in the trees, along the walks, round the fountains — statues everywhere; whilst the strains of music which could be faintly heard added to the weird and enchanting effect. It was indeed a sight to be remembered, and well worth the risk we had taken. We had no difficulty in driving right up to the entrance indicated in Monsieur Thomas's invitation card. We were stopped several times, but the official pass acted as an Open Sesame.

We arranged to go and wait with the van at a certain well-known café restaurant in Versailles, as we rightly anticipated there would be a tremendous rush for the carriages after the fête was over, and possibly much difficulty in meeting in the grounds of the Palace. Very slowly we made our way out after depositing Monsieur Thomas safely at the brilliantly lighted entrance, where was a big crowd of elegant ladies and men in every description of gorgeous uniform. Someone remarked irreverently that it looked like the commencement of a fancy-dress ball.

We reached the café and were not sorry to get out of the van, as we all felt very cramped after sitting in its somewhat narrow confines for so long. Still, we had had a wonderful experience, the memory of which would long remain. Now, however, commenced the tedium of waiting for the return of our friend, and I can still recollect vividly how slowly the time dragged on, and how sleepy we all got towards the small hours of the morning. The café we were in offered nothing very attractive at that time of night, and as we had already supped copiously in the van naught remained but to while away the time as best we could playing cards and drinking endless coffees.

At last, as we were all dozing off. Monsieur Thomas turned up, and, tired though we were, his appearance caused us the greatest merriment. I can still see him in my mind's eye. He was, as I have said, an exceptionally big man; so when I relate that he had on a hat much too small for his massive head, and was wearing an overcoat that had been made for a man about half his size, it may be imagined what he looked like. We positively shrieked with laughter as he walked in, but his usual good-humor had for once deserted him, and he did not appreciate our mirth, for we soon realized that he was in a towering rage. Then we learned that the cloak-room arrangements at the Palace had completely broken down; that the officials in charge had quite lost their heads; and that in the end there had been a wild scramble for coats and hats — and these miserable articles were all that he had been able to get in place of his "gibus" and his splendid fur-lined coat. No wonder he was angry — who would not have been? And then he told us that, to make matters worse, one of the men at the vestiaire had been positively rude to him, and that when he had insisted that this wretched garment and silly hat were not what he had deposited on his arrival, he had actually replied "that he was sorry but he could not give him a fur-lined coat as he hadn't a single one left!

It was only on talking the subject over some days after that the humor in the man's response occurred to us. Meanwhile the fur-lined coat and opera hat were never found, so it turned out a very expensive evening's amusement. This contretemps naturally spoiled what would otherwise have been a most interesting experience.



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