Déjeuner in the
Quartier — Thirions — Curious incident in the Rue du Four
— Arlequins à 2 sous — A joke on the waiter —
Copying at the Louvre — Julians — The atelier in the Rue
We generally went to
déjeuner as soon as the model had gone, for one
felt pretty hungry by then, after getting up so early.
There were lots of little restaurants in the neighborhood
which would be crowded at this hour. Every coterie had its
favorite place of reunion — which was usually selected for
some special reason, but generally from motives of
economy, for we were not fastidious as to the quality of
the food. Stott and I and several of the American and
English students used to meet at a place in the Rue St
Bénôit where it was quite good, considering
how cheap everything was. Then there was Thirions in the
Boulevard St Germain, a very quaint and old-fashioned
little place, reputed to have been favored by the presence
of no less a personage than Thackeray when he was a
student at the Beaux Arts. It had a certain renown in
consequence, though I don't think the food was any the
better for it.
I remember a curious incident that occurred at a small
restaurant in the Rue du Four, where we used to feed
sometimes. It conveys a good idea of the rough-and-ready
manners of the Quartier. We were rather later than usual
for lunch one day and there were only a few students in
the place, as déjeuner was practically over by one
o'clock. We were nearly finished when to our amazement the
door opened and two men entered carrying a large coffin on
their shoulders; with the utmost gravity they passed
slowly through the room with their grim burden and made
their way up the stairs leading to the "Salon pour Noces"
on the first floor. The lugubriousness of the unwonted
spectacle would have probably horrified older folk than
ourselves, but to an étudiant, as to the proverbial
Sappeur, nothing is sacred. After the first moment of
stupefaction facetious remarks were heard — someone wanted
to know if it was a client of the house who had died
suddenly after dining there, to which another replied that
it was not that at all, it was the cold meat for the
assiette à l'Anglaise they were bringing from the
charcutier's. The manager, who evidently felt that some
explanation was due to the customers, came forward and
told us that he regretted to inform us that the
proprietress had died suddenly, and as there was no other
entrance to the house but that leading through the
restaurant, this painful scene could not be avoided.
Evidently it did not occur to him that to have closed the
place for a couple of hours in the afternoon would have
been the decent thing to do under the circumstances.
Many of the students went much farther afield, even to
places as far away as the Boulevard d'Enfer — very
eccentric most of them, though; there was one in
particular where the knives and forks and spoons were
chained to the tables, which was, however, only visited
when one had got to the end of one's month's allowance and
had been more extravagant than usual.
There was an old woman at the Marche St Germain who used
to sell Arlequins à 2 sous. These consisted of odds
and ends of the debris from the restaurants. These were
laid out in rows of plates, and if you got there early you
might be fortunate enough to get something tasty, such as
half a fowl, or a nice piece of beef and carrots, but it
was all a matter of luck what was on the plates, as the
ingredients were mixed up anyhow. The old lady, though,
wouldn't always let you have the plate you chose for the
two sous. "A non, mon petit," I remember she would say, "
je ne peux pas te ceder ça pour moins que 3 sous il
y a du dindon dedans, mais tu auras une bonne croûte
avec"; and if she was in an extra generous mood you got a
large piece of bread, which hadn't been kicking about too
much on the ground, thrown in. You then emptied the plate
on to a newspaper you had brought with you, and ate the
contents there and then whilst strolling round the market,
finishing up with a cigarette and a two sous cup of coffee
at the marchand de vin close by. One had indeed to be
young and have a healthy appetite to tackle this unsavory
bill of fare.
It was a curious fact that the early days of the month —
when one's allowance had just arrived — were marked by a
cheery optimism with regard to expenditure which gradually
disappeared as the succeeding weeks wore on; but the
spirit of joking was ever present, no matter how low one's
funds — sometimes even at the expense of the waiters. One
in particular, very silly, but always raising a laugh.
Someone would ask when near the end of a meal, "What
cheese have you, waiter?" to which of course came the
reply enumerating the usual list.
"Is the camenbert good today, waiter?"
"Oh oui, Monsieur."
"Nice and ripe? "
"Oui, Monsieur, in fine condition."
"Very well then, give me a piece of gruyère."
If the garçon did not know us, the look on his face
may be imagined.
In the afternoon after déjeuner and till it was
time to go to the Cours Yvon I used to copy at the Louvre.
Gérome always recommended this as a method of
learning technique, so for some months I followed his
advice assiduously and got to look on Rembrandt and
Titiens as personal friends; but after a time the old
masters got on one's nerves, one felt so insignificant
alongside them, and the atmosphere of the galleries was so
depressing that I decided that work at a life class would
be more cheerful. At that time there was only one studio
where on paying a fee you could go and paint when you
chose. This was Julians, and it had attained considerable
celebrity. It was divided into two ateliers — one in the
Rue Montmartre and the other in the Rue d'Uzès
close by. In the Rue Montmartre lady students were
admitted as pupils, and, if they chose, even when nude
male models were posing; there were no prejudices or false
modesty. It was all considered Art —with a big A. I shall
never forget my impressions on going there for the first
time one afternoon. The model, a big brawny individual in
a state of nudity, was taking a rest, seated by the stove
smoking a cigarette; around the studio were groups of
students, male and female — some of the latter quite young
girls, chatting and laughing unconcernedly. To me the
scene was a surprising one, but to them it was only part
of the day's work evidently.
In the Rue d'Uzès
there were no women students, and the fees were considerably
less, perhaps for that reason; so as most of my particular
friends from the École went there, I joined also. It
made a very pleasant change from the Louvre, where there was
an impression of hard work; it was a casual go-as-you-please
sort of place, where there was no Professor, but where you
managed to do a lot of good studies without undue effort. Men
would stroll in with their paint-box and a canvas, and if they
thought the model worth painting they would stay — if not,
they'd have a chat and smoke and go away. It was probably this
casual state of affairs that induced a number of very clever
men to come and work at the Rue d'Uzès in the
afternoon. There was of course no ragging or paying one's
footing as at the École, but there was the same spirit
of camaraderie — though perhaps in a somewhat modified degree,
as the majority of the men were considerably older than those
at the École, and there was therefore a tendency to
divide up into cliques. Perhaps on account of the inartistic
character of the neighborhood — the Rue Montmartre is a
wholesale business centre — the atelier lost a good deal of
its Bohemianism — as, for instance, if one felt like going out
for a cup of coffee there was only one place conveniently
near, and that was the Brasserie Muller on the Boulevard
Poissonière, which had a back entrance opposite the
studio, but it was very bourgeois and not in the least like
the cafés in the Quartier.
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