Aventures in St
John's Wood — A pleasant meeting at Marlboro' Road Station
— My welcome visitor — Curious incident — A charming
friendship — The end of the romance — An unexpected call —
Painters idealizing their models — "Love's Golden Dream" —
My search for an ideal — The stage door of Her Majesty's
Theatre — The understudy — I paint the picture — Strange
finale — I am introduced to my ideal — The "material" as
against the "ideal" — The nun at the fancy dress ball —
She comes to the studio — The story of the confessional
THERE was a good deal of fun to be had in St
John's Wood in those days, if you kept your eyes open, but the
aventures were usually somewhat tame when compared with
what one had in Paris, as I have already pointed out. Still,
they were often the more delightful because of this, and there
was frequently a touch of mystery and romance which gave them
additional charm. I don't suppose I was more fortunate than
other young men, or that my particular experiences in this
respect present any distinct novelty; but at any rate there
were a few exceptional incidents that somehow I have always
remembered. One in particular, which I will relate, started in
as singular a manner as it eventually ended.
I was standing one afternoon outside Marlboro' Road Station
talking to a friend, when an exceptionally pretty and smart
girl passed us and went into the booking office. As she did so
I caught her eye, and she gave me, as I thought, a glance
which sent my impressionable heart into my mouth. My friend
noticed it, and remarked jocularly what a lucky fellow I was.
It did not take me an instant to make up my mind. "It's some
one I know," I remarked nonchalantly, without heeding his
chaff." I must have a chat with her." Hurrying into the
station I joined her as she was taking her ticket. Raising my
hat, I held out my hand as though I knew her — she gave a
quick look at me, then said, "I am so sorry but I have taken
you for some one else. I thought I knew you." "I feel
flattered at the mistake," I replied banteringly, "for I feel
sure he must be very nice, but it is easily rectified. Every
friendship must have a commencement; this is where we start."
She gave a little laugh and said, "Well, I must hurry off, for
I have a train to catch at Paddington, and shall miss it if I
stop now. Please let me go." "But I must see you again," I
replied desperately, for she was ever so much prettier than I
had at first thought, and one didn't meet anything like that
as a rule by accident. An idea occurred to me. "You have just
got the face I want for a picture I'm painting," I said; "do
please make an appointment, and let me know where I can write
you." I could see she was really on tenterhooks to get away.
"No, I can't do that. I live with my people, and they are very
strict. We are sure to meet again some day, so good-bye now, I
really must go." But I was not to be put off so easily. She
was handing her ticket to be clipped, and just about to pass
through the barrier; another instant she would have gone. "If
I give you my address," I said, "will you come and see me one
day? Do, please." My persistence seemed to amuse and interest
her. "Well, give me the address of your studio quickly, and I
will think it over," she replied. There was no time to lose. I
felt in my pocket for an envelope, but I hadn't got one;
luckily I had a pencil handy, an unusual thing for an artist,
but not a piece of paper to write on. She had a book covered
with brown paper under her arm. To seize it and to scrawl my
name and address on it was the work of an instant. A hurried
good-bye and she had disappeared.
"You don't lose much time, old man," said my friend, as I
rejoined him. He had evidently realized that this was the
first occasion on which I had met the lady, and was perhaps a
bit annoyed he had let me have it all my own way.
For the next few days her face haunted me; I could not get it
out of my mind, and the recollection of our hasty chat. What a
delightful girl she was, and what a bit of luck it would be if
I ever saw her again, and we should become great friends! I
had not the slightest clue as to her name or even where she
lived. How stupid of me it was not to have a notebook handy,
then I could have got her name and an address to write to. I
determined never to go out again without one in my pocket.
In the meantime, for several days I wandered round Marlboro'
Road Station of an afternoon, about the time that I had met
her, on the off-chance of seeing her again, but to no purpose.
One can't bring about accidental meetings. Weeks passed, and
time with its usual callousness had gradually obliterated her
image, and, as may be imagined, other things gradually
occupied my attention, till at last, I must confess, I
completely forgot the episode.
One afternoon about tea-time I was alone in the studio when
there came a welcome ring at the bell. On opening the door I
found that my visitor was a very pretty and smartly-dressed
girl. I didn't know her, but her face seemed somewhat familiar
to me. A model, I thought. "Is Mr. Price in?" she asked. "Yes,
he is," I said, without hesitation. "Please walk up into the
studio." When we were there I turned round and said, "I am Mr.
Price. What can I do for you?"
She stared at me for an instant with a perplexed expression on
her face, and asked me in a surprised and aggrieved tone,
"Don't you remember me?" I looked at her hard, but was quite
at a loss to remember where I had seen her before. "Please
forgive me," I replied, "if I appear rude, but I've a memory
like a sieve, and it is continually playing me these silly
tricks. I shall forget my own name some day! Please tell me
where we have met before." "Only fancy your forgetting me,
when you said you wanted me to sit for you!" she said, in a
I stood looking at her feeling very uncomfortable, and trying
to wake up my memory, but in vain. Although I seemed to know
her, I had not the faintest recollection who she was. Then she
opened the purse she was carrying and produced a small piece
of brown paper, and handed it to me, saying with a laugh,
"Perhaps that will remind you." I looked at it, and, to my
surprise, I saw written on it my name and address in my own
handwriting. Then, with a flash, it all came back to me. This
was the girl I had met at Marlboro' Road Station, and been so
smitten with a couple of months before, and the piece of paper
was from the cover of the book she was carrying that afternoon
when I met her. I don't think I have ever felt so lacking in
inventive faculty as I did just at the moment; then a happy
thought to treat it as a joke came to my rescue, and I burst
out laughing at my failure to find a plausible excuse for my
lapse of memory. To my relief she entered into the spirit of
it, and I was forgiven, so we had tea together with not a ring
of the bell to disturb us, and she told me all about herself,
and why she had not come to see me before.
She lived at home not very far from London, but too far to get
up to town as often as she would like. It was not always easy
for her to find an excuse to get away, as her father was an
invalid, and she had to look after him; but she had a school
friend who lived near Avenue Road, and she came to see her
occasionally, so if I really wanted to paint her she would be
able to manage to see me now and then. She knew it was very
wrong to come to my studio alone, but she was very dull at
home, and she loved anything in the way of an adventure; that
was why she had kept my address, as she had never been to a
studio before. So she prattled on in an ingenuous style, which
was as delightful as it was fascinating, and I felt it was
indeed a bit of luck my having been in and alone when she
The time slipped away on wings, as it always
does when one is young or old. We seemed to have had such a
lot to talk about that it had passed unnoticed, so when she
suddenly discovered how late it was, I felt as though she had
only been with me a few minutes instead of nearly three hours.
She had to hurry away, and I went with her to the station, and
this time when we parted it was arranged that she should come
and see me again during the week, when I could commence the
One of the most charming little friendships I ever made
started thus in this unconventional manner, and lasted quite a
long time. Though we could only see each other occasionally, I
really believe there was as much depth in it as if we had been
able to be continually together. Such an aventure in
Paris would have ended in a liaison, with all its
sordid worries and quarrels, but here in England it was quite
I painted her in quite a large picture — a romantic subject as
was only befitting under the circumstances, an officer
bringing home his invalid young wife from India. She looked
very beautiful lying back in a deck chair with her fair hair
against the pillows.
The particular charm of it all was, I remember, the interest
she took in the picture from the very start, and it was due to
this that the picture turned out a success, for it was
eventually published and became a well-known print at the
There is, unfortunately, an ending to all happy times, and
sooner or later my rhapsody had to finish — that I realized.
My only hope was that it was not to be for a long while, but I
could hardly expect to monopolize so sweet and pretty a girl
for ever; there must be some sort of dénouement.
She was aware that I was a confirmed bachelor, for I had felt
bound to hint as much at the commencement of our friendship.
The picture finished, there was hardly an excuse for so many
visits to the studio, and I could not fail to notice that they
were falling off, so at last I made some remark to her about
her getting tired of her artist pal. She said that I knew very
well that that was not the case, but the truth was her people
had been getting suspicious of her object in coming so often
to town, and she found it was more and more difficult to find
excuses to get away. Then there was an awkward pause. I felt
something unlooked for was coming. "Why don't you come down to
my home and let me introduce you to father?" she said almost
abruptly, as though a sudden thought had struck her.
I was naturally taken back by the proposition, though I
guessed immediately what was in her mind. Taking her by the
hand I told her as gently as possible that it was better not
for both of us, and she understood. The rest of the afternoon
was somewhat quiet, as may be imagined. We had tea in the
studio as usual, but we both of us felt constrained, and when
we parted at the station, I had an intuition that this was the
end, and so it turned out ! She had made an appointment to
come and spend a day with me shortly afterwards, but at the
last moment I received a wire — "Sorry, can't get away — will
I had had the feeling that she would not come, and it was
almost word for word what I had expected. I felt a sensation
of tightness in my throat as I read it, for we had indeed
spent some lovely times together, and I felt I should not
easily find another pal like her. I recollect that almost
instinctively I turned the easel on which was the picture I
painted from her to the wall. The eyes seemed to open and look
at me reproachfully!
I heard no more from her until a month or so later, when I
received a letter in the familiar writing. My heart leaped
into my mouth, for somehow I was delighted to get it. I had
been longing that she would write, but its contents gave me a
bit of a shock. "I have some big news to tell you," she wrote,
"I am engaged to be married. He is much older than I, and I am
not sure whether I am in love with him, but my people think it
is a very good match for me, so I suppose I shall get used to
him in time and settle down to humdrum married life," and she
concluded by wishing me all good luck.
There was a touch of sadness pervading it that made me feel a
pang of regret.
I sat for some time with the letter in my hand, the events of
the last six months racing through my mind, from the day of
our first meeting till now, and I could not help thinking how
differently it had ended to what it would have been in Paris,
and had she been a French girl. It was indeed better as it had
turned out, though it had been a bit of a wrench breaking it
Some weeks after I received a little box with a piece of
wedding cake and a small envelope with a card in it, printed
in silver, to tell me of the wedding.
About six months afterwards, I was working by myself in the
studio after lunch, when there was a ring at the bell, and to
my intense astonishment she was at the door. I was so taken
aback that I hardly knew what to say. When I recovered my
self-possession, I could only ejaculate, "Fancy seeing you
again!" "I thought I would take you by surprise," she replied
gaily, "and I am so glad to have caught you in. Aren't you
pleased to see me?" "Of course I am," I answered, although I
felt I was a bit abrupt. Somehow she seemed so different. She
was still as pretty as ever, but she was not the same
fascinating girl who had sat for me.
I could never have believed that a few months of married life
could have altered any one so much! There was a false,
light-hearted manner about her, which was not in the least
like her old self.
"Are you alone, and may I come in?" she continued. "Yes,
certainly," I said, immediately, though I must confess her
visit gave me no pleasure. The recollection of a certain
extremely unpleasant experience with a married woman, which I
have already narrated, flashed through my mind.
"Nothing much changed in the dear old place," she exclaimed,
as she dropped into a chair and looked round. "I am so glad to
be back in it again and see you. My husband has gone away for
a few days, so I have come to spend a nice long afternoon and
evening with you, and I'll make tea for you in the studio just
as I used to, and then we can have a nice little dinner
somewhere, and you can put me in the train and send me home
I had, by this time, recovered my self-possession, which for a
moment had deserted me. "Sorry, Maisie, but it can't be done."
"Can't be done!" she exclaimed, "why not, Jules? Are you so
hard up and can't afford it?" "No, not exactly," I replied.
"Oh, I see," she said," the program's all right, but it
happens you have already arranged it with some one else — some
other woman?" I said nothing.
There was a painful little droop at the corner of her pretty
mouth, then she added reproachfully, "O Jules, how could you?
Well, I suppose it was too much to expect you to remain
faithful to me all your life, and after I got married." I
noticed a tear tremble in her eye, then roll down her cheek.
There was a tense pause, then as with a sudden resolve, she
got up from her chair, and, holding out her hand, she said
very softly, "Good-bye, Jules," and went down the stairs and
out, whilst I stood there, I recollect, not knowing what I
ought to do under the circumstances. After she was gone, on
turning it over in my mind, I came to the conclusion it was
all for the best.
One hears a lot about artists idealizing their models, and
there is undoubtedly a good deal of truth in it, for the charm
of the successful picture lies, not so much in a close
adherence to nature, as in the individualization the painter
puts into his work. It is this that constitutes the difference
between a life-like portrait and a good picture; in the
picture it is the individuality of the painter, in the
portrait that of the sitter.
I can recollect how this idea was first impressed on me. When
I was studying in Paris, I had occasion one day to visit the
studio of my master Gérôme, and I found him at
work from a model posing in front of him. I was immediately
struck with the subtle difference there was between the
painting and the original. That he could have made an exact
likeness was obvious, but then it would have been merely a
portrait, whereas what he had produced was an idealized
painting of his model, which evidently embodied his conception
of what he wanted.
The well-known axiom that you cannot make bricks without
straw, almost applies to painting from the life. One cannot
eliminate the model, but the difficulty most artists have to
contend with lies in finding one that approaches nearest to
the realization of their ideal.
I had a very curious experience which illustrates this during
my life at St John's Wood. I had an idea for a picture which
was suggested by a song that was very popular at the time,
"Love's Golden Dream," but in order to paint it, I had to find
just the type of face I had in my mind, as otherwise it would
have been very commonplace.
For many weeks I was trying to find my "ideal," but in vain,
and I had almost given up the idea of ever coming across it,
when one night I was at Her Majesty's Theatre, where a
pantomime was being played, when there suddenly appeared on
the stage the very embodiment of my "ideal" for the picture.
She was one of the most lovely women I had ever seen. She was
young, and had the most wonderful wavy fair hair imaginable. I
could not take my eyes off her, and as soon as the piece was
over I tried all I could to find some one who could give me an
introduction, but in those days I had no acquaintances
connected with theater-land, so it was a very difficult
matter, and I soon realized that I should have to take my
chance of getting to know her with a formal presentation. I
had serious thoughts of sending her a letter, but I felt,
young and unknown artist as I then was, it was better not, so
decided not to risk it until I had exhausted all other means
of getting to know her.
From that moment I haunted the stage-door at night after the
piece was over, in the hope that she might perchance come out
alone one day, and give me the chance of speaking to her. On
several occasions I caught a glimpse of her, but she was
always accompanied, and I could not even manage to catch her
eye. Little did she realize how ardent an admirer was lurking
in the crowd round the stage-door.
At last, on one occasion, I saw her coming out alone. I pushed
forward with the senseless idea that I might be able to get
close enough to be able to tell her how anxious I was to paint
her, but she was not alone for more than a moment, and I saw
her drive off in a dainty coupé with some
favored admirer. I stood watching the carriage disappear and
turned round to make my way home, when I knocked up against a
girl who had just left the doorway. I was going to apologize,
when, on looking at her, my heart leaped into my mouth, for
she was the very replica of my "ideal."
I uttered such an involuntary exclamation of amazement that
she gave me. quite a startled look, and our eyes met. That
look was in itself sufficient introduction, so I raised my hat
and apologized for speaking to her, then straight away told
her what had caused me to express such audible surprise. She
listened with amused interest to what I told her, then to my
astonishment she informed me she was the "understudy" of the
lady in question, and laughingly asked me if she wouldn't do
as well as her for the picture.
Nothing could have been more fortunate. I was indeed in luck's
way, so I jumped at her suggestion, and she said that if I
would give her my address she would come and see me the next
day; then I could decide if she were sufficiently like my
ideal for the wonderful picture I had in my mind. She lived in
the opposite direction to me. She was, so she informed me,
only quite a simple girl, without extravagant notions, so she
went home by 'bus.
The next day, true to her promise, she turned up at the
studio, and in the bright light of day she looked even
prettier than I had thought her the previous evening.
It is a severe test of beauty to place it facing a big
skylight, and a girl has to be very young and have a splendid
complexion to stand it successfully.
I remember her laughingly waiting the result of my critical
scrutiny. "Will I do?" she asked with mock seriousness, and I
told her that if she would sit for the picture, I felt sure I
should make a success of it. Well, she consented, and put her
heart and soul into it.
I never had a better or more patient model, and if the picture
had not turned out trumps it was through no fault of hers. But
curiously enough the whole time I was painting her, though she
was just the type I had been looking for, I still had in my
mind the image of the other girl whose understudy she was, and
strange as it may appear, actually painted the other girl's
face from the girl who was sitting for me. This sounds
somewhat Irish, but I hope I make myself understood, for this
is essential, as will be seen by the curious denouement of the
All went without a hitch. The picture was bought by a West-End
picture dealer, who had it reproduced in facsimile, and it
eventually was to be seen in most of the print-sellers'
Now comes the curious finale. Some months later I was at a
public dance — I forget where now — and was standing by the
door with a journalist friend watching the people come in,
when my friend remarked, "What a lovely woman!" and, suddenly,
who should enter with all the stately grace of a queen of
beauty, but my "ideal" for the picture ! I turned to my
companion and somewhat excitedly asked whether he knew who she
was. "Are you already smitten?" he asked with a laugh. "No,
not exactly," I answered, "but curious to relate I painted one
of my most successful pictures from her, and she doesn't know
it." "Doesn't know it!" he ejaculated, and then I told him all
about the incident.
It tickled his journalistic fancy immensely, and he said it
was the strangest thing he had heard for a long time, and as a
proof of this the following week, to my amusement, he related
the whole story in a paper he was connected with.
Two days later I received a letter from some one who was
unknown to me, written from a very smart address. In it the
writer informed me that he had read with much interest the
story of my picture, as the lady in question was a particular
friend of his, and he went on to say that the episode
interested her immensely, and that if I were still anxious to
make her acquaintance he would have much pleasure in
introducing her to me, if I would call the following afternoon
and take tea with them.
I had had many experiences of the accuracy of the adage that
"Truth is often stranger than fiction," but this was, indeed,
the strangest adventure of its kind I had ever yet had. Of
course I accepted the invitation, and it was not without a
certain amount of excitement that I was ushered into one of
the daintiest little drawing-rooms imaginable, where I was
received in the most genial and unreserved fashion by the
writer of the letter, a fine, soldierly-looking man.
An instant after, the door opened, and in walked my "ideal,"
and I was presented as the artist of the picture. She was very
merry, and made me feel quite at my ease.
As we were having tea I had the opportunity for taking a good
look at her. The exquisitely furnished drawing-room made, as
it were, a particularly appropriate set-off for her wonderful
beauty, but somehow on a closer inspection I began to find
flaws in my "ideal." Perhaps it was that I had succeeded in
accomplishing what I had intended, and was no longer seeking
an " ideal." It is always the unobtainable that excites the
imagination, and now that I had obtained my desire I was
disappointed with it. I found myself mentally comparing this
smartly appareled, up-to-date actress with the simple girl who
had sat for my picture, and I confessed to myself that in my
mind my model came out best, because she was decidedly younger
and fresher. Still it was quite remarkable the likeness
between the two, the hair and complexion particularly. We
naturally had a long chat over the incident, and I told her of
my stage-door experiences, which made her laugh heartily. Then
her friend remarked that she ought to sit for me for a real
portrait, and she willingly agreed. So it was settled that I
should start on it at once, and it was arranged that she
should come to the studio for the purpose.
For several weeks, therefore, I had my quondam ideal to myself
in the studio, but it was only with much difficulty that I
succeeded in finishing the portrait, as she was not a patient
model. I was not long in realizing that if she had sat for my
picture I should not have made it the success that I did. She
was certainly a very lovely creature, and delightful company,
but she was far too "material" to personate even on canvas a
subject so ideal as "Love's Golden Dream," and I gradually
found myself thinking more and more of her understudy, and
congratulated myself on my luck in having met her. All of
which went to prove to me that one's "ideal" is only what you
picture to yourself in your mind, and it is perhaps fortunate
that one so seldom comes across it in reality. Whilst on the
subject I recall another experience, which, however, is quite
the reverse of romantic. I was introduced to a very pretty
girl at a fancy dress ball. She was in a nun's costume, and
had such expressive eyes, and altogether looked so exactly the
part, that it occurred to me that she was the very ideal for a
picture of a religieuse. I asked her if she would come
and sit to me for a picture in the costume. The idea seemed to
please her immensely, and she consented, and came to the
studio with the dress.
In order not to destroy the illusion,
and also as I thought to convince her I was serious, I
suggested her going into the privacy of my bedroom to
change into the costume. She said it didn't matter, but I
insisted, for I felt that with a religious subject there
must be no hints at levity.
When she returned to the studio she looked so demure and
innocent that you would have thought that butter wouldn't
melt in her pretty mouth. I started making sketches in
various poses prior to deciding how to paint her, and
whilst doing so was chatting with her on ecclesiastical
matters, as befitted the dress she was wearing.
Whilst on the
subject of religion I learned that she was a Roman
Catholic, which struck me as particularly fortunate,
as it accentuated, as it were, the illusion of her
being a novice, so I said that I supposed she went to
Mass regularly. "Go to Mass!" she repeated with a
hearty laugh, which seemed strangely incongruous, "I
haven't been there for quite ten years, and my sister
was only saying the other day that if ever I went to
confession now the priest would have to take brandy
after I had finished!"
As may be imagined I did not feel inclined to paint
her as a religieuse after that little avowal,
so I postponed that picture and made a black and white
drawing of her as a ballet girl instead, in a costume
and tights I happened to have. She looked quite as
piquant in it, and, as it turned out, it was far more
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