CHAPTER V

Models as a class — Love in the studio — An awkward contretemps — An amusing incident — Earnings of models — The temptation to go wrong — Black sheep — Artists marry models — Jealous wives — Some amusing incidents — Love resuscitated — The "engaged" couple — Amateur models — Chance acquaintances — Some amusing incidents — Risks one ran — An exciting adventure

LOTS of people, I found, imagined because a girl sat for the "altogether" that she must be a bad lot, and this I was not long in discovering undoubtedly was a very erroneous impression, for as a rule models I came across were a very respectable and hardworking class. Anyhow that was always my experience, especially with those who had been brought up in the profession and been at it practically all their lives. An artist who would have ventured to take liberties with his model ran the risk not only of seeing her put on her clothes and walk out of the studio, but also of her telling every one of his goings-on. Of course I do not wish to infer that there were no tender episodes in the studios, as there were doubtless many models who were in love with artists they sat for, and vice versâ; that was only human nature after all. I refer to men who might have had the idea that a girl sitting to him for the figure was "up to anything," and attempted to act accordingly; more often than not he found out his mistake, and had sometimes to make very humble apologies to avoid a scene.

I remember something that an artist friend of mine told me happened to him on one occasion, and which taught him a lesson he never forgot. A very pretty girl, a model, called on him one day, and she had such a glorious figure that he could not resist the temptation to give her a sitting the following morning. He was not quite decided what he should do from her, so when she was undressed he got her to try various poses, in all of which she looked so splendid that he couldn't make up his mind how to paint her. Whilst suggesting different positions they were chatting in quite a friendly manner, till at last, and he couldn't quite explain why, he said, as he was gazing at the lovely form before him she suddenly became in his mind, what she really was, a very beautiful woman and no longer a model. His admiration for her was responsible for the introduction into the tones of his voice of a trace of tenderness, and under the pretext of altering the pose she was taking, he touched her lightly. She took no notice of this apparently, so he felt instantly emboldened to go a step further, and bending forward he gave her a slight kiss on the neck. She started back as though she had been stung, and exclaimed angrily:

"What do you mean by doing that? How dare you? If you attempt that sort of thing with me I shall put on my things at once and go — so I warn you."

He stood abashed, not knowing at first what to say, then started making excuses for his lapse from decorum, all of which she treated with scornful indignation; however, he managed to appease her after a while, and she forgave him, but she never sat for him again.

The mention of relations between artists and their models reminds me of a story they told of a man who was on the best of terms with a girl who sat for him — it was an open secret, and they always addressed each other even in public in the most endearing terms, such as "sweetheart," "ducky darling," and so forth. One day, however, an important client called unexpectedly, and was shown in whilst a sitting was in progress. The artist waited till the visitor had got well into the studio, and turned with an air of importance to the girl and said abruptly, "You can rest now, model."

"All right, artist," was her prompt reply.

You paid your model then, the same as you do now, namely, 7s. a day and her lunch, so she didn't do so badly, if constantly at work; but this was seldom the case, and probably at the end of the month she would have only earned a starvation amount. All the more credit to her, then, if she kept straight, and a wonder to me always was that so many did. There were, of course, as in every line of life, lots of black sheep amongst them — girls who took to drink and went to the bad, and the wonder was there were not a great many more, considering the "fast" atmosphere of St John's Wood in those days, and the numbers of gay women who lived in every street — the sight of whom must have often given the poor models furiously to think.

Several artists I knew had fallen in love with their models and married them, and in most cases the result was a very happy one; but there were a few very much the reverse, where the wife had developed jealousy of other models to such an extent as to be almost unbearable, even if their husbands were not good-looking and long past the age when they might have had some excuse for mistrust. The curious part of it was that the usual form this jealousy took would be a wild, unreasoning suspicion of anything in petticoats that came to the studio — sometimes even of the very charwoman — with the result that in order to have peace at any price, the unfortunate artist would end by sinking his individuality, and only painting subjects his wife approved of. It was quite pitiful at times to watch a man's spirit gradually being nagged out of him.

There was one lady, the wife of a distinguished old painter, whose whole life appeared to be taken up with watching her husband, and from all accounts she was never really happy unless she thought she was on the verge of catching him in flagrante delicto. She positively reveled in her fancied grievances against him, yet he was as guileless an old man as one could meet anywhere; but now and again his beaten down spirit would revolt against her bullying — a flash in the pan as it were.

On one occasion, for instance, he was working very diligently, when his wife rushed into his studio and accused him of being familiar with his model — and the old man actually had the pluck to retort angrily: "Good God, woman! How can I be spooning with a person sitting twelve feet away from me?" He was usually very meek and cringing, and once, rather than have a row, he sent his model away and never finished his picture.

There was another artist's wife, also an ex-model — who had conceived quite a brilliant idea. She had had a peep-hole — with a sliding flap over it, which worked noiselessly, somewhat similar to those used in prisons — made in the studio door, so that she could look in at any moment and see what her husband was doing, without his being aware of it. Perhaps, however, one of the most curious affairs of this description I ever heard of was about an old married couple who had for years been living a cat and dog existence — always quarrelling, or not being on speaking terms — suddenly changing for some reason, best known to themselves, and actually ending by falling in love with each other again. I should never have believed it if I had not seen them myself, sitting hand in hand, calling one another by endearing terms, and looking as spoony as a pair of young lovers.

I am told that such cases are not altogether rare; but I don't want to come across one again. It struck me, I remember, as being positively nauseating.

Living en ménage, such as one saw so much of in Paris, was very rare amongst the artists I came across in St John's Wood. I knew two people who had lived together for a number of years and shared the same studio; but they gave out they were "engaged," and people pretended to believe them, and so there was no scandal, and as they eventually got married, when on the verge of old age, and were happy ever after, it all ended in most conventional style.

The fact was, what in London commenced as a flirtation generally ended at that outwardly; whereas in Paris there was no halfway house — it was all or nothing, and no secrecy about it whatever. If a man in Bohemia preferred to live with his maîtresse to getting married, no one thought any the worse of him. There may be a lot of hypocrisy about the English view of these matters; but it seems to be better it should be so, than proclaiming one's peccadilloes from the house-tops.

What spoilt "modelling," if one may so term it, as a profession was the number of amateur models. There is undoubtedly a great fascination about a studio for the average female, who probably associates it with endless romance and mystery, and pictures to herself all young artists as out-and-out Bohemians and devil-me-care fellows, and is therefore easily persuaded to sit if "asked nicely."

In St John's Wood, when I was living there, one had no difficulty in finding any number of pretty girls who lived at home, and had nothing much to do during the day, who gladly welcomed the chance of a break in the usual routine of their everyday life by going for an hour or so to a studio.

My experiences in this respect were doubtless but similar to those of many other artists who took the trouble to keep their eyes open when strolling about the neighborhood. In this relation I found that one had more chance than in Paris — where if one got to know a girl without a formal introduction the odds were she was a femme entretenue, or some one who would speak to any one who spoke to her, and with whom it was only a question of L.S.D.

In the Wood these chance acquaintances often turned out to be quite respectable girls, with whom one became great pals, and who looked upon it as quite an adventure to sit for a picture. I may have been particularly fortunate, but certainly some of the best friends I had in those days I got to know through the introduction of ladies whom I met casually in an omnibus or train, and who came and sat for me. Several of my most successful pictures were painted from "friends," whose acquaintance I had made in this unorthodox manner.

As a matter of fact, when one has a picture in one's mind, and one wants some particular type of face for which one might wait for ever, and not find a professional model to suit it, the temptation is often irresistible to try and get to know the girl you come across who is just the model you have been looking for.

"You have just the face I want for a picture I am going to paint," may sound to the layman a very thin excuse for an introduction, but it is generally founded on fact. It was well known that Bastien Lepage made the acquaintance of the most distinguished living actress in this way, and his name was made through the picture he painted from her.

Mrs. Grundy may turn up her eyes at such unconventionally; but it exists nevertheless, and always will exist, however much she may condemn it.

But to return to the subject of amateur models. My experience has generally led me to the conclusion that if a "friend" takes sufficient interest in you or the picture, as the case might be, she will generally do her best to help you make it a success — whereas the average model looks upon the artist as merely her employer, and there her concern ends. There may, of course, be models who are not quite as indifferent, but I imagine they are few and far between; their one anxiety is to get the sitting over and be off. Of course it is not every amateur model, however good-natured and willing, can keep a pose for any length of time, especially if it is at all difficult, so in that case one is bound to engage a professional.

The Child Was Just What The Artist
            Wanted...

I have had many funny experiences of the difficulties that crop up when painting from amateur models — and doubtless many artists could also relate curious adventures on this subject. A friend of mine told me of one which was very amusing. He wanted a particular type of little girl, and after searching for some time in vain he mentioned it to his charwoman, and she got a "lady friend" of hers to let her youngster come and sit to him for the usual fee he paid. The child was just what the artist wanted for his picture, and came to him one Saturday for a sitting — but he soon found to attempt to paint anything from her was useless; she couldn't keep still for a moment, and chatted away the whole time, till she nearly drove him crazy. After several unsuccessful endeavors he gave it up as a bad job, and paying for the sitting he told her to go home, and he should not require her services again. To his surprise the child turned up on the Monday morning.

"I thought I said you were not to come any more," he exclaimed angrily on seeing her enter the studio.

"Yes," was the reply;" and you better not do it again. I told my mother about it, and she was wild! "

I remember one of my own experiences with a would-be model. A pretty girl came to me one day just as I was going out, and said a friend of hers had given her my address, and told her she could probably earn some money by sitting for me. She was so nice that I asked her to call on me the next day, and I would make a sketch from her. This she did, and in the course of conversation I gathered that she was not absolutely a prude, and might perhaps be induced to sit for the figure; so I suggested that if she would I would paint her as a nymph, or something equally appropriate.

To my surprise she said, "No, I won't sit to you for the figure." Laying such emphasis on the "you" I naturally asked why she objected so particularly to me — as I had not said a word to her that could by any chance be construed wrongly. "Oh, nothing," she replied ambiguously; "except that I have heard you lived in Paris."

I didn't pursue the subject, but often wondered what on earth she meant.

There was a girl who used to come and sit for me sometimes; she was quite respectable in so much as she lived with her people, who were fairly well to do. She sat for me purely for the fun of the thing she said, and would not let me pay anything for it, although I had suggested treating it as a matter of business. After a little persuasion I got her to sit for the "altogether," as she had a beautiful figure; but she had a peculiar perception of modesty; she didn't mind my sketching her legs and feet bare when she had all her clothes on, but nothing would induce her to take her shoes and stockings off when she was otherwise quite naked. I never could make out why, but I suppose she thought she wasn't entirely nude so long as she kept them on.

One ran a certain amount of risk in asking girls one knew nothing about to sit for you, as I realized on one occasion when an incident of unpleasant nature occurred in consequence.

I met a very pretty woman one evening whilst strolling near the studio, and when she found out I was an artist she offered of her own accord to come and sit for me if I would paint her. As I was about to suggest this myself I was delighted when it came from her.

The following day she came up, and I commenced a sketch of her in deshabille as she had no prejudices on the subject, and we soon became rather more than friends. I may mention she had on her first visit given me an address at Hampstead where I might write her, as she could not receive letters at her home.

Well, one day she turned up at the appointed time, and we were getting on with the painting when there came a violent ring at the bell — one of those hard, unsympathetic rings that betoken no friendly feeling. My model, as I will call her, to my astonishment jumped up with a whispered exclamation of alarm.

"Who can it be?" she queried.

"Most likely only a bill," said I nonchalantly; but I smelt a rat, all the same — "I will see" — and going over to a sort of peep-hole I had contrived in the door in order to see who my visitors were, I looked out and saw a stranger, a big, heavy man, waiting by the bell.

"Let me see who it is," said my friend, who had suddenly become strangely excited, and, pushing me aside, she peeped through. "It's my husband. I thought it would be. My God! What shall I do?" she gasped out.

"Your husband!" I exclaimed; "you never told me you were married."

"Well, I am, and if he catches me here with you he'll kill me. Where can I go? What shall I do? Think of something quick, there's no time to lose," she continued hysterically as the bell rang out again stridently, and she began putting on her clothes in feverish haste.

Here was a pretty predicament for, as may be imagined, I didn't want a scandal in the studio. Suddenly I remembered the back exit through the garden. Hastily I told her of it, and explained I would ask her husband into the studio; that she would have to make her escape as noiselessly as possible at the moment she heard him enter. Of course she agreed to do this. So pushing her hat and cloak into her hand, and without a word of good-bye, I let her out and bolted the door, and then hid the picture I was painting from her.

The bell rang out again, and I heard footsteps coming up the pathway, and there was a loud knock as though with a stick at the studio door. An idea occurred to me to explain my delay in opening. Pulling off my coat and waistcoat I went into the lavatory, and wetting my face and hands and roughing my hair I called out, "All right, whoever it is, I won't be a minute," and then after a pause I went to open the door, towel in hand, as though I had been disturbed whilst having a wash. "Oh, I thought it was a lady friend of mine," I said, as though surprised at seeing a stranger, adding, "And what can I do for you, sir?"

"I want to know what you are doing with my wife in your studio," he yelled out.

"Your wife!" I repeated. "Are you mad? I haven't got your wife in my studio."

"Oh, haven't you? Well, I know better, and I have had her followed, so let me in," and before I could stop him — he was, as I said, a big, heavy man — he pushed me aside and rushed into the studio like a raving maniac. By Jove it was lucky he didn't find her there, for I really believe there would have been murder done.

A glance round was sufficient to prove to him there was no lady in the place, as the curtains across the alcove were drawn back and the inner door wide open. He stood still, looking round in amazement.

I heard a faint sound as of footsteps hurrying down the pathway towards the street. I had to give her time to get away, so pretended to work myself up into a violent rage.

"Are you mad or drunk, coming here like this? Who are you and what do you mean by it? What's the game?"

"So she's not here," he said half to himself; then turning to me, "There must be some mistake. I hope, sir, you will accept my apologies for intruding on you like this, but I was informed that my wife had been seen coming to your studio, and I determined to catch her — and you too," he added with a grim laugh. "However, I am very glad indeed it is not true. I hope you will accept my sincere apologies, and I am very sorry if I have caused you any annoyance."

I could see that he was overjoyed at not finding her in the place, so I pretended to be mollified, and told him I quite understood his feelings in the matter. He turned to make his way out — at the door he offered me his hand, and with a tremble in his voice he said, "We've only been married a couple of years, and I love her more than anything in the world, and the mere thought of any one fooling about with her drives me positively mad, and I could kill her." Then after a pause he added, "You understand, I am sure."

He seemed a jolly, good, honest fellow, the very chap to deserve a good wife; but he had had no luck in the lottery, and I felt very sorry for him.

She never came to see me again, but curiously enough about a year later, when I had almost forgotten the incident, I had a letter from her; it had a black border to it. In it she told me I would "be sorry to hear" she was a widow, that her husband had died suddenly, and that she was going to live with a sister in Canada.




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