The Unknown Masterpiece

The Unknown Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac Read Free Book Online

Book: The Unknown Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac Read Free Book Online
Authors: Honoré de Balzac
discovered the deception. Frenhofer’s a man in love with our art, a man who sees higher and farther than other painters. He’s meditated on the nature of color, on the absolute truth of line, but by dint of so much research, he has come to doubt the very object of his investigations. In moments of despair, he claims that drawing doesn’t exist and that lines are only good for rendering geometrical figures, which is far from the truth, since with line and with black, which is not a color, we can create a human figure. There’s your proof that our art is like nature itself, composed of an infinity of elements: drawing accounts for the skeleton, color supplies life, but life without a skeleton is even more deficient than a skeleton without life. Lastly, there’s something even truer than all this, which is that practice and observation are everything to a painter; so that if reasoning and poetry argue with our brushes, we wind up in doubt, like our old man here, who’s as much a lunatic as he is a painter—a sublime painter who had the misfortune to be born into wealth, which has allowed him to wander far and wide. Don’t do that to yourself! Work while you can! A painter should philosophize only with a brush in his hand.”
    “We’ll get in there somehow!” Poussin exclaimed, no longer listening to Porbus and oblivious of obstacles. Porbus smiled at the unknown youth’s enthusiasm and took his leave, offering an invitation to come and see him.
    Nicolas Poussin slowly made his way toward the rue de la Harpe, so absorbed that he walked right past his modest lodgings. Turning back and climbing the filthy stairs with anxious haste, he reached a high bedroom under a half-timbered gable poorly protected by the flimsy roofing of old Parisian houses. Near the one dark window of his room, he saw a girl who, at the sound of the door, suddenly jumped up with a loving impulse—she had recognized the painter by the way he jiggled the latch.
    “What’s wrong?” she asked.
    “Wrong!” he exclaimed, gasping with excitement. “For the first time in my life I realized I could be a painter! Until now I doubted myself, but this morning I believed! I can be a great man! You’ll see, Gillette, we’ll be rich, we’ll be happy! There’s gold in these brushes!”
    But suddenly he fell silent. The look of joy faded from his serious, energetic countenance as he compared the immensity of his hopes to the insignificance of his resources. The walls were covered with sheets of paper crisscrossed with crayon sketches. He owned perhaps four clean canvases. Paints were expensive in those days, and the poor young gentleman’s palette was nearly bare. Yet in the depths of such poverty, he possessed and reveled in incredible riches of spirit and a superabundance of consuming genius. Lured to Paris by a nobleman who had befriended him, or perhaps by his own ambitions, he had succeeded in finding a mistress, one of those noble, generous souls who endure their trials at a great man’s side, espousing his poverty and struggling to understand his whims, intrepid in love and poverty as other women are in the show of luxury and heartlessness. The smile playing over Gillette’s lips gilded their garret and rivaled the light of heaven. The sun might not always shine, but she was always there, steadfast in her passion, devoted to his suffering as to his happiness, consoling the genius who exulted in their love before taking possession of his art.
    “Listen, Gillette, I have something to tell you.” Obediently, the happy girl leaped onto the painter’s lap. She was grace itself, lovely as springtime, adorned with all the feminine charms which she illuminated with the flame of a beautiful soul.
    “Oh God!” he exclaimed. “I’ll never dare ask her...”
    “Is it a secret?” she interrupted. “I want to hear it.”
    Poussin remained lost in thought.
    “Tell me what it is!”
    “Gillette, my poor sweetheart!”
    “Oh, you want me to do

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