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Imaginary portraits, p.1

Imaginary Portraits, page 1


Imaginary Portraits

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Imaginary Portraits

  Produced by Alfred J. Drake. HTML version by Al Haines.



  E-text Editor: Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D. Electronic Version 1.0 / Date10-12-01


  Reliability: Although I have done my best to ensure that the text youread is error-free in comparison with an exact reprint of the standardedition--Macmillan's 1910 Library Edition--please exercise scholarlycaution in using it. It is not intended as a substitute for theprinted original but rather as a searchable supplement. My e-texts mayprove convenient substitutes for hard-to-get works in a course whereboth instructor and students accept the possibility of someimperfections in the text, but if you are writing a scholarly article,dissertation, or book, you should use the standard hard-copy editionsof any works you cite.

  Pagination and Paragraphing: To avoid an unwieldy electronic copy, Ihave transferred original pagination to brackets. A bracketed numeralsuch as [22] indicates that the material immediately following thenumber marks the beginning of the relevant page. I have preservedparagraph structure except for first-line indentation.

  Hyphenation: I have not preserved original hyphenation since an e-textdoes not require line-end or page-end hyphenation.

  Greek typeface: For this full-text edition, I have transliteratedPater's Greek quotations. If there is a need for the original Greek,it can be viewed at my site,, aVictorianist archive that contains the complete works of Walter Paterand many other nineteenth-century texts, mostly in first editions.


  I. A Prince of Court Painters: 3-44

  II. Denys L'Auxerrois: 45-77

  III. Sebastian Van Storck: 79-115

  IV. Duke Carl of Rosenmold: 117-153




  Valenciennes, September 1701.

  [5] They have been renovating my father's large workroom. Thatdelightful, tumble-down old place has lost its moss-grown tiles and thegreen weather-stains we have known all our lives on the highwhitewashed wall, opposite which we sit, in the little sculptor's yard,for the coolness, in summertime. Among old Watteau's work-people camehis son, "the genius," my father's godson and namesake, a dark-hairedyouth, whose large, unquiet eyes seemed perpetually wandering to thevarious drawings which lie exposed here. My father will have it thathe is a genius indeed, and a painter born. We have had our SeptemberFair in the Grande Place, a wonderful stir of sound and colour in thewide, open space beneath our windows. And just where the crowd wasbusiest young Antony was found, hoisted into one of those empty nichesof the old Hotel de Ville, sketching the scene to the life, but with a[6] kind of grace--a marvellous tact of omission, as my father pointedout to us, in dealing with the vulgar reality seen from one's ownwindow--which has made trite old Harlequin, Clown, and Columbine, seemlike people in some fairyland; or like infinitely clever tragic actors,who, for the humour of the thing, have put on motley for once, and areable to throw a world of serious innuendo into their burlesque looks,with a sort of comedy which shall be but tragedy seen from the otherside. He brought his sketch to our house to-day, and I was presentwhen my father questioned him and commended his work. But the ladseemed not greatly pleased, and left untasted the glass of old Malagawhich was offered to him. His father will hear nothing of educatinghim as a painter. Yet he is not ill-to-do, and has lately builthimself a new stone house, big and grey and cold. Their old plasteredhouse with the black timbers, in the Rue des Cardinaux, was prettier;dating from the time of the Spaniards, and one of the oldest inValenciennes.

  October 1701.

  Chiefly through the solicitations of my father, old Watteau hasconsented to place Antony with a teacher of painting here. I meet himbetimes on the way to his lessons, as I return from Mass; for he stillworks with the masons, [7] but making the most of late and early hours,of every moment of liberty. And then he has the feast-days, of whichthere are so many in this old-fashioned place. Ah! such gifts as his,surely, may once in a way make much industry seem worth while. Hemakes a wonderful progress. And yet, far from being set-up, and tooeasily pleased with what, after all, comes to him so easily, he has, myfather thinks, too little self-approval for ultimate success. He isapt, in truth, to fall out too hastily with himself and what heproduces. Yet here also there is the "golden mean." Yes! I couldfancy myself offended by a sort of irony which sometimes crosses thehalf-melancholy sweetness of manner habitual with him; only that as Ican see, he treats himself to the same quality.

  October 1701.

  Antony Watteau comes here often now. It is the instinct of a naturalfineness in him, to escape when he can from that blank stone house,with so little to interest, and that homely old man and woman. Therudeness of his home has turned his feeling for even the simpler gracesof life into a physical want, like hunger or thirst, which might cometo greed; and methinks he perhaps overvalues these things. Still, madeas he is, his hard fate in that rude place must needs touch one. Andthen, he profits by the experience of [8] my father, who has muchknowledge in matters of art beyond his own art of sculpture; and Antonyis not unwelcome to him. In these last rainy weeks especially, when hecan't sketch out of doors, when the wind only half dries the pavementbefore another torrent comes, and people stay at home, and the onlysound from without is the creaking of a restless shutter on its hinges,or the march across the Place of those weary soldiers, coming and goingso interminably, one hardly knows whether to or from battle with theEnglish and the Austrians, from victory or defeat:--Well! he has becomelike one of our family. "He will go far!" my father declares. Hewould go far, in the literal sense, if he might--to Paris, to Rome. Itmust be admitted that our Valenciennes is a quiet, nay! a sleepy place;sleepier than ever since it became French, and ceased to be so near thefrontier. The grass is growing deep on our old ramparts, and it ispleasant to walk there--to walk there and muse; pleasant for a tame,unambitious soul such as mine.

  December 1702.

  Antony Watteau left us for Paris this morning. It came upon us quitesuddenly. They amuse themselves in Paris. A scene-painter we havehere, well known in Flanders, has been engaged to work in one of theParisian play-houses; and young Watteau, of whom he had some slight [9]knowledge, has departed in his company. He doesn't know it was I whopersuaded the scene-painter to take him; that he would find the laduseful. We offered him our little presents--fine thread-lace of ourown making for his ruffles, and the like; for one must make a figure inParis, and he is slim and well-formed. For myself, I presented himwith a silken purse I had long ago embroidered for another. Well! weshall follow his fortunes (of which I for one feel quite sure) at adistance. Old Watteau didn't know of his departure, and has been herein great anger.

  December 1703.

  Twelve months to-day since Antony went to Paris! The first strugglemust be a sharp one for an unknown lad in that vast, overcrowded place,even if he be as clever as young Antony Watteau. We may think,however, that he is on the way to his chosen end, for he returns nothome; though, in truth, he tells those poor old people very little ofhimself. The apprentices of the M. Metayer for whom he works, labourall day long, each at a single part only,--coiffure, or robe, orhand,--of the cheap pictures of religion or fantasy he exposes for saleat a low price along the footways of the Pont Notre-Dame. Antony isalready the most skilful of them, and seems to have been promoted oflate to work on church pictures. I like the thought of that. [10] Hereceives three livres a week for his pains, and his soup daily.

  May 1705.

  Antony Watteau has parted from the dealer in pictures a bon marche, andworks now with a painter of furnitur
e pieces (those headpieces fordoors and the like, now in fashion) who is also concierge of the Palaceof the Luxembourg. Antony is actually lodged somewhere in that grandplace, which contains the king's collection of the Italian pictures hewould so willingly copy. Its gardens also are magnificent, withsomething, as we understand from him, altogether of a novel kind intheir disposition and embellishment. Ah! how I delight myself, infancy at least, in those beautiful gardens, freer and trimmed lessstiff than those of other royal houses. Methinks I see him there, whenhis long summer-day's work is over, enjoying the cool shade of thestately, broad-foliaged trees, each of which is a great courtier,though it has its way almost as if it belonged to that open and unbuiltcountry beyond, over which the sun is sinking.

  His thoughts, however, in the midst of all this, are not wholly awayfrom home, if I may judge by the subject of a picture he hopes to sellfor as much as sixty livres--Un Depart de Troupes, SoldiersDeparting--one of those scenes of military life one can
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