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Imaginary portraits, p.5

Imaginary Portraits, page 5


Imaginary Portraits

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melancholy of the comedian. He, so fastidious andcold, and who has never "ventured the representation of passion," doesbut amuse the gay world; and is aware of that, though certainlyunamused himself all the while. Just now, however, he is finishing avery different picture--that too, full of humour--an Englishfamily-group, with a little girl tiding a wooden horse: the father, andthe mother holding his tobacco-pipe, stand in the centre.

  March 1720.

  To-morrow he will depart finally. And this evening the Syndics of theAcademy of Saint Luke came with their scarves and banners to conducttheir illustrious fellow-citizen, by torch-light, to supper in theirGuildhall, where all their beautiful old corporation plate will bedisplayed. The Watteau salon was lighted up to receive them. There issomething in the payment of great honours to the living which fills onewith apprehension, especially when the recipient of them looks so likea dying man. God have mercy on him!


  April 1721.

  We were on the point of retiring to rest last evening when a messengerarrived post-haste with a letter on behalf of Antony Watteau, desiringJean-Baptiste's presence at Paris. We did not go to bed that night;and my brother was on his way before daylight, his heart full of astrange conflict of joy and apprehension.

  May 1721.

  A letter at last! from Jean-Baptiste, occupied with cares of all sortsat the bedside of the sufferer. Antony fancying that the air of thecountry might do him good, the Abbe Haranger, one of the canons of theChurch of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, where he was in the habit ofhearing Mass, has lent him a house at Nogent-sur-Marne. There hereceives a few visitors. But in truth the places he once liked best,the people, nay! the very friends, have become to him nothing less thaninsupportable. Though he still dreams of change, and would fain tryhis native air once more, he is at work constantly upon his art; butsolely by way of a teacher, instructing (with a kind of remorsefuldiligence, it would seem) Jean-Baptiste, who will be heir to hisunfinished work, and take up many of his pictures where he has leftthem. He seems now anxious [43] for one thing only, to give his old"dismissed" disciple what remains of himself, and the last secrets ofhis genius.

  His property--9000 livres only--goes to his relations. Jean-Baptistehas found these last weeks immeasurably useful.

  For the rest, bodily exhaustion perhaps, and this new interest in anold friend, have brought him tranquillity at last, a tranquillity inwhich he is much occupied with matters of religion. Ah! it was ever sowith me. And one lives also most reasonably so. With women, at least,it is thus, quite certainly. Yet I know not what there is of a pitywhich strikes deep, at the thought of a man, a while since so strong,turning his face to the wall from the things which most occupy men'slives. 'Tis that homely, but honest cure of Nogent he has caricaturedso often, who attends him.

  July 1721.

  Our incomparable Watteau is no more! Jean-Baptiste returnedunexpectedly. I heard his hasty footstep on the stairs. We turnedtogether into that room; and he told his story there. Antony Watteaudeparted suddenly, in the arms of M. Gersaint, on one of the late hotdays of July. At the last moment he had been at work upon a crucifixfor the good cure of Nogent, liking little the very rude one he [44]possessed. He died with all the sentiments of religion.

  He has been a sick man all his life. He was always a seeker aftersomething in the world that is there in no satisfying measure, or notat all.


  37. *Possibly written at this date, but almost certainly not printedtill many years later.--Note in Second Edition. Return.

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