The Knight-Errant and His Fan Painter
June 17, 1829
"René?" Daniel sighed and knocked on the door more firmly, clutching a covered but dampened canvas in his arms. His hair was dripping dolefully onto the floor of the hall as he stood, shifting his weight uncomfortably as his shoes, soaked with rain, squished back and forth.
"René? It's Daniel, please open the door." His voice was desperate as he touched the canvas lightly, adjusting the edges of the plain cloth covering it like a mother tucking the swaddling clothes about an infant.
The door opened at last, René still rubbing his eyes groggily, his shirt hanging untucked over his pants, the knocking having roused him from an unplanned doze over his reading. "Daniel?" René laughed and shook his head as he surveyed his friend's appearance, his brow furrowing worriedly as he ushered him inside. "Good lord, you look like you've just about been drowned! Get inside and dry off before you melt straight away."
"I'm fine, just wet, and it's not cold. Is there somewhere I can put this?" Daniel moved about the room anxiously as he spoke, searching furiously for a place he could set down the canvas before it was ruined. The canvas had been his sole work for months now, since he had broached the subject of possibly gaining an introduction to Mme du Pont-Villette, and now it could all be destroyed in another few moments.
"Just hold on a moment, give it to me." René took the canvas from Daniel forcibly, setting it onto a side table near the divan that he cleared of its books and clutter quickly with one hand, before turning back to him. "Forgive my curiosity Daniel, your company is always welcome, but what in hell happened?"
It took a few prods to Daniel's side, where he stood pulling the cloth from the canvas and dabbing at it with an almost obsessive frenzy with a small brush he had pulled from his pocket, before René could get his attention at all, and even when he did it was halting at best. "This damn storm… it blew in my window while I was at work… soaked the canvas, it might be ruined… god, months of work and it might be ruined!"
Taking Daniel by the shoulders, René pulled the brush out of his hand and forced him to sit down, unheeding of the damp mark that spread onto the upholstery of the divan from his soaked clothing. "Daniel, don't worry about the painting right now. I'll get you some wine and dry clothes and then you can tell me what happened, once you've gotten yourself together."
Well-intentioned advice it most certainly was, but not any Daniel intended on heeding. He was on his feet before René could even finish speaking, reaching for the brush again and shaking his head, still in a frenzy. "No, I have to fix this! And the rest of my sketches, they're all still back there, I have to go try and salvage them." Tears were pooling in his eyes unshed as he dabbed at the wet painting again, tears of frustration and defeat, knowing the remaining drawings were destroyed by now, the water having bled all the charcoal and ink from them almost at the moment it touched the paper. "This is everything I have, René! Everything!" The brush fell from his hand with a dull clatter, his thin, water logged frame slumping onto the divan again, his head falling listlessly into his hands. "Forget about the introduction to Mme du Pont-Villette, it doesn't matter now. I have nothing to show her, and I think this must be the fates way of telling me not to be so high-minded. Perhaps there's a reason I'm a fan painter and no more."
"Daniel, I won't hear you talk like that." René forced a smile though he was so angry at the world that any higher power could let this happen he wanted to smash something with the clenched fist he held at his side. "I won't allow you to impune my judgment that way. If you really are not meant to be doing this, why would someone as brilliant as myself have put such faith in you?" It was all hyperbole, and he knew Daniel was equally aware of it, but René saw his shoulders relax a tiny fraction as he spoke all the same. He smirked comfortably, the expression slipping onto his face like a favorite shirt, as he placed a clean towel into Daniel's hands and took the seat on the divan beside him. "This is not the end of anything Daniel. I'll get you some dry clothes, we'll have some dinner, you'll stay here tonight where it's dry and has windows all in one piece." He lifted one hand to stop the protest he knew would come. "And in the morning, we'll go over and see what we can salvage from your flat. Whatever is beyond salvaging is already gone, and everything we can retain won't be any worse for spending the rest of the evening where it is. You, however, look about two seconds from collapsing into an absolute heap, so go dry off and change, I'll pour us some wine, and we'll go from there."
Taking the clothing René handed him obediently, Daniel shook his head sadly and shrugged. "I don't know what I'd do without you these past few months, René." He felt more grateful and more indebted to René than he could express, but he was at a loss as to how to make it sound even one-tenth of how sincere it felt. He could never have continued to work on something as ambitious as the painting, which now lay drying from its losing battle with the storm on the table beside him, without the encouragement of knowing someone else thought it was anything other than absolute folly. Embracing René tightly for a moment, not sure how else to prove he was as grateful as his words said, Daniel sighed and spoke again, haltingly. "Thank you, for putting up with everything I've thrown at you lately."
Returning his embrace vigorously, as he did everything, René smiled and ran a hand through Daniel's damp hair with a grin. "You needn't thank me Daniel, I've done nothing exceptional. Now go get changed and we'll figure things out from there, alright?"
Laughing like a gently scolded schoolboy, Daniel turned and crossed the small sitting room, entering the bedroom where a low kindled fire and a wash basin aided his transformation back to his more usual appearance, rather than the lost member of Noah's party he had previously seemed. René however, was far more concerned about the painting sitting on the small end table than his own somewhat rumpled appearance. It was the same depiction of the rape of Persephone he had seen the sketch of months earlier, but it had sprung to life so vitally. The lines were soft, but clear; the colors beautiful and subtle, strong where they need be, but it was the figures that caught René's attention. Hades was not hulking and boorish as in the Renaissance model, but thin and dark, his eyes glinting with something akin to desire. Persephone was trembling, you could see it in the way her robes flowed and her face contorted, but there was something, a hint of an otherworldly power, that was not purely force. Hades was seducing Persephone, making her want to return with him, not merely dragging her off under his arm like some conquest. René could hardly had believed his Daniel, the shy darling who had come, dripping wet, just a short while earlier like a wayward puppy, was capable of painting something this daring.
"It isn't finished, don't worry, I wouldn't show it to anyone like that. I wouldn't even have shown it to you if I hadn't had to bring it here to save it." Daniel sighed as he spoke, clutching his drenched coat in his hands nervously, pausing to speak to Renè on his way to set it to dry near the fire.
"Daniel don't be such a fool." Renè smiled as he spoke in the way he always did, but he took Daniel by the arm with an air of seriousness that made Daniel pause in his self-effacement. Taking a seat on the divan, Renè handed Daniel a cup of tea and leaned back comfortably. "I assumed you had talent, trusted you had talent I suppose is a better way of putting it, but that painting, even soggy as it may be, is absolutely astounding."
"It's astounding that it's in one piece, that's about as much as I would venture to say about it." Daniel sipped at his tea carefully, still feeling slightly chilled from his excursion despite the relative warmth of the early summer air. "It doesn't look like anything anyone else is doing, there is simply no way I am ever going to get anything accepted at the salon at this rate."
"Daniel, you're an artist! You are not supposed to be painting things like what everyone else is painting, that defeats the whole purpose of art. Do something new. No one wants to see another David of Napoleon on his stallion, that's done with. It's a new world, it is more than time for new art. Do that Daniel; paint that. Paint all those rather ridiculous sounding ideals that Laurent spouts off every week, because if you make them appear anywhere near as enthralling as this worn out classical theme you've done, I guarantee you that someone will take notice." Difficult as it was for those who did not know him well to believe, Renè was not inclined to oratory. Jibes and witty remarks, yes, but not the kind of fiery proselytizing that Enjolras had made something of a reputation for himself with. He did have his moments, however, and this was one of them.
Daniel sat staring at him with rapt attention, incredulous at the idea of painting the kinds of things that Renè was suggesting. He was not David, some political chameleon who could change with the times to save himself if, or when, his ideology proved counter to his well being, social or otherwise. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, he saw that Renè was right. A whole series on the partitioning of Poland, images of liberté, the light of education, of egalité amongst the bourgeois and the workers, this was what he was meant to be painting. Unlikely to be popular, that much was obvious, but with such potential for power! He sighed then, his lips pursing thoughtfully. "This is all well and good Renè, you're right, but what am I supposed to do? I only have so many hours a day in which to paint, only…" His voice trailed off and he sighed. "Only so much money for supplies, I doubt I can be of as much good with my paltry brush as you seem to think."
"And that, my dear Daniel, is where this storm and your unexpected leave of your flat become absolutely felicitous." Renè grinned and poured them glasses of wine to toast, what exactly the toast was to be made to as yet unspecified. "Work on your classical scenes, they're lovely and Mme du Pont-Villette will fall at your feet for them. However, I absolutely insist that you do your week here." He held up a hand to silence the objection he could already see and hear forming on Daniel's lips. "You can't go back to your swamp of a flat, and god only knows I have room enough here. You'll have time to yourself when I go out, if you'd like, and space to work and good light. More importantly, you'll be able to work on those pieces I was just talking about that I can see are already forming in your mind."
Daniel could hardly decide whether to embrace Renè or to laugh in his face. It was a lovely gesture, an absolutely beautiful idea, but it would never work. "Renè, honestly, you act as if you've hardly been living in Paris for as long as you have. Even to share as small a flat as this is, clearly meant for one person, is a cost I can cover without leaving much extra. Pigments and oil are expensive, so is canvas, and framing of finished work even more so. Even if I do move in here, which I don't intend to, I still will not have the time or the funds to paint as much as you seem to be planning for me."
Renè laughed then, brightly and in a way that made Daniel cringe slightly. "Daniel, you're a darling, really, but you've missed my point entirely. My parents, god love them both, pay for this flat and I have no intention of telling them to stop doing so. Let me spell my plan out more clearly for you then, since I seem to have skipped over a few important details. Stay here, the money you would normally spend on your rent of your flat, use it for supplies. Since I hardly expect you will be working so quickly, as fastidious as you are, to need that amount of money for even a massive undertaking of painting, you can take fewer hours at the fan workshop. That time can be devoted to painting. Once you get a commission from Mme, which I am certain you will, you can devote yourself entirely to art." The smile he beamed at Daniel then was almost precisely what you would expect from a boy of eleven having recited his Latin passage exactly to the pleasure of his tutor.
"That is all… rather lovely sounding Renè… really…" Daniel laughed and ran a hand through his hair quickly, the forelock blue today, in keeping with the ocean scenes he had been painting at work that week. "But I simply don't see how on earth I could be convinced to take advantage of your friendship like that."
Renè laughed and kissed him quickly, winking as he stood up, and reached for the decanter on the sideboard. "Just hurry up and say yes already, you know I'll win out eventually."
Despite the arrogance of the statement, he was right and Daniel knew it. "Alright, Renè. But you have to promise that the instant you grow tired of my presence you'll tell me. I appreciate the hospitality but I can't expect it to continue for as long as you seem to think it will."
"Daniel, stop arguing. Just say yes and lets go have dinner."
How could he do anything but laugh and smile at that?
|Go back one installment|
|home | fiction | photos | rants | miscellaneous | professional|