Edouard Beauvoisin was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, a provincial doctor. When he demonstrated a talent for drawing, however, his mother saw to it that he was provided with formal training. In 1856, Beauvoisin went to Paris, where he worked at the Académie Suisse and associated with the young artists disputing Romanticism and Classicism at the Brasserie des Martyrs. In 1868, he married the artist Céleste Rohan. He exhibited in the Salon des Refusés in 1863, and was a member of the 1874 Salon of Impressionists. In 1875 he moved to Brittany where he lived and painted until his death in 1898. He is best known for the figure–studies Young Woman in a Garden and Reclining Nude.
Impressions of the Impressionists
Oxford University Press, 1970
M. Herri Tanguy
Musée La Roseraie
January 6, 1990
I write to you at the suggestion of M. Rouart of the Musée d’Orsay to request permission to visit the house of M. Edouard Beauvoisin and to consult those of his personal papers that are kept there.
In pursuit of a Ph.D. degree in the History of Art, I am preparing a thesis on the life and work of M. Beauvoisin, who, in my opinion, has been unfairly neglected in the history of Impressionism.
Enclosed is a letter of introduction from my adviser, Professor Boodman of the Department of Art History at the University of Massachusetts. She has advised me to tell you that I also have a personal interest in M. Beauvoisin’s life, for his brother was my great–great–grandfather.
I expect to be in France from May 1 of this year, and to stay for at least two months. My visit to La Roseraie may be scheduled according to your convenience. Awaiting your answer, I have the honor to be
Your servant, Theresa Stanton
When Theresa finally found La Roseraie at the end of an unpaved, narrow road, she was tired and dusty and on the verge of being annoyed. Edouard Beauvoisin had been an Impressionist, even if only a minor Impressionist, and his house was a museum, open by appointment to the public. At home in Massachusetts, that would mean signs, postcards in the nearest village, certainly a brochure in the local tourist office with color pictures of the garden and the master’s studio and a good clear map showing how to get there.
France wasn’t Massachusetts, not by a long shot.
M. Tanguy hadn’t met Theresa at the Portrieux station as he had promised, the local tourist office had been sketchy in its directions, and the driver of the local bus had been depressingly uncertain about where to let her off. Her feet were sore, her backpack heavy, and even after asking at the last two farmhouses she’d passed, Theresa still wasn’t sure she’d found the right place. The house didn’t look like a museum: gray stone, low–browed and secretive, its front door unequivocally barred, its low windows blinded with heavy white lace curtains. The gate was stiff and loud with rust. Still, there was a neat stone path leading around to the back of the house and a white sign with the word “Jardin” printed on it over a faded black hand pointing down the path. Under the scent of dust and greenery, was a clean, sharp scent of salt–water.
Theresa hitched up her backpack, heaved open the gate, and followed the hand’s gesture.
“Monet,” was her first thought when she saw the garden, and then, more accurately, “Beauvoisin.” Impressionist, certainly—an incandescent, carefully balanced dazzle of yellow light, clear green grass, and carmine flowers against a celestial background. Enchanted, Theresa unslung her camera and captured a couple of faintly familiar views of flower beds and sequined water before turning to the house itself.
The back door was marginally more welcoming than the front, for at least it boasted a visible bell–pull and an aged, hand–lettered sign directing the visitor to “Sonnez,” which Theresa did, once hopefully, once impatiently, and once again for luck. She was just thinking that she’d have to walk back to Portrieux and call M. Tanguy when the heavy door opened inward, revealing a Goyaesque old woman. Against the flat shadows of a stone passage, she was a study in black and white: long wool skirt and linen blouse, sharp eyes and finely crinkled skin.
The woman looked Theresa up and down, then made as if to shut the door in her face.
“Wait,” cried Theresa, putting her hand on the warm planks. “Arretez. S’il vous plait. Un moment. Please!”
The woman’s gaze travelled to Theresa’s face. Theresa smiled charmingly.
“Eh, bien?” asked the woman impatiently.
Pulling her French around her, Theresa explained that she was making researches into the life and work of the famous M. Beauvoisin, that she had written in the winter for permission to see the museum, that seeing it was of the first importance to completing her work. She had received a letter from M. le Directeur, setting an appointment for today.
The woman raised her chin suspiciously. Her smile growing rigid, Theresa juggled camera and bag, dug out the letter, and handed it over. The woman examined it front and back, then returned it with an eloquent gesture of shoulders, head, and neck that conveyed her utter indifference to Theresa’s work, her interest in Edouard Beauvoisin, and her charm.
“Fermé,” she said, and suited the action to the word.
“Parent,” said Theresa rather desperately. “Je suis de la famille de M. Beauvoisin.”
From the far end of the shadowy passage, a soft, deep voice spoke in accented English. “Of course you are, my dear. A great–grand niece, I believe. Luna,” she shifted to French, “surely you remember the letter from M. le Directeur about our little American relative?” And in English again. “Please to come through. I am Madame Beauvoisin.”
In 1874, Céleste’s mother died, leaving La Roseraie to her only child. There was some talk of selling the house to satisfy the couple’s immediate financial embarrassments, but the elder Mme Beauvoisin came to the rescue once again with a gift of 20,000 francs. After paying off his debts, Beauvoisin decided that Paris was just too expensive, and moved with Céleste to Portrieux in the spring of 1875.
“I have taken some of my mother’s gift and put it towards transforming the ancient dairy of La Roseraie into a studio,” he wrote Manet. “Ah, solitude! You cannot imagine how I crave it, after the constant sociability of Paris. I realize now that the cafés affected me like absinthe: stimulating and full of visions, but death to the body and damnation to the soul.”
In the early years of what his letters to Manet humorously refer to as his “exile,” Beauvoisin travelled often to Paris, and begged his old friends to come and stay with him. After 1879, however, he became something of a recluse, terminating his trips to Paris and discouraging visits, even from the Manets. He spent the last twenty years of his life a virtual hermit, painting the subjects that were dearest to him: the sea, his garden, the fleets of fishing–boats that sailed daily out and back from the harbor of Portrieux.
The argument has been made that Beauvoisin had never been as clannish as others among the Impressionists—Renoir and Monet, for example, who regularly set up their easels and painted the same scene side by side. Certainly Beauvoisin seemed unusually reluctant to paint his friends and family. His single portrait of his wife, executed not long after their marriage, is one of his poorest canvases: stiff, awkwardly posed, and uncharacteristically muddy in color. “Mme Beauvoisin takes exception to my treatment of her dress,” he complained in a letter to Manet, “or the shadow of the chair, or the balance of the composition. God save me from the notions of women who think themselves artists!”
In 1877, the Beauvoisins took a holiday in Spain, and there met a young woman named Luz Gascó, who became Edouard’s favorite—indeed his only—model. The several nude studies of her, together with the affectionate intimacy of Young Woman in a Garden leaves little doubt as to the nature of their relationship, even in the absence of documentary evidence. Luz came to live with the Beauvoisins at La Roseraie in 1878, and remained there even after Beauvoisin’s death in 1898. She inherited the house and land from Mme Beauvoisin and died in 1914, just after the outbreak of the First World War.
Lydia Chopin. Lives Lived in Shadow: Edouard and Céleste Beauvoisin.
Apollo. Winter, 1989.
The garden of La Roseraie extended through a series of terraced beds down to the water’s edge and up into the house itself by way of a bank of uncurtained French doors in the parlor. When Theresa first followed her hostess into the room, her impression was of blinding light and color and of flowers everywhere—scattered on the chairs and sofas, strewn underfoot, heaped on every flat surface, vining across the walls. The air was somnolent with peonies and roses and bee–song.
“A lovely room.”
“It has been kept just as it was in the time of Beauvoisin, though I fear the fabrics have faded sadly. You may recognize the sofa from Young Woman Reading and Reclining Nude, also the view down the terrace.”
The flowers on the sofa were pillows, printed or needlepointed with huge, blowsy, ambiguous blooms. Those pillows had formed a textural contrast to the model’s flat black gown in Young Woman Reading and sounded a sensual, almost erotic note in Reclining Nude. As Theresa touched one almost reverently—it had supported the model’s head—the unquiet colors of the room settled in place around it, and she saw that there were indeed flowers everywhere. Real petals had blown in from the terrace to brighten the faded woven flowers of the carpet, and the walls and chairs were covered in competing chintzes to provide a background for the plain burgundy velvet sofa, the wooden easel, and the portrait over the mantel of a child dressed in white.
“Céleste,” said Mme Beauvoisin. “Céleste Yvonne Léna Rohan, painted at the age of six by some Academician—I cannot at the moment recollect his name, although M. Rohan was as proud of securing his services as if he’d been Ingres himself. She hated it.”
“How could you possibly…” Theresa’s question trailed off at the amusement in Mme Beauvoisin’s face.
“Family legend. The portrait is certainly very stiff and finished, and Céleste grew to be a disciple of Morisot and Manet. Taste in aesthetic matters develops very young, do you not agree?”
“I do,” said Theresa. “At any rate, I’ve loved the Impressionists since I was a child. I wouldn’t blame her for hating the portrait. It’s technically accomplished, yes, but it says nothing about its subject except that she was blonde and played the violin.”
“That violin!” Mme Beauvoisin shook her head, ruefully amused. “Mme Rohan’s castle in Spain. The very sight of it was a torture to Céleste. And her hair darkened as she grew older, so you see the portrait tells you nothing. This, on the other hand, tells all.”
She led Theresa to a small painting hung by the door. “Luz Gascó,” she said. “Painted in 1879.”
Liquid, animal eyes gleamed at Theresa from the canvas, their gaze at once inviting and promising, intimate as a kiss. Theresa glanced aside at Mme Beauvoisin, who was studying the portrait, her head tilted to one side, her wrinkled lips smoothed by a slight smile. Feeling unaccountably embarrassed, Theresa frowned at the painting with self–conscious professionalism. It was, she thought, an oil study of the model’s head for Beauvoisin’s most famous painting, Young Woman in a Garden. The face was tilted up to the observer and partially shadowed. The brushwork was loose and free, the boundaries between the model’s hair and the background blurred, the molding of her features suggested rather than represented.
“A remarkable portrait,” Theresa said. “She seems very… alive.”
“Indeed,” said Mme Beauvoisin. “And very beautiful.” She turned abruptly and, gesturing Theresa to a chair, arranged herself on the sofa opposite. The afternoon light fell across her shoulder, highlighting her white hair, the pale rose pinned in the bosom of her high–necked dress, her hands folded on her lap. Her fingers were knotted and swollen with arthritis. Theresa wondered how old she was and why M. Tanguy had said nothing of a caretaker in his letter to her.
“Your work?” prompted Mme Beauvoisin gently.
Theresa pulled herself up and launched into what she thought of as her dissertation spiel: neglected artist, brilliant technique, relatively small ouvre, social isolation, mysterious ménage. “What I keep coming back to,” she said, “is his isolation. He hardly ever went to Paris after 1879, and even before that he didn’t go on those group painting trips the other Impressionists loved so much. He never shared a studio even though he was so short of money, or let anyone watch him paint. And yet his letters to Manet suggest that he wasn’t a natural recluse—anything but.”
“Thus Luz Gascó?” asked Mme Beauvoisin.
“Luz Gascó. Perhaps you think she was the cause of Beauvoisin’s—how shall I say?—Beauvoisin’s retreat from society?”
Theresa gave a little bounce in her chair. “That’s just it, you see. No one really knows. There are a lot of assumptions, especially by male historians, but no one really knows. What I’m looking for is evidence one way or the other. At first I thought she couldn’t have been…” She hesitated, suddenly self–conscious.
“Yes?” The low voice was blandly polite, yet Theresa felt herself teased, or perhaps tested. It annoyed her, and her answer came a little more sharply than necessary.
“Beauvoisin’s mistress.” Mme Beauvoisin raised her brows and Theresa shrugged apologetically. “There’s not much known about Céleste, but nothing suggests that she was particularly meek or downtrodden. I don’t think she’d have allowed Luz to live here all those years, much less left the house to her, if she knew she was…involved with her husband.”
“Perhaps she knew and did not concern herself.” Mme Beauvoisin offered this consideringly.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Theresa. “I’d need proof, though. I’m not interested in speculation, theory, or even in a juicy story. I’m interested in the truth.”
Mme Beauvoisin’s smile said that she found Theresa very young, very charming. “Yes,” she said slowly. “I believe you are.” Her voice grew brisker. “Beauvoisin’s papers are in some disorder, you understand. Your search may take you some weeks, and Portrieux is far to travel twice a day. It would please me if you would accept the hospitality of La Roseraie.”
Theresa closed her eyes. It was a graduate student’s dream come true, to be invited into her subject’s home, to touch and use his things, to live his life. Mme Beauvoisin, misinterpreting the gesture, said, “Please stay. This project—Beauvoisin’s papers—it is of great importance to us, to Luna and to me. We feel that you are well suited to the task.”
To emphasize her words, she laid her twisted hand on Theresa’s arm. The gesture brought her face into the sun, which leached her eyes and skin to transparency and made a glory of her silvered hair. Theresa stared at her, entranced.
“Thank you,” she said. “I would be honored.”
Young Woman in a Garden (Luz at La Roseraie) 1879
Edouard Beauvoisin’s artistic reputation rests on this portrait of his Spanish mistress, Luz Gascó, seated in the garden of La Roseraie. As in Reclining Nude, the composition is arranged around a figure that seems to be the painting’s source of light as well as its visual focus. Luz sits with her face and body in shade and her feet and hands in bright sunlight. Yet the precision with which her shadowy figure is rendered, the delicate modeling of the face, and the suggestion of light shining down through the leaves onto the dark hair draw the viewer’s eye up and away from the brightly–lit foreground. The brushwork of the white blouse is especially masterly, the coarse texture of the linen suggested with a scumble of pale pink, violet, and gray.
“The Unknown Impressionists,” exhibition catalogue,
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
“This is the studio.”
Mme Beauvoisin laid her hand on the blue–painted door, hesitated, then stepped aside. “Please,” she said, and gave Theresa a courteous nod.
Heart tripping over itself with excitement, Theresa pushed open the door and stepped into Beauvoisin’s studio. The room was shuttered, black as midnight; she knocked over a chair, which fell with an echoing clatter.
“I fear the trustees have hardly troubled themselves to unlock the door since they came into possession of the property,” said Mme Beauvoisin apologetically. “And Luna and I have little occasion to come here.” Theresa heard her shoe heels tapping across the flagstone floor. A creak, a bang, and weak sunlight struggled over a clutter of easels, canvases, trunks and boxes, chairs, stools, and small tables disposed around a round stove and a shabby sofa. The French sure are peculiar, Theresa thought. What a way to run a museum!
Mme Beauvoisin had taken up a brush and was standing before one of the easels in the attitude of a painter interrupted at work. For a moment, Theresa thought she saw a canvas on the easel, an oil sketch of a seated figure. An unknown Beauvoisin? As she stepped forward to look, an ancient swag of cobweb broke and showered her head with flies and powdery dust. She sneezed convulsively.
“God bless you,” said Mme Beauvoisin, laying the brush on the empty easel. “Luna brings a broom. Pah! What filth! Beauvoisin must quiver in his tomb, such an orderly man as he was!”
Soon, the old woman arrived with the promised broom, a pail of water, and a settled expression of grim disapproval. She poked at the cobwebs with the broom, glared at Theresa, then began to sweep with concentrated ferocity, raising little puffs of dust as she went and muttering to herself, witch–like.
“So young,” she said. “Too young. Too full of ideas. Too much like Edouard, enfin.”
Theresa bit her lip, caught between curiosity and irritation. Curiosity won. “How am I like him, Luna?” she asked. “And how can you know? He’s been dead almost a hundred years.”
The old woman straightened and turned, her face creased deep with fury. “Luna!” she snarled. “Who has given you the right to call me Luna? I am not a servant, to be addressed without respect.”
“You’re not? I mean, of course not. I beg your pardon, Mlle…?” And Theresa looked a wild appeal to Mme Beauvoisin, who said, “The fault is entirely mine, Mlle Stanton, for not introducing you sooner. Mlle Gascó is my companion.”
Theresa laughed nervously, as at an incomprehensible joke. “You’re kidding,” she said. “Mlle Gascó? But that was the model’s name, Luz’s name. I don’t understand. Who are you, anyway?”
Mme Beauvoisin shrugged dismissively. “There is nothing to understand. We are Beauvoisin’s heirs. And the contents of this studio are our inheritance, which is yours also. Come and look.” With a theatrical flourish, she indicated a cabinet built along the back wall. “Open it,” she said. “The doors are beyond my strength.”
Theresa looked from Mme Beauvoisin to Mlle Gascó and back again. Every scholar knows that coincidences happen, that people leave things to their relatives, that reality is sometimes unbelievably strange. And this was what she had come for, after all, to open the cabinet, to recover all the mysteries and illuminate the shadows of Beauvoisin’s life. Perhaps this Mlle Gascó was his illegitimate granddaughter. Perhaps both women were playing some elaborate and obscure game. In any case, it wasn’t any of her business. Her business was with the cabinet and its contents.
The door was warped, and Theresa had to struggle with it for a good while before it creaked stiffly open on a cold stench of mildew and the shadowy forms of dispatch boxes neatly arranged on long shelves. Theresa sighed happily. Here they were, Beauvoisin’s papers, a scholar’s treasure trove, her ticket to a degree, a career, a profession. And they were all hers. She reached out both hands and gathered in the nearest box. As the damp cardboard yielded to her fingers, she felt a sudden panic that the papers would be mildewed into illegibility. But the papers were wrapped in oilcloth and perfectly dry.
Reverently, Theresa lifted out a packet of letters, tied with black tape. The top one was folded so that some of the text showed. Having just spent a month working with Beauvoisin’s letters to Manet at the Bibliothèque National, she immediately recognized his hand, tiny and angular and blessedly legible. Theresa slipped the letter free from the packet and opened it. I have met, she read, a dozen other young artists in the identical state of fearful ecstasy as I, feeling great things about Art and Beauty which we are half–shy of expressing, yet must express or die.
“Thérèse.” Mme Beauvoisin sounded amused. “First we must clean this place. Then you may read Beauvoisin’s words with more comfort and less danger of covering them with smuts.”
Theresa became aware that she was holding the precious letter in an unforgivably dirty hand. “Oh,” she said, chagrined. “I’m so sorry. I know better than this.”
“It is the excitement of discovery.” Mme Beauvoisin took the letter from her and rubbed lightly at the corner with her apron. “See, it comes clean, all save a little shadow that may easily be overlooked.” She folded the letter, slipped it back into the packet, returned it to the box, and tucked the oilcloth over it.
“Today, the preparation of the canvas,” she said. “Tomorrow, you may begin the sketch.”
Edouard Beauvoisin had indeed been an orderly man. The letters were parceled up by year, in order of receipt, and labeled. Turning over Manet’s half of their long correspondence, Theresa briefly regretted her choice of research topic. Manet’s was a magic name, a name to conjure up publishers and job offers, fame and what passed for fortune among art historians. But Manet, who had been documented, described, and analyzed by every art historian worth his pince–nez, could never be hers. Beauvoisin was hers.
Theresa sorted out all the business papers, the bills for paint and canvas, the notes from obscure friends. What was left was what she gleefully called the good stuff: a handful of love–notes written by Céleste Rohan over the two years Beauvoisin had courted her, three boxes of letters from his mother, and two boxes of his answers, which must have been returned to him at her death.
It took Theresa a week to work through the letters, a week of long hours reading in the studio and short, awkward meals eaten in the kitchen with Mme Beauvoisin and Luna. It was odd. In the house and garden, they were everywhere, present as the sea–smell, forever on the way to some domestic task or other, yet never too busy to inquire politely and extensively after her progress. Or at least Mme Beauvoisin was never too busy. Luna mostly glared at her, hoped she wasn’t wasting her time, warned her not to go picking the flowers or walking on the grass. It didn’t take long for Theresa to decide that she didn’t like Luna.
She did, however, like Edouard Beauvoisin. In the studio, Theresa could lose herself in Beauvoisin’s world of artists and models. The letters to his mother from his early years in Paris painted an intriguing portrait of an intelligent, passionate, and above all, naive young man whose most profound desire was to capture and define Beauty in charcoal and oils. He wrote of poses and technical problems and what his teacher M. Couture had said about his life studies, reaffirming in each letter his intention to draw and draw and draw until every line breathes the essence of the thing itself. A little over a year later, he was speaking less of line and more of color; the name Couture disappeared from his letters, to be replaced by Manet, Degas, Duranty, and the brothers Goncourt. By 1860, he had quit the Ecole des Beaux Arts and registered to copy the Old Masters at the Louvre. A year later, he met Céleste Rohan at the house of Berthe Morisot’s sister Edma Pontillon:
She is like a Raphael Madonna, tall and slender and pale, and divinely unconscious of her own beauty. She said very little at dinner, but afterwards in the garden with Morisot conversed with me an hour or more. I learned then that she is thoughtful and full of spirit, loves Art and Nature, and is herself something of an artist, with a number of watercolors and oil sketches to her credit that, according to Morisot, show considerable promise.
Three months later, he announced to his mother that Mlle Rohan had accepted his offer of hand and heart. Mme Beauvoisin the elder said everything that was proper, although a note of worry did creep through in her final lines:
I am a little concerned about her painting. To be sure, painting is an amiable accomplishment in a young girl, but you must be careful, in your joy at finding a soul–mate, not to foster useless ambitions in her breast. I’m sure you both agree that a wife must have no other profession than seeing to the comfort of her husband, particularly when her husband is an artist and entirely unable to see to his own.
When she read this, Theresa snorted. Perhaps her mother–in–law was why Céleste, like Edma Morisot and dozens of other lady artists, had laid down her brush when she married. Judging from her few surviving canvases, she’d been a talented painter, if too indebted to the style of Berthe Morisot. Now, if Céleste had just written to her future husband about painting or ambition or women’s role in marriage, Theresa would have an easy chapter on the repression of women artists in nineteenth–century France.
It was with high hopes that Theresa opened the small bundle of Céleste’s correspondence. She soon discovered that, however full of wit and spirit Céleste may have been in conversation, on paper she was terse and dull. Her letters were limited to a few scrawled lines of family news, expressions of gratitude for books her fiancé had recommended, and a few, shy declarations of maidenly affection. The only signs of her personality were the occasional vivid sketches with which she illustrated her notes: a seal pup sunning itself on the rocks at the mouth of the bay; a cow peering thoughtfully in through the dairy window.
Theresa folded Céleste’s letters away, tied the tape neatly around them, and sighed. She was beginning to feel discouraged. No wonder there’d been so little written on Edouard Beauvoisin. No wonder his studio was neglected, his museum unmarked, his only curators an eccentric pair of elderly women. There had been dozens of competent but uninspired followers of the Impressionists who once or twice in the course of their lives had managed to paint great pictures. The only thing that set Edouard Beauvoisin apart from them was the mystery of Luz Gascó, and as Theresa read his dutiful letters to his mother, she found that she just could not believe that the man who had written them could bring his mistress to live with his wife. More importantly, she found herself disbelieving that he could ever have painted Young Woman in a Garden. Yet there it incontrovertibly was, hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts, signed “Edouard Beauvoisin, 1879,” clear as print and authenticated five ways from Sunday.
A breeze stirred the papers scattered across the worktable. Under the ever–present tang of the sea, Theresa smelled lilies of the valley. She propped her hands on her chin and looked out into the garden. A pretty day, she thought, and a pretty view. It might make a picture, were there anything to balance the window–frame and the mass of the linden tree in the left foreground. Oh, there was the rose–bed, but it wasn’t enough. Then a figure stepped into the scene, bent to the roses, clipped a bloom, laid it in the basket dangling from her elbow: Gascó, a red shawl tied Spaniard–wise aross her white morning gown, her wild black hair escaping from its pins and springing around her face as she stooped. Her presence focused the composition, turned it into an interesting statement of light and tension.
Don’t move, Theresa thought. For God’s sake, Gascó, don’t move. Squinting at the scene, she opened a drawer with a practiced jerk and felt for the sketchbook, which was not on top, where it should be, where it always was. Irritated, she tore her eyes from Gascó to look for it. Lying in the drawer was a child’s cahier, marbled black and white, with a plain white label pasted on its cover and marked “May–June 1898” in a tiny, angular, blessedly legible hand.
“Out of place,” she murmured angrily, then, “This is it,” without any clear idea of what she meant by either statement.
Theresa swallowed, aware that something unimaginably significant had happened, was happening, that she was trembling and sweating with painful excitement. Carefully, she wiped her hands on her jeans, lifted the cahier from its wooden tomb, opened it to its last entry: June 5, 1898. The hand was scratchier, more sprawled than in his letters, the effect, perhaps, of the wasting disease that would kill him in July.
The Arrangement. A pity my death must void it. How well it has served us over the years, and how happily! At least, C. has seemed happy; for L.’s discontents, there has never been any answer, except to leave and make other arrangements of her own. Twenty years of flying into rages, sinking into sulks, refusing to stand thus and so or to hold a pose not to her liking, hating Brittany, the cold, the damp, the gray sea. And still she stays. Is it the Arrangement that binds her, or her beloved garden? Young Woman in a Garden: Luz at La Roseraie. If I have a fear of dying, it is that I must be remembered for that painting. God’s judgment on our Arrangement, Maman would have said, had she known of it. When I come to make my last Confession, soon, oh, very soon now, I will beg forgiveness for deceiving her. It is my only regret.
By dusk, Theresa had read the notebook through and begun to search for its fellows. That there had to be more notebooks was as clear as Monet’s palette: the first entry began in mid–sentence, for one thing, and no man talks to himself so fluently without years of practice. They wouldn’t be hidden; Beauvoisin hadn’t been a secretive man. Tidy–minded. Self–contained. Conservative. He stored them somewhere, Theresa thought. Somewhere here. She looked around the darkening studio. Maybe it would be clearer to her in the morning. It would certainly be lighter.
Out in the garden, Theresa felt the depression of the past weeks release her like a hand opening. A discovery! A real discovery! What difference did it make whether Beauvoisin had painted two good paintings or a dozen? There was a mystery about him, and she, Theresa Stanton, was on the verge of uncovering it. She wanted to babble and sing and go out drinking to celebrate. But her friends were three thousand miles away, and all she had was Mme Beauvoisin. And Luna. Always Luna.
Theresa’s quick steps slowed. What was her hurry, after all? Her news would keep, and the garden was so lovely in the failing light, with the white pebble path luminous under her feet, the evening air blue and warm and scented with lilies.
In the parlor, an oil lamp laid its golden hand upon the two women sitting companionably together on the velvet sofa, their heads bent to their invisible tasks. The soft play of light and shadow varnished their hair and skin with youth. Theresa struggled with a momentary and inexplicable sense of déjà vu, then, suddenly embarrassed, cleared her throat. “I found a notebook today,” she announced into the silence. “Beauvoisin’s private journal.”
Luna’s head came up, startled and alert. Theresa caught a liquid flash as she glanced at her, then at Mme Beauvoisin.
“A journal?” asked Mme Beauvoisin blandly. “Ah. I might have guessed he would have kept a journal. You must be very pleased—such documents are important to scholars. Come. Pour yourself a brandy to celebrate—the bottle is on the sideboard—and sit and tell us of your great discovery.”
As Theresa obediently crossed the room and unstopped the decanter, she heard a furious whisper. “Mierda!”
“Hush, Luna.” Mme Beauvoisin’s tone was happy, almost gleeful. “We agreed. Whatever she finds, she may use. It is her right.”
“I withdraw my agreement. I know nothing of these journals. Who can tell what he may have written?”
A deep and affectionate sigh. “Oh, Luna. Still so suspicious?”
“Not suspicious. Wise. The little American, she is of Edouard’s blood and also Edouard’s soul. I have seen him in her eyes.”
Theresa set down the decanter and came back into the lamplight. “Wait a minute. I don’t understand. Of course I have the right to use the journals. M. Tanguy promised me full access to all Beauvoisin’s papers. And he didn’t say anything about you. Where is he anyway?”
Mme Beauvoisin’s dark, faded eyes held hers for a moment. “Please, do not discommode yourself,” she said. “Sit and tell us what you have found.”
Hesitant under Luna’s hot and disapproving gaze, Theresa perched herself on the edge of a chair and did as she was told.
“I’d no idea he was so passionate,” she said at last. “In his letters, although he speaks of passion, he’s always so moderate about expressing it.”
“Moderate!” Luna’s laugh was a scornful snort. “Hear the girl! Madre de Dios!”
“Hush, Luna. Please continue.”
“That’s all. I didn’t really learn much, except that he knew in June that he was dying. One interesting thing was his references to an Arrangement—that’s with a capital A—and how he’d never told his maman about it.” Excitement rose in her again. “I have to find the rest of the journals!”
Mme Beauvoisin smiled at her. “Tomorrow. You will find them, I’m sure of it.”
“Céleste,” said Luna warningly.
“Hush, my dear.”
Theresa retired, as always, before her elderly companions. As polite as Mme Beauvoisin was, she always felt uncomfortable in the parlor, as if her presence there were an intrusion, a threat, a necessary evil. Which, she told herself firmly, in a way, it was. The two women had been living here alone for Heaven only knew how long. It was only natural that they’d feel put out by her being there. It was silly of her to resent her exclusion from their charmed circle. And yet, tonight especially, she did.
Theresa curled up in a chair by the window, tucked the duvet around her legs, and considered the problem of Edouard’s notebooks. A full moon washed the pale roses and the white paths with silver. In her mind, Theresa followed Edouard down one of those luminous paths to the studio, sitting at his desk, pulling his current notebook from the right–hand drawer and re–read his last entry only to discover that he’d barely one page left. He shook his head, rose, went to the cabinet, opened one of the long drawers where he kept his paints and pigments neatly arranged in shallow wooden trays. Carefully, he lifted one tray, slipped a new marbled cahier from under it, returned to his desk, and began to write.
When Teresa opened her eyes, the garden was cool in a pale golden dawn. Her neck was in agony, her legs were hopelessly cramped, but she was elated. The notebooks were in the cabinet under the paint trays—they just had to be!
Twenty minutes later, she was in the studio herself, with the paint trays stacked on the floor, gloating over layers of black–and–white marbled cahiers.
There were more than a hundred of them, she discovered, distributed over four drawers and forty–two years, from Beauvoisin’s first trip to Paris in 1856 to his death in 1898. Theresa took out five or six of them at random and paged through them as she had paged through books as a child, stopping to read passages that caught her eye. Not entirely professional, perhaps. But thoroughly satisfying.
April 20, 1875
Paris is so full of bad paintings, I can’t begin to describe them. I know C.’s would enjoy some modest success, but she will not agree. One of Mlle Morisot’s canvases has sold for a thousand francs—a seascape not so half as pretty as the one C. painted at La Roseraie last month. I compliment her often on her work, and am somewhat distressed that she does not return the courtesy, from love of the artist if not from admiration of his work. But then C. has never understood my theory of light and evanescence, and will not agree with my principles of composition.
Theresa closed the notebook with a snap, unreasonably disappointed with Beauvoisin for his blindness to the structures of his society. Surely he must have known, as Céleste obviously knew, that men were professionals and women were amateurs, unless they were honorary men like Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt? Poor Céleste, Theresa thought, and poor Edouard. What had they seen in one another?
Over the next few days, Theresa chased the answer to that question through the pages of Edouard’s journals, skipping from one C. to the next, composing a sketch–portrait of a very strange marriage. That Beauvoisin had loved Céleste was clear. That he had loved her as a wife was less so. He spoke of her as a travelling companion, a hostess, a housekeeper. A sister, Theresa thought suddenly, reading how Céleste had arranged the details of their trip to Spain in the winter of 1877. She’s like the maiden sister keeping house for her brilliant brother. And Edouard, he was a man who saved all his passion for his art, at any rate until he went to Spain and met Luz Gascó.
I have made some sketches of a woman we met in the Prado—a respectable woman and tolerably educated, although fallen on evil times. She has quite the most beautiful skin I have seen—white as new cream and so fine that she seems to glow of her own light, like a lamp draped with heavy silk. Such bones! And her hair and eyes, like black marble polished and by some miracle brought to life and made supple. C. saw her first, and effected an introduction. She is a joy to paint, and not expensive…
Eagerly, Theresa skimmed through the next months for further references to the beautiful señorita. Had Edouard fallen in love at last? He certainly wrote as if he had—long, poetic descriptions of her skin, her hair, her form, her luminous, living presence. At the same time, he spoke fearfully of her temper, her unaccountable moods, her uncontrollable “gypsy nature.” In the end, however, simple painterly covetousness won out and he invited Gascó to spend the summer at La Roseraie.
May 6, 1878
Luz Gascó expected tomorrow. C., having vacated the blue chamber for her, complains of having nowhere to paint. Perhaps I’ll build an extension to my studio. Gascó is a great deal to ask of a wife, after all, even though C. knows better than any other how unlikely my admiration is to overstep propriety. As a model, Gascó is perfection. As a woman, she is like a wild cat, ready to hiss and scratch for no reason. Yet that skin! Those eyes! I despair of capturing them and ache to make the attempt.
Fishing Boats not going well. The boats are wooden and the water also. I shall try Gascó in the foreground to unbalance the composition…
How violently the presence of Luz Gascó unbalanced the nicely calculated composition of Edouard Beauvoisin’s life became clearer to Theresa the more she read. She hardly felt excluded now from her hostesses’ circle, eager as she was to get back to the studio and to Edouard, for whom she was feeling more and more sympathy. Pre–Gascó, his days had unfolded methodically: work, walks with Céleste, drives to the village, letter–writing, notebook–keeping, sketching—each allotted its proper time and space, regular as mealtimes. G. rises at noon, he mourned a week into her visit. She breaks pose because she has seen a bird in the garden or wants to smell a flower. She is utterly impossible. Yet she transforms the world around her.
Imperceptibly, the summer visit extended into autumn and the autumn into winter as Beauvoisin planned and painted canvas after canvas, experimenting with composition, technique, pigment. By the spring of 1879, there was talk of Gascó’s staying. By summer, she was a fixture, and Beauvoisin was beside himself with huge, indefinite emotions and ambitions, all of them arranged, like his canvases, around the dynamic figure of Luz Gascó. Then came July, and a page blank save for one line:
July 6, 1879
Luz in the parlor. Ah, Céleste!
A puzzling entry, marked as if for easy reference with a scrap of cheap paper folded in four. Theresa picked it up and carefully smoothed it open—not carefully enough, however, to keep the brittle paper from tearing along its creases. She saw dark lines—a charcoal sketch—and her heart went cold in panic. What have I done? she thought. What have I destroyed?
With a trembling hand, she arranged the four pieces on the table. The image was a reclining woman, her face turned away under an upflung arm, her bodice unbuttoned to the waist and her chemise loosened and folded open. A scarf of dark curls draped her throat and breast, veiling and exposing her nakedness. The sketch was intimate, more tender than erotic, a lover’s mirror.
Theresa put her hands over her eyes. She’d torn the sketch; she didn’t need to cry over it too. Spilt milk, she told herself severely. M. Rouart would know how to restore it. And she should be happy she’d found it, overjoyed to have such dramatic proof of Beauvoisin’s carnal passion for his Spanish model. So why did she feel regretful, sad, disappointed and so terribly, overwhelmingly angry?
A shadow fell across the page. A gnarled, nail–bitten forefinger traced the charcoaled line of the subject’s hair.
“Ah,” said Luna softly. “I wondered what had become of this.”
Theresa clenched her own hands in her lap, appalled by the emotion that rose in her at the sound of that hoarse, slightly lisping voice. Luna was certainly irritating. But this was not irritation Theresa felt. It was rage.
“A beautiful piece, is it not?” The four torn pieces were not perfectly aligned: the woman seemed broken at the waist; her left arm, lying across her hips, was dismembered at the elbow. Luna coaxed her back together with delicate touches. “A pity that my own beauty may not be so easily repaired.”
Surprised, Theresa looked up at Luna’s turtle face. She’d never imagined Luna young, let alone beautiful. Yet now she saw that her bones were finely turned under her leathery skin and her eyes were unfaded and bright black as a mouse’s. A vaguely familiar face, and an interesting one, now that Theresa came to study it. Something might be made of it, against a background of flowers, or the garden wall.
Luna straightened, regarding Theresa with profound disgust. “You’re his to the bone,” she said. “You see what you need to see, not what is there. I told her a stranger would have been better.”
Theresa’s fury had subsided, leaving only bewilderment behind. She rubbed her eyes wearily. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t understand. Do you know something about this sketch?”
The old woman’s mouth quirked angrily. “What I know of this sketch,” she spat, “is that it was not meant for your eyes.” And with a haughty lift of her chin, she turned and left the studio.
Was Mlle Gascó crazy, or senile, or just incredibly mean? Theresa wondered, watching her hobble across the bright prospect of the garden like an arthritic crow. Surely she couldn’t actually know anything about that sketch—why, it had been hidden for over a hundred years. For a moment, the garden dimmed, as though a cloud had come over the sun, and then Theresa’s eyes strayed to the notebook open before her. A sunbeam dazzled the single sentence to blankness. She moved the notebook out of the glare and turned the page.
The next entry was dated the 14th of July and spoke of Bastille Day celebrations in Lorient and a family outing with Céleste and Gascó, all very ordinary except that Beauvoisin’s prose was less colorful than usual. Something was going on. But Theresa had already known that. Beauvoisin had grown immensely as a painter over the summer of 1879, and had also cut himself off from the men who had been his closest friends. She was already familiar with the sharp note he’d written Manet denying that he had grown reclusive, only very hard at work and somewhat distracted, he hinted, by domestic tension: “For two women to reside under one roof is far from restful,” he had written, and “Céleste and I have both begun paintings of Gascó—not, alas, the same pose.”
Theresa flipped back to July 6. Luz in the parlor. Ah, Céleste! Such melodrama was not like Beauvoisin, nor was a week’s silence, nor the brief, lifeless chronicles of daily events that occupied him during the month of August. Theresa sighed. Real life is often melodramatic, and extreme emotion mute. Something had happened on July 6, something that had changed Beauvoisin’s life and art.
In any case, late in 1879 Beauvoisin had begun to develop a new style, a lighter, more brilliant palette, a more painterly technique that broke definitively from the line–obsessed training of his youth. Reading the entries for the fall of ‘79 and the winter of ‘80, Theresa learned that he had developed his prose style as well, in long disquisitions on light and composition, life and art. He gave up all accounts of ordinary events in favor of long essays on the beauty of the ephemeral: a young girl, a budding flower, a spring morning, a perfect understanding between man and woman. He became obsessed with a need to capture even the most abstract of emotions on canvas: betrayal, joy, contentment, estrangement.
I have set G. a pose I flatter myself expresses most perfectly that moment of suspension between betrayal and remorse. She is to the left of the central plane, a little higher than is comfortable, crowded into a box defined by the straight back of her chair and the arm of the sofa. Her body twists left, her face is without expression, her eyes are fixed on the viewer. The conceit pleases G. more than C., of course, G. being the greater cynic. But C. agrees that the composition is out of the ordinary way and we all have great hopes of it at the next Salon. Our Arrangement will answer very well, I think.
Reading such entries—which often ran to ten or fifteen closely–written pages—Theresa began to wonder when Beauvoisin found time to paint the pictures he had so lovingly and thoughtfully planned. It was no wonder, she thought, that Interior and Woman at a Window seemed so theoretical, so contrived. She was not surprised to read that they had not brought as much as Young Woman in a Garden or Reclining Nude, painted two years later and described briefly as a figure study of G. on the parlor sofa, oddly lighted. Pure whim, and not an idea anywhere in it. C. likes it, though, and so does G.; have allowed myself to be overborne.
June had laid out its palette in days of Prussian blue, clear green, and yellow. In the early part of the month, when Theresa had been reading the letters, the clouds flooded the sky with a gray and white wash that suppressed shadow and compressed perspective like a Japanese print. After she found the notebooks, however, all the days seemed saturated with light and static as a still life.
Theresa spent her time reading Beauvoisin’s journals, leaving the studio only to eat a silent meal alone in the kitchen, to wander through the garden or, in the evenings, to go down to the seawall where she would watch the sun set in Turneresque glories of carmine and gold. Once, seeing the light, like Danae’s shower, spilling its golden seed into the sea, Theresa felt her hand twitch with the desire to paint the scene, to capture the evanescent moment in oil and make it immortal.
What am I thinking of? she wondered briefly. I can’t paint. It must be Edouard rubbing off on me. Or the isolation. I need to get out of here for a couple days, go back to Paris, see M. Rouart about the sketch, maybe let him take me out to dinner, talk to someone real for a change. But the next day found her in the studio and the next evening by the seawall, weeping with the beauty of the light and her own inadequate abilities.
As June shaded into July, Theresa abandoned the notebooks and began to sketch the pictures she saw around her in the studio and garden. Insensible of sacrilege, she took up Beauvoisin’s pastel chalks and charcoal pencils and applied herself to the problem of reproducing her impressions of the way the flowers shimmered under the noon–day sun and how the filtered light reflected from the studio’s whitewashed walls.
At first, she’d look at the untrained scrawls and blotches she’d produced and tear them to confetti in an ecstasy of disgust. But as the clear still days unfolded, she paid less and less attention to what she’d done, focusing only on the need of the moment, to balance mass and shape, light and shade. She hardly saw Mme Beauvoisin and Luna, though she was dimly aware that they were about—in the parlor, in the garden, walking arm in arm across her field of vision: figures in the landscape, motifs in the composition. Day bled into day with scarcely a signpost to mark the end of one or the beginning of the next, so that she sketched and read in a timeless, seamless present, without past, without future, without real purpose.
So it was with no clear sense of time or place that Theresa walked into the studio one day and realized that she had left her sketchbook in the parlor. Tiresome, she thought to herself. But there was that study she’d been working on, the one of the stone wall. She’d just have to go back to the house and get it.
The transition from hall to parlor was always blinding, particularly in the afternoon, when the sun slanted through the French doors straight into entering eyes. That is perhaps why Theresa thought at first that the room was empty, and then that someone had left a large canvas propped against the sofa, a painting of two women in an interior.
It was an interesting composition, the details blurred by the bright back–light, the white dress of the figure on the sofa glimmering against the deep burgundy cushions, the full black skirts of the figure curled on the floor beside her like a pool of ink spilled on the flowery carpet. Both figures were intent on a paper the woman on the sofa held on her up–drawn knees. Her companion’s torso was turned into the sofa, her arms wreathed loosely around her waist.
What a lovely picture they make together, Theresa thought. I wonder I never thought of posing them so. It’s a pity Céleste will not let me paint her.
Céleste laid the sketch aside, took Gascó’s hand, and carried it to her lips. Her gaze met Theresa’s.
“Edouard,” she said.
Theresa’s cheeks heated; her heart began a slow, deep, painful beating that turned her dizzy. She put her hand on the doorframe to steady herself just as Gascó surged up from floor and turned, magnificent in her rage and beauty, to confront the intruder. Her face shone from the thundercloud of her hair, its graceful planes sharpened and defined by the contemptuous curve of her red mouth, and the wide, proud defiance of her onyx eyes. Edouard released the doorframe and helplessly reached out his hand to her.
“Be a man, Edouard!” Gascó all but spat. “Don’t look like that. I knew this must come. It would have come sooner had you been less blind. No,” as Edouard winced, “I beg your pardon. It was not necessary to say that. Or the other. But you must not weep.”
Céleste had swung her legs to the floor and laid the sketch on the sofa–back on top of the piled cushions. She looked composed, if a little pale, and her voice was even when she said, “Sit down, Luna. He has no intention of weeping. No, get us some brandy. We must talk, and we’d all be the better for something to steady us.”
“Talk?” said Edouard. “What is there for us to say to one another?”
Gascó swept to the sideboard, poured brandy into three snifters, and handed them around, meeting Edouard’s eyes defiantly when she put his into his hand.
“Drink, Edouard,” said Céleste gently. “And why don’t you sit down?”
He shook his head, but took a careful sip of his brandy. The liquor burned his throat.
“Doubtless you want us to leave La Roseraie,” said Céleste into a long silence.
“Oh, no, my heart,” said Gascó. “I’ll not run away like some criminal. This house is yours. If anyone is to leave, it must be Beauvoisin.”
“In law,” said Edouard mildly, “the house is mine. I will not leave it. Nor will you, Céleste. You are my wife.” His voice faltered. “I don’t want you to leave. I want things as they were before.”
“With your model your wife’s lover, and you as blind as a mole?”
Edouard set down his half–finished brandy and pinched the bridge of his nose. “That was not kind, Gascó. But then, I have always known that you are not kind.”
“No. I am honest. And I see what is there to be seen. It is you who must leave, Edouard.”
“And ruin us all?” Céleste sounded both annoyed and amused. “You cannot be thinking, my love. We may find some compromise, some way of saving Edouard’s face and our reputations, some way of living together.”
“Never!” said Gascó. “I will not. You cannot ask it of me.”
“My Claire de Lune. My Luna.” Céleste reached for Gascó’s hand and pulled her down on the sofa. “You do love me, do you not? Then you will help me. Edouard loves me too: we all love one another, do we not? Edouard. Come sit with us.”
Edouard set down his brandy snifter. Céleste was holding her hand to him, smiling affectionately. He stepped forward, took the hand, allowed it and the smile to draw him down beside her. At the edge of his vision, he saw the paper slide behind the cushions and turned to retrieve it. Céleste’s grip tightened on his hand.
“Never mind, my dear,” she said. “Now. Surely we can come to some agreement, some arrangement that will satisfy all of us?”
The taste in Theresa’s mouth said she’d been asleep. The tickle in her throat said the sofa was terribly dusty, and her nose said there had been mice in it, perhaps still were. The cushions were threadbare, the needlework pillows moth–eaten into woolen lace.
Without thinking what she was doing, Theresa scattered them broadcast and burrowed her hand down between sofa–back and seat, grimacing a bit as she thought of the mice, grinning triumphantly as she touched a piece of paper. Carefully, she drew it out, creased and mildewed as it was, and smoothed it on her knees.
A few scrawled lines of text with a sketch beneath them. The hand was not Edouard’s. Nor was the sketch, though a dozen art historians would have staked their government grants that the style was his. The image was an early version of Young Woman in a Garden, a sketch of Gascó sitting against a tree with her hands around her knees, her pointed chin raised to display the long curve of her neck. Her hair was loose on her shoulders. Her blouse was open at the throat. She was laughing.
Trembling, Theresa read the note:
My Claire de Lune:
How wicked I feel, how abandoned, writing you like this, where anyone could read how I love you, my maja. I want to write about your neck and breasts and hair—oh, your hair like black silk across my body. But the only words that come to my mind are stale when they are not comic, and I’d not have you laugh at me. So here is my memory of yesterday afternoon, and your place in it, and in my heart always.
Theresa closed her eyes, opened them again. The room she sat in was gloomy, musty, and falling into ruin, very different from the bright, comfortably shabby parlor she remembered. One of the French doors was ajar; afternoon sun spilled through it, reflecting from a thousand swirling dust–motes, raising the ghosts of flowers from the faded carpet. Out in the garden, a bird whistled. Theresa went to the door, looked out over a wilderness of weedy paths and rosebushes grown into a thorny, woody tangle.
Céleste’s letter to Luz Gascó crackled in her hand, reassuringly solid. There was clearly a lot of work to be done.
(Editors’ Note: In this issue, Delia Sherman is interviewed by Deborah Stanish)
© 1994 by Delia Sherman. Originally published in Xanadu 2. Reprinted by permission of the author.