IT was a beautiful day in the middle of July, 1876, when we glided out of the Gare du Nord, in Paris, on our way to see Thomas Couture, at the little village where for many years he passed the summer months in the seclusion of the country.
We descended, after about half an hour’s ride, at the little station of Villiers le Bel, which seemed stranded in the open fields, as no village was in sight. We began to fear that we too were stranded, and had perhaps been left at the wrong station. However, following the few people who, like ourselves, had been spilled, as it were, by the now fast-vanishing train, we passed through the station, and found, drawn up in the shade, an old dusty omnibus, with two sturdy Normandy horses attached. We were assured by a worthy in a blouse, and with a very thick and almost unintelligible patois, that this would conduct us to our destination, the village of Villiers le Bel itself, and that he would have the honor to drive us.
With a great cracking of the whip we were soon off at a good pace, over a well - macadamized road which led straight out into the country, and the little station was left deserted and quiet till the arrival of the next train.
Before us stretched the broad dusty road, and on either hand, with no fence between, were spread the fields of fast-ripening grain, waving and rippling in the breeze; the great red poppies blazed in the sun, and the whole air was musical with the larks soaring far up in the blue sky. How strange it all seemed, and yet how familiar! At every step one was reminded of pictures by Lambinet and Rousseau, Troyon and Daubigny, but Lambinet more than the others ; for he it is who has made this part of France peculiarly his own, as Rousseau the Forest of Fontainebleau and Daubigny the river Oise. When, at one point, we passed some peasants at their noonday meal under the shadow of their cart, which was tipped up with its shafts in the air, while the good horse, with harness off, browsed hard by, “ Ah,” I involuntarily thought, “ what a perfect Millet!” So it is that the familiarity born of books and pictures gives an added charm to travel.
Aside from this, the landscape in Normandy has a special grace of its own. The gently flowing lines of the hills, and the wide stretch of level plain, without fence or bound to break the view; the little hamlets scattered here and there, and the groups of graceful trees, which from the custom of trimming the lower branches for firewood lift themselves against the soft skies with peculiar character in their silhouettes, all lend themselves ready made to the artist’s hand. In the atmosphere full of moisture from the English Channel, the distance melts away in a soft haze, and there is never that knock-down aspect of things, near or remote, with which we are so familiar in New England.
After a twenty minutes’ drive across the level plain, we reached the outskirts of the village, nestled among its trees at the foot, and running up the slope, of the hill of Ecouen. As we rattled up its little narrow paved street, amid a salvo from the driver’s whip, which echoed and reëchoed from the gray houses on either hand like a very successful Fourth of July celebration, loungers came out from doors; and fresh faces, framed in white caps, peeped at us from upper windows, to give and receive voluble sallies from our bluebloused driver, who was evidently in high favor with his townsfolk. At length we reached the little square in the middle of the village and drew up in front of the Bureau de Poste. Here we alighted and looked about us.
On one side of the square rose the little Gothic church, with its spire terminating in a ridge. The inside, unhappily, has been spoiled by a thick coat of whitewash, but the outside is quite picturesque, and, dominating as it does the little hamlet, is an attractive object from many points in the surrounding country, and has often figured in pictures by French and American artists. With the assistance of an old gentleman with a wheelbarrow, on which were deposited our few impedimenta, we set out for the inn, along one of the streets leading from the square. The streets of Vilbers, as in other French country towns, are all paved with large square blocks of stone ; the houses abut directly on the street, and the sidewalk, where there is any, is also paved, and so narrow that in places it is quite lost, where some obtrusive house elbows its way out of the general line. The gutter is often in the middle of the street and answers for a drain as well. Being open to the air, gases have no chance to accumulate ; and although you are sometimes greeted by unpleasant odors, no fevers are the result.
The inn proved to be also a pastry cook’s. The landlord was the cook, and was rarely seen out of his well-ordered kitchen, while his wife sat all day in the shop, with her knitting, and demanded exorbitant prices for the very sweet but generally flavorless confitures in which the French delight. No wellregulated French household ever makes its own puddings or pies, but sends for them to the patisserie, which therefore exercises an important function.
In the mean time the hotel part of the establishment was expected to run itself, with such help as it could get from the much-put-upon man of all work, who did everything, from making the beds to washing out the court-yard. The natural result was that between over-work and Madame’s temper, which was none of the best, the poor garçon generally left at the end of his first month, to be succeeded by another unfortunate. He in turn would be summoned from his bed-making by the shrill voice of Madame in the court-yard below, to attend to some newly arrived guest, only to be scolded back again because his rooms were not done.
We entered the inn through the large green doors of the paved court-yard, and after paying our aged conductor waited patiently for the clanging of the great bell, which he had set ringing, to subside. We decided to postpone the inspection of rooms for the more pressing demands of hunger; and so expressed ourselves to the for once smiling landlady. At her suggestion, a table was spread for us in what was called by the somewhat misleading name of Bosquet, a sort of arbor running along one side of the court-yard, and composed of straggling vines on espaliers, and sickly creepers running up the high wall that inclosed the court on that side. The other three sides were occupied by the house, under which, in one part, was the stable. We felt that now we were indeed in Bohemia, and our al fresco repast was none the less enjoyable from the fact that the beefsteak was tough and the vin ordinaire very ordinaire.
Omelettes and bread are always good in France, and we found no exception here, while later we learned that our landlord had a very good vintage of Beaune, if we chose to pay for it.
Our meal was shared by a cat and a dog, the former, however, only in imagination, as she dared not descend from her vantage-ground on the high wall. The dog was a large setter in the hobble-de-hoy stage of puppyhood, and had been christened Stop by an Italian artist at the hotel, with, I fear, rather vague ideas of English : something us the Japanese supposed “ Come here ” to be the English for dog, because their masters used that phrase in calling to them.
Stop, this particular dog certainly never did, but went tumbling over everything; getting between the waiter’s legs, and causing no end of mischief, but all in such a good-natured way that the vituperations with which he was greeted usually ended in caresses.
After lunch, while the ladies installed themselves in such rooms as we were able to make up our minds to accept, I determined to take the bull by the horns and pay my visit to Couture, to get his consent to give me some instruction. I had often heard him described as a man with a very bad temper and brusque manners, and I feared my imperfect command of the French language might lead me to say something to rouse his ire, as what may be quite polite in one language is very often rude in another. Besides, he had for many years refused to take pupils, properly so called, and had only recently made exception in favor of some American ladies. Whether he would take a male into his harem seemed quite doubtful, and indeed he refused, while I was there, to take some Frenchmen as pupils, though after my advent admitting other Americans and an Italian.
It was therefore with trembling that I sought the abode of the great man. I was directed to a neighboring street, where in a long, high wall, overhung by beautiful old trees, I found the large gate of his château as it was called. Beside this gate was a smaller one, with a grating in it about six inches square. I pulled the iron bell-rod that hung on one side, and immediately, as if both bell and dog had been attached to the same cord, there ensued a great jangling and barking. Inside I heard the clack, clack, of wooden shoes coming across a paved court ; the slide behind the little grating was pushed back, and an old woman in a Bretonne cap peered out at me. The dog, meanwhile, having been partially suppressed, kept up a muttered protest. “ Dear me,” I said to myself, “ this is indeed a Blue Beard’s castle;" and the dog, who was still invisible, assumed to my imagination gigantic proportions. In response to my inquiry if M. Couture was at home, — my outward appearance being, I suppose, satisfactory,— I was greeted with a smiling “ Entrez, monsieur,” and the drawing back of bolts and opening of the little gate. Somewhat reassured by the smiles of the old lady, and finding that the dog, although of evil countenance, was not so very large, I entered, and followed the Bretonne cap and wooden shoes across the court, that had once been laid out with some care, with flower beds, and a fountain in the middle, but was now all in disorder, with a general tangle of weeds and grasses growing up between the paving - stones. Bringing up the rear came the dog, a sort of mongrel mastiff, sniffing unpleasantly near to my trouser legs. Had I but known, as I very soon learned, that both dog and master were the most goodnatured of creatures, instead of the bugbears my imagination had painted them, I should not have felt so like a man going to his execution. Although I still marched on, my French, if not my courage, basely deserted me, and left me to stumble through the ensuing interview as best I could, and then taunted me when safely back at the hotel with what I might have said, but did not. The Château Couture, more properly a maisan de campagne, was a long, two-storied stuccoed building, without much architectural pretense, like many another country-house in the suburbs of Paris. It rested so low on the ground that one step carried you into its front door, or through its long French windows. I was ushered into a room on the left of the entrance, used, I afterwards learned, as the dining - room; catching on the way, through the door opposite, a glimpse of the kitchen, with its large, old-fashioned fire-place and bright array of copper saucepans, evidently the pride of the Bretonne cap. Knowing that mine host had a weakness for Americans as more liberal patrons of art than his own countrymen had proved to be, to him at least, I took care to impress on the good dame that it was an American who wished to see monsieur. It was an even chance whether the disappointment of finding that I was not a rich American amateur would not counterbalance the supposed advantage of my nationality; but I hoped for an amiable reception before he found that out.
Nor was I mistaken. Clack, clack, went the wooden shoes up the stone stairs, and clack, clack, they soon returned, to say that monsieur would immediately descend.
The dog, all the while, had followed close at my heels, and stood guard to see that I did not run off with the family spoons. He had a bloodshot look in his eyes, that boded no good to any such attempt, and fearing he might mistake my Western freedom for republican license, I sat as still as I could on the edge of my chair.
Presently, clack, clack, clack, another pair of wooden shoes came down the stairs, and there entered a short, stout man, in a broad-brimmed Panama hat, dressed in a crumpled suit of gray linen, and with black sabots on his feet. I rose as he entered, and the dog, after several violent blows with his tail against the table leg, that happened to be in the way of this customary salutation, laid himself down in the sun with a great flop and sigh of relief that his duties as policeman were over for the present.
Couture — for it was he — extended to me a soft, pulpy, but small and white hand, and welcomed me with much empressement.
“ Always charmed to see Americans. Had many American amateurs, who had bought his pictures,” etc. Ah, I said to myself, I feared as much! How shall I ever dare to undeceive him ?
Seeing my evident embarrassment in trying to express myself intelligibly, with great tact he suggested that we should go for a walk in the park, as he called it.
He rightly divined that a stroll round the grounds would be less formal than sitting up on chairs, and that I should be more at my ease in the open air. This eye to the main chance and extreme sensitiveness to the feelings and motives of others, as well as to any supposed slight upon himself, I found to be among his strongest characteristics.
His sharp little eyes read with wonderful insight the characters of his pupils ; and although he understood not a word of English, we were often startled to find how quick he was to interpret some passing remark from one to another, when we thought ourselves safe behind our foreign tongue, and his abrupt “ Comment ? ” would speedily bring us back to our good manners.
Leading the way into the next room, Couture called my attention to some writing in charcoal on one of the panels of the white wainscoting that reached to the ceiling. At the time of the siege of Paris he had written here an appeal to the Prussians to spare his house and pictures, as the home of an artist well known in Europe, and some of whose paintings graced the walls of the galleries of Berlin. I wish I could remember the exact words, they were so naïve in their egotism, of which his having preserved them to this day was another touch.
This room, which was the principal salon, must have been nearly thirty feet long, and reached from side to side of the house, with long French windows on either hand, through one of which we passed to a terrace overlooking the park. The grounds had once been laid out with much skill, but Couture’s dislike to spending money had allowed them to become overgrown and out of repair.
A broad vista of fine trees led down to where the paved chaussée from Paris to Ecouen terminated the estate. By skillful planting, and the substitution of an iron paling for the high wall that elsewhere bordered the road, this was quite overlooked, and the eye was led on over smiling fields to the hills of Montmorency, four miles away. Thus the name of " park” did not seem altogether undeserved, although there could not have been over six acres in the whole place.
As we wandered about among the trees and shrubberies, I found little need of talking ; my companion, it seemed, liked nothing better than to hold forth. With his arm drawn through mine, a favorite habit of his when walking with any one, he stumped along in his wooden shoes, and was the picture of good nature and bonhomie. A short and thick man, as I have said, with a great shock of iron-gray hair protruding from under his old straw hat; small but very bright eyes, set in a rather heavy and puffy face, of a pale and sallow hue; nose large, with open and very sensitive nostrils ; clean-shaved, save for a heavy, drooping gray mustache, which concealed a large, sensuous mouth ; finally, a receding chin, almost lost in a thick neck, suggestive of apoplexy, — not a handsome man, certainly. At the same time, despite his small stature, he gave you a sense of power that was unmistakable ; there was a flash in his eyes that revealed the sacred fire, and you felt that he was no common man, as his outward aspect might lead you at first to imagine. He was ungraceful, but with a certain old-fashioned courtesy, especially with ladies, that made up for the want of polish that could hardly be expected from his origin.
He often made fun of his awkwardness, and told amusing stories of going to receptions: at the Tuileries in the days when he was in high favor with Napoleon; of putting his feet through great ladies’ trains, and committing other gaucheries, to the disgust of the more accomplished courtiers.
I found him anything but the bear he had been depicted, and, with the exception of extreme sensitiveness to any imagined slight, the most good-natured of men; very fond of telling stories, and quite willing to laugh at himself, but unwilling to be laughed at; very sure that he was the greatest painter living, and that all others were mere daubers, and very sore at the ill-treatment he fancied he had received at the hands of the French government and artists; in a word, a childlike nature within a rough exterior, but very lovable. Driven into voluntary exile by the jealousy of other artists and intrigues in high places, for ten years he did not touch a brush. Living on the reputation made in his younger days, he could not consent to enter the arena a second time, and notwithstanding his love of money he was content to remain idle, unless spurred on to do something by the importunity of buyers seeking him out. I never succeeded in getting at the right of the case in his quarrel with the world.
The ill-treatment, the slights cast upon him by other artists, and his breaking with the government when in the midst of large commissions, because, as he alleged, he would not give a present to the Minister of Fine Arts for procuring him these orders, may have been in great part due to his over-sensitive imagination. To crown all, he rashly wrote a book. “ Oh, that mine enemy had written a book ! ” All the art-world of Paris set up a howl, and its echoes still linger in the ateliers on either bank of the Seine. He retired to nurse his wrongs at Villiers le Bel, and so entirely did he become a thing of the past that most lovers of art, if they thought about him at all, thought of him as dead, and wondered why his great painting of Les Romains de la Décadence was not removed to the Louvre, as is the custom with works owned by the state after the artist has been dead ten years. What had the poor man done ? He had written a slight sketch of his life, given an account of his method of painting, and dared to criticise, but perhaps without sufficient prudence, the works of other painters. If he had had more worldly wisdom he would have held his tongue.
The “ méthode Couture ” has been a by-word in the ateliers of Paris ever since. Not that it was not a good-enough system in its way and as employed by him; but yet it was a difficult method to copy, especially when learned only from his book, and like a written constitution, the too exact formulation of ideas gave a chance for cavilers to find fault. To many, to paint by rule, and not by inspiration, seemed absurd. His system was either misunderstood or misapplied, and certainly has never been successfully held to by any of his pupils. Pupils of other men have been allowed to follow in the footsteps of their masters without discredit, but those of Couture have been pursued relentlessly as long as any trace of the master’s method has remained.
Why this should be I cannot say. Why bitumen used by Couture is any more sinful than when used by others I do not know, but so it is. His great aim was freshness and purity of color, which he sought to get by mixing or stirring the colors together as little as possible, and by placing on the canvas the exact tint as nearly as he could hit it, and not disturbing it afterwards. Rather than disturb it, he preferred either to remove an unlucky touch with the palette knife and bread, or leave it till dry, and then repaint it.
His great maxim was to make haste slowly. He used to say, “ Give three minutes to looking at a thing, and one to painting it.” “ Make up your mind exactly what ought to be done, and then do it with rapidity and decision, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.” “ If a thing does not come right at first, do not fuss over it, but go to something else ; and if necessary, come back to it later, when you will often find that it is not so bad, or at least is so unimportant in the general result as to be hardly worth doing over,” — all of which maxims are most difficult to beginners.
The great trouble with the méthode Couture was that, like the battle-axe of Cœur de Lion, only the master could wield it. To get additional brilliancy, he liked to employ very long brushes that took up a great quantity of paint. This he applied in a single decisive touch with a peculiar movement of the hand, which none of us were ever able to imitate, and which left the paint all bristling and sparkling, like grass with the morning dew fresh upon it. He contended that when put on in this way and varnished it would remain fresh forever, whereas the painting over and over resulted only in deadening the paint and turning it dark in time. Nevertheless, he was always ready, if a thing did not please him, either to scrape it out, or, when dry, to glaze it down and repaint it, but always trying as far as possible to retain the brilliant qualities of a first painting.
By this process of glazing and repainting he was able, contrary to the generally received opinion, to obtain, when he chose, the most minute finish. Many of his smaller pictures will bear witness to this, and it was only in his larger canvases that he left things in what might seem an incomplete state.
He did not invariably work in the same way ; but his usual method was to put in the shadows with a very little bitumen and light red mixed with a drying medium, then load the lights, and by the time the shadows had become a little sticky from drying, drag the proper colors into them, which gave a more transparent quality than painting them in more solidly would have done.
In his drawing he insisted on style : every line should express character, and every line he ever drew was full of it. His careful study of the antique had made him an idealist; he could not be a servile copyist. With a few telling strokes he would express the whole essence of an object distilled through the alembic of his imagination. He was one of the last of the classical school, and had no sympathy with the growing realism of the age, nor it with him.
Alas for the man who is born too late, or who outlives his proper period ! He who is ahead of his time may come to be revered as a prophet, but he who is behind has no one so poor to do him reverence. The whirligig of time alone may bring him adequate recognition. Among modern painters, Couture is preëminent for nobleness of conception and design ; but in cleverness of technique he has been much surpassed. His faults were a certain dryness in execution, from the roughness of his paint, and a want of unity in his larger compositions, arising in part from his habit of studying each figure separately, and in part from a lack of feeling for the just relation of values.
His fondness for subjects of a satirical nature worked him harm. It is a doubtful point how far art should be used as a moral agent, except as it elevates the mind. The satirist has his place, but it is not the highest place, and the noblest art is degraded if used to point a moral too openly. In such pictures as The Realist (a student seated upon the bust of the Venus of Milo, engaged in drawing a pig’s head). The Love of Gold, The Courtesan, and similar subjects, he squandered the talent that ought to have been devoted to higher aims. It was, I think, a perversion of the intellectual quality in art. In Les Romains de la Décadence, his best known picture, and the one which made his reputation, we have, however, a lesson of the debauchery of luxury and vice which is very powerfully told. The utter weariness and satiety of overindulgence is admirably indicated in the attitudes and expression of the figures. The fair cease to charm or the wine to cheer, and the moral is not too obtrusively drawn in the despair of the poet on the one hand, and the scorn of the philosophers on the other.
As a portrait-painter he was not very successful. He idealized the likeness out of his sitters, and left only what he thought they ought to be. We prefer ourselves as our looking-glass shows us, and not as others see us, in spite of the old saying.
Before parting with Couture, on that first visit, I secured his consent to my becoming a pupil. He seemed much less averse to my project than I had anticipated, but confessed that he had intended never to take another scholar, although willing to criticise works brought to him by artists. He had broken his resolution because an American girl had come to him and said, “ Je veux prendre des leçons,” instead of “ Je désire,” which so amused him with its maidenly imperiousness that he yielded. Having once given way (and, I suspect, seeing a chance for a little money, though he did not mention that), he thought he would try a few pupils for one summer. I was to return the next morning with my paints and such sketches as I had with me, that he might see how proficient I was.
I shall never forget that morning. It was very hot. After a repetition of the formalities of the day before at the gate only with broader smiles on the part of the good dame, and this time with appropriate recognition on that of the dog that I was henceforth a privileged person, I was shown up to the room used for a studio. Couture, with the inevitable straw hat, received me warmly, and after rummaging about among a lot of old canvases, at which I longed to get a better look, produced a superb study of a man nude to the waist, which he had made years ago for the picture L’Amour de I’Or. This he set me to copy. To put me a little at my ease, he took up a book and pretended to read, but I felt all the time that he was looking with those sharp little eyes at every stroke I made. Although the perspiration started at every pore, there was nothing for it but to go on. Oh, how hot it was ! The flies buzzed on the window panes, or lit on my nose; there was no other sound save an occasional grunt from my tormentor, whether of approval or disgust I could not tell. After a painful struggle, my task was finished. I felt that I had done myself scant justice; but perhaps it was just as well, as the improvement thereafter would be all the more marked, and that would please the teacher. With a “ Not so bad,” he informed me that “ we should soon change all that,” and that the next day I could regularly begin. As other pupils arrived soon after, he arranged a class, which met at his house during the first week of every month. He would either give us something of his own to copy, or, painting himself from a model in the morning, make us do the same in the afternoon. In this way we learned how he attacked a subject, and his method of treating it; also gathered many useful hints from his criticism of our own and others’ sketches. The rest of the month we worked by ourselves from models, or sketched in the fields, carrying the results to him for correction.
He liked to have us come to his house on Sunday afternoons, when he held a sort of levee, seated under the trees in the park. Barbèdienne, the celebrated dealer in bronzes, who was his most intimate friend, often came from Paris to pass his Sunday, and other artists from the neighboring Ecouen, a great centre for genre painters, were frequent visitors on those pleasant afternoons. Surrounded by his family, with a clean white linen suit on, his best Panama on his head, and the ribbon of the Legion of Honor in his button-hole, he poured forth by the hour together a stream of racy anecdotes and amusing conceits.
The family consisted of his wife and two daughters and the dog Didi, a very important member. When the Prussians were approaching Paris, the Couture family fled, like so many others ; leaving the writing on the wall that I have before mentioned, to mollify the conquerors. But alas, on reaching Paris Didi the cherished was missing ! He had been left behind, and the Prussians would surely get him. So, in face of the whole advancing host, Couture sallied forth to rescue the dog. He passed the French lines, and advanced into the new deserted country ; he reached Villiers le Bel in safety, to find it silent and almost uninhabited, but he found the dog. As yet no Prussians were in sight, and he was about to return, when suddenly, over the hill from Ecouen, two Uhlans appeared ; they came to a halt; then two more appeared from another direction; then, silently, stealthily, like the coming-in of the tide, from all sides, by every alley and street, came the spiked helmets. The village was surrounded and occupied, and Couture a prisoner. The officers, however, were very kind and polite, and allowed him to return to his family in Paris in triumph, with the dog. History does not relate how Didi escaped being eaten during the siege, but he would have been a tough morsel, and that fact probably saved him.
Couture’s youngest daughter, Jeanne, was his favorite. She was at that time a very sweet girl of about sixteen, and acted as her father’s rapin, that is, helper in the studio. She kept his palette beautifully clean, washed his brushes, and always had a fresh rag or painttube ready to his hand in time of need. She spoke a little English, which she had learned at school, but was very shy of her accomplishment. Painting a little herself, she took a great interest in the work going on, and with her dark olive skin and the bright ribbon in her hair was always a charming picture, beside her rugged old father.
We passed two summers at Villiers le Bel, working in the manner described; the class varying from two to nearly a dozen, mostly of the fair sex. One day in the second summer there came near being an end to the whole thing through our touching the master on his sensitive spot. We had been having a model whom we all disliked, except Couture, who found in her beauties lost on our duller perceptions. I suppose we regarded her from too realistic a standpoint. Her good points were all rudimentary, and it needed the master to add what nature had denied her. He used to say that he preferred a thin to a stout model, because you could study the structure, and could add as much as you liked ; whereas in the other case, the flesh hid everything from view, and you did not know how much to take off. Be that as it may, in this case we got very tired of her and her want of beauty, and without any special concert it so happened that one fine morning all the class stayed away, save one faithful mortal. I had taken the day to go up to Paris on necessary business, and the others had similarly found something else to do. Of course the faithful one reported that there was a rod in pickle for us.
The next morning we went to Couture’s prepared for an outburst, and sure enough it came.
When we assembled in the room used for a studio, Couture had not yet come down, and he kept us waiting some time, which was an ominous sign. Presently we heard his wooden shoes stumping along through the room leading to ours. He entered with great ceremony, making a low bow to us all, and not with his usual jovial salutation. He was carefully dressed in his best, freshly shaved (a rather rare occurrence, by the way), with his hat in his hand instead of on his head, and the ribbon of the Legion of Honor in his button-hole,— altogether en grande tenue. Addressing me as the oldest pupil, he made an oration on the disrespect of our conduct, when he gave us lessons only as a great favor, and wound up by saying that this rebellion had very much wounded his feelings, and that he should give us no more instruction. Feeling that I was called upon to speak for the others, I expressed my extreme regret at what had happened ; explained that no disrespect was intended, that I had been obliged to go to town on business, and that it was a mere accident that the others stayed away at the same time. Remembering that the French are more easily influenced by an epigram than a sound reason, I wound up by saying that what he had thought a revolution was nothing at most but an émeute, and should not be regarded seriously. This had the desired effect: the clouds cleared away, he burst out laughing, and we all set to work, and I never knew him more good-natured than he was for the rest of the day. And so the lessons went on.
The last time I saw Couture was in Paris, in the autumn of 1878. We were about leaving for Egypt, and invited him and his daughter Jeanne to come and lunch with us at our hotel in the Latin Quarter. He was in a very hilarious mood, and, like a school-boy out for a holiday, bent on enjoying himself. After our repast we proposed that we should all go to the Exposition and look at the pictures ; thinking his criticism would be both instructive and amusing. But no; he said, he was tired of the Exposition ; he was a provincial up from the country, and preferred to flâner in the streets of the great city. So off we set; Couture in front with my wife on his arm, and I behind with mademoiselle.
We must have made a queer group, and I am afraid the good people at home would have been much scandalized at our behavior. Couture acted out to the letter the part of countryman ; insisting on looking in all the shop windows, as if he had never before been in Paris ; calling loudly to Jeanne to come and admire some object; rushing wildly across the street, to his own and my wife’s imminent peril, his hat usually flying off in the passage, which we behind were obliged to rescue from under the feet of the horses or wheels of passing cabs.
Even in Paris, where people are used to eccentric behavior, such actions and actors attracted a good deal of notice, and I was glad to get him into Goupil’s on pretense of showing him one of his own pictures which I had seen there several days before. The young man who conducted us to the gallery up-stairs seemed at first inclined to treat with much coldness such an unpromising set of visitors, and with reluctance produced the head I asked for. No sooner was it placed on the easel than Couture burst out in derisive laughter, abused it roundly, and, although it was an undoubted Couture, saw fit to ridicule the whole thing. The showman was naturally much incensed, and proceeded to point out to us the excellences of the painting ; but Couture would not listen to him, and continued to call it all sorts of names, saying that they used to make omelettes on it, and kicked it about generally in the atelier. The man now looked puzzled, as if he were dealing with a madman ; suddenly a gleam of intelligence shot across his face, as he began to realize that this eccentric must be Couture himself. Never was there a greater change: he ransacked the whole shop for pictures that would interest us, and finally bowed us out with all the obsequiousness he could muster.
It was now time for Couture and his daughter to leave us, to take the train for Villiers le Bel, and the flourish of the large Panama hat from a cab window was the last I ever saw of my worthy master.
Ernest W. Longfellow.