Mountain Art & Artists
Sixty Years' Memories of Art and Artists
A SECOND year I sent two pictures to the Salon, and was very well placed. I had no complaint to make because I found myself in company with good works by masters infinitely above me.
I liked my quarters in the Rue Rumford, but had not occupied them very long when I received an application from a young French artist Edouard de Lavergne-to share my studio with him, and to occupy one of my sleeping rooms. I accepted the offer, partly that the burden of rent might be diminished, and partly for companionship. He proved to be a Gascon from Toulouse and had been a pupil at the atelier of Delaroche. He had undoubted ability and skill in drawing and painting. He had as one of his comrades stated it, " une main de fer, " by which he meant a positiveness in drawing and certainty of touch.
His family was a distinguished one, his brother, Leonce de Lavergne, being a poet of no ordinary calibre, a Deputy and member of the "Conseil d' Etat " at this time. But my companion was of another sort; mercurial and impetuous to a degree, but a perfect Gascon. He was good-natured and obliging and lazy, full of everything but work. He liked to talk art, but could not nerve himself to work. He could plan it and mature it in his mind, but never completed it. He would stay out late at night, while his loving mother on the first floor, with anxiety and grief, watched for his return that she might give him some warm drink for his cough. Poor mother! she knew him well, and loved him none the less.
Keeping such late hours he did not rise early in the morning, and many a call came from the mother, the answer being invariably: " I'y vais mama "-I am coming mother-but instead he turned to sleep again. After many efforts she would at last prevail upon him to get out of bed, about eleven a. m., for his breakfast, after which meal of course he had to go out for a walk. Perhaps by one o'clock he had returned and set his palette with great care and precision ready for work. Then some of his friends would call. The preparations for work were thrown aside, and chatting went on indefinitely until the visitors had exhausted their budget of adventure and wit, and departed. Then he thought it a little too late to begin, and dressed himself to go out to drive. And so the days passed.
Once he made preparations for a large painting, of "Magdalen at the feet of Jesus. " A large canvas eight or ten feet high was procured. A model of the main figure was made in clay and draped in a very knowing and scientific-way, according to the most approved methods of the masters. From this the figure was sketched in, first the skeleton, then the muscles, then the full outline, then the full drapery, and finally the whole composition. This occupied some weeks as he worked so rarely. Then a model came and he painted the head and shoulders of the Magdalen. This was as far as he got. The rest of the winter was squandered in doing nothing or talking of what he would do the next day.
He would do anything to help me or my friends. The advice of his noble-minded brother he would not act upon, and his mother's entreaties were unavailing. He went into society a good deal, and once a week always to the receptions of Madame Recamier. She was getting old but retained her influence and loveliness still.
During my companionship with him some of my American friends with myself formed a little club which we called the 0. M. C's-or " Out of Money Club." Ben. Perley Poore was the leading spirit and President of the Club, and it was great fun. We had a certificate of membership in bad Latin and adorned with caricature portraits of the members. These exaggerated likenesses were drawn by different artist members, and lithographed by Lavergne. I have preserved to this day my copy signed by B. P. Poore as president. An old friend of mine, Dr. Ainsworth, then studying medicine in Paris, was also a member. Wm. M. Hunt was also a member. Hunt was not then doing much in art. He seemed -in a state of perplexity in regard to it, not being able to decide his course. He had come to Paris with the intention of studying sculpture, and wished to get admitted to the studio of David, a sculptor of eminence, but failing in this, he drifted along aimlessly for a time, laughing and joking at himself. In fact, he was a true laughing philosopher. He must have felt the power within even then, but not the ability to develop it without training. His sketches and pencil scratches showed this power.
Mr. Rossiter of New York was another one of us. Henry Willard of Boston and William Allan of Kentucky, artists, were also members. Then there was Mr. Mason, afterwards editor of the Newport Mercury, and an architect. must not forget to add to the list two young Englishmen, Charles and Eugene Alexander, (of whom I have spoken), Fred. Sumner of Boston, and an artist named Cooper from the West. The latter was our giant. We met at the rooms or studios of the members, and no one was to offer but the humblest refreshments. Hunt was the soul of the club, full of fun, having the wittiest jokes and stories at his command. He could sing the jolliest songs, give the drollest imitations, and do queer things with a most nonchalant air. He was pervaded with good nature, and we all voted him the Prince of Good Fellows.
Our meetings were always closed by my singing the Star Spangled Banner, while all hands shouted the chorus. I look back with great pleasure to those royal times of close companionship with genial minds. I doubt if any of them are alive now. Oh yes, I know of one, and but one-Eugene Alexander. Hunt, Poore, Rossiter, Ainsworth, Sumner, Allan, are gone. Lavergne, through the influence of his brother, was sent as consul to a small Italian town near Genoa, and I lost sight of him. He strongly resembled the young Napoleon as he is depicted in his first Italian campaign, the same square jaws, and determined chin. Lavergne had genius, but it did not avail him; strength of will, but his power was frittered away with no result. He was a great liar at times, and once tried to pass off as his own a poem written by his brother. It wag a beautiful thing, and we afterwards found it in the published works of his brother. He took it quite coolly when confronted with the evidence. 'Twas all in the family. I have a pencil drawing of his head, which he made on the morning of my departure from Paris, a most admirable likeness, inscribed to " Son ami et camarade.
Ben. Perley Poore was always a hearty, good friend, as well as a relentless enemy, active and willing to serve his friends, as he was to repel his foes. His long residence and travels abroad did not make a cosmopolitan of him. He was always an American through and through, and always patriotic, stood up for America and her institutions. An insult to the flag was too much for him, and grief came to the unlucky one who did it. He was a great practical joker, and never let an occasion pass when one could be perpetrated. There was a young American, a graduate of Yale, stopping at the same house with Poore. He had not seen much of the world, and was rather credulous. Walking near the gardens of the Tuileries one day-and to cross them would be the nearest way home-Poore said to the young American: " You will not be allowed to go into the garden with a blue necktie on." "Oh! nonsense!" said the other, "I don't believe it." "Believe it or not," said Poore " you will find it so. There is something political about it I suppose." just as the young man was going for the entrance, Poore said: " By the by, I have an errand the other way, and if you will kindly take this bundle home for me I shall be obliged." As the young man was about to enter the gardens, the sentinel stopped him with the usual " On ne passe pas ici avec des fardeaux. " Poore, who was not far distant, came back saying " I told you so. They call the necktie a 'fardeau.' Let us change ties and you will see. " They did so and Poore then said "There, I won't bother you with the bundle," and the young man walked through unmolested. It is hardly necessary to say that it is not permitted to carry bundles through the gardens.
One of the pleasantest acquaintances I made in Paris was with the family of M. Benjamin Laroche. He was a man of marked ability. His early poems were of the patriotic vein, something after the manner of Beranger. They sang of-love of country in stirring strains that were chanted by the students everywhere. For too liberal ideas in the time of Charles X he was obliged to flee to England, where he lived for a long time, learned to speak English fluently, and married an English girl. M. Laroche studied the works of Shakespeare with great enthusiasm, and spent many years making a translation into French. This was a success, and he received a prize for the best version of the great poet from the government of Louis Phillippe. He wrote articles for a conservative paper-the Courier Franšais-always signed with his full name as political articles in French papers are required to be. He was a delightful man, full of wisdom and knowledge, but withal as simple and ingenuous as a child.
Madame Laroche and daughter, a young girl of eighteen, made up the family. Their Thursday evening receptions were simply delightful to me, and I never failed them. The unpretentious home was always filled with pleasant people, a judicious mingling of French and English and other nationalities. There were musicians, literary people and artists, and we had singing, recitations and conversation in different tongues. There was always a sprinkling of pretty English girls, who had come over from London for a few months' residence in Paris to be polished off, and there -,vas always plenty of fun with plays and charades, closing with a merry dance in the salle a manger. The refreshments were simple in the extreme, consisting of a cup of tea in the English style and thin slices of bread and butter. I made some lifelong friends at this house, especially among the English. Madame Laroche was a charming hostess, and the daughter was a bright compound of the two nations. She had the suavity and brilliancy of the French with the good sense of the English. She almost always spoke French, but understood English perfectly, speaking it with a pretty accent. These charming reunions led to my going to many other places, mostly French houses, where I could study French character and customs, and thus Paris became for me one of the pleasantest places possible.