Short Stories

833-word extract

Monsieur Vallier



    As Cézanne approached the right-hand edge of his studio garden, he saw that Vallier was already there, standing patiently under the shade of a great umbrella pine tree. He had a pair of secateurs in his right hand and had clearly been pruning the myrtle bush, as cuttings lay in a small star-shaped relief on the hot, sandy soil.

       “Please take a seat Monsieur Vallier, I apologise for being late,” said Cézanne, shuffling forwards uncomfortably, till Vallier’s profile and strong, straight-backed figure came clearly into view.

       Cézanne pointed towards the small wicker chair positioned by the wall which constituted the south-facing façade of his studio.

      “Please do not apologise Paul, after all, you are not well.”

The brows of his old friend contracted in sympathy, and Cézanne could sense concern in his familiar chestnut-brown eyes.

       They turned to make their way towards the studio wall.

       “Ah, it is nothing – probably just a malady of the mind—you know as well as I how old age and infirmity produce these phantoms.”

       Vallier could not tell if Cézanne really meant what he said. He had noticed this year in particular, how cold the studio had been during the winter months, so that he had even been obliged to fit an old coal stove in the corner. Yet Cézanne was always adamant that he was comfortable there, among the tiny glass bottles and jars that he used for cleaning his brushes. He said it was the only place in the world – other than the Sainte-Victoire of course – where he felt entirely at home.

      When Vallier sat down, he felt the rub of the hardened wicker weave pressing against his coccyx and the thin, rindy veins of the vine behind him jutting against his shoulder blades. Pools of sunlight shimmered and scintillated upon the ground and one crossed in a transverse line, length-wise across his breast. However, his face was in the shade as he had his outdoors hat on, so he was content. As a man of the outdoors, he was accustomed to the sun and he believed with others – including Cézanne – that the light of Provence was unlike the sunlight from anywhere else in the world.

       As the eyes of Cézanne turned upon him – the eyes, so his wife had heard from reports from her relatives in Paris – of the greatest living painter then working in France, Vallier could not help but suppress a thin smile from spreading across his kind face. He was in his working slacks and shirt, wearing his old gardening hat – yet he was having his portrait painted by Cézanne!

      Without hurry, Cézanne had made all the adjustments ready to commence another study of Vallier. He turned and looked at his friend, smiling sublimely at him, and his heart was filled with a sudden rush of joy and love. He had made other indoor studies of Vallier before and though he had captured his strength, stoicism and rustic authenticity; the transcendental nature of this man’s genius was really his love and acceptance of the world about him, and the beauty of his belonging to it so entirely. Now, at last, he was painting him outdoors - where the gardener Vallier belonged.

      Cézanne whipped his paint-brush through the slick aspic tubes of paint on his palette, which he had wriggled into small meringue-like heaps. The lustrous, lubricous texture of the paint turned  Cézanne’s mind to the humble base ingredient of oil, which just like heuile d’olive had a private language of sensual stimulation: a taste, a smell, an unctuous softness upon the skin. While he laughed internally at the absurdity of his thinking of food at such a moment, he summoned his old blotting rag from his pocket and filled a small vial with turpentine. Then he scooped the first sluggish helping of paint onto his brush and turned to look upon Vallier once more.

       Cézanne worked quickly. He was determined to capture the fleeting moment in which Vallier had smiled childishly at him, and fix it onto the canvas forever. Quickly, like sand draining from an hour glass, the acuity of the vision was fading from his mind, and so like a relay racer desperately chasing after his fellows or the murderous hunt pursuing the hound, he followed swiftly on the tail on his vision so as not to lose sight of it. He painted like a sculptor – as he always did – finding the spaces between objects; painting the light, painting the colour around forms. He did not want to delineate, he wanted to demarcate; to find lines instead of binding his pictures to them. He never applied a preliminary lacquer to his canvases.  Instead, he preferred to allow the white rough braid to show through. His was no trompe l’huile. Why try to create an illusion of homogeneity that does not exist in life? The painting did not grow, consecutively, from one corner or area. It did not even grow logically. Instead it sprouted like a garden, from all directions.


End of Extract