Short Stories

700-word extract

The Pink Bedroom


Paris, 1883





I did not wait long. As soon as I was out of sight I darted along the corridor, opened the door and then slammed it conspicuously closed. Then, quiet as a dormouse, I tiptoed my way back along the corridor and slipped myself soundlessly through Monsieur Vuillard’s door.


As soon as my eyes beheld the inside of the room, I was frozen in wonderment. There were canvases everywhere: mounted upon easels, hung on the walls, racked up together in piles on the floorboards. It was a stupendous array of work, obviously completed in a maelstrom of creative fervour. I had no idea that the young man had been so prolific. As I carefully separated the stretched canvases and inspected each one, I discovered that master’s subject of choice was infallibly the domestic interior. True, there were some rushed paintings describing typical Parisian scenes: fashionable cafés or park gardens – but in general, it was the home in which he had spent most of his adult life, that was of most interest to the young painter. These were scenes that I too knew very well, perhaps almost as well as he did himself, and so I almost cried out in joy when I saw the Madame’s dear ‘Pink Bedroom’ depicted in elaborate curlicues of paint, or my favourite wall-paper in the guest bedroom picked out in bright yellow and brown spots, like a honeycomb. This was indeed a documentary of our life in the apartment as well as the society entertained there; and our young master had taken great pains over a portrait of his grand-mère, sturdy as an old marchioness, and group scenes rendering social visits, such as that of the Dupont’s last month.


Though my heart leaped at the sight of these domestic signatures; it was not the scenes themselves that astonished me, but young Vuillard’s palette. For the young master’s paintings were awash with all sorts of pigments: lurid greens, dire blacks, saffron yellows, deep irises, scarlet reds and pearly greys. These applications of colour, metallic and lush, dripped from the canvases like feathers falling from a tropical bird. True, a figure might skulk occasionally in the gloom – but only to be off-set by a gorgeous bouquet of roses in the corner flaming shades of hot, luscious red. The wall-papers were jungles, the dresses seething jewels; each room was a cornucopia, a sartorial masterpiece.


And what brushwork! Monsieur Vuillard struck me then as ceaselessly experimental, almost restless in his furtive pursuit of novel methods. While some canvases employed daubs and spots, in others there were great tranches of bold colour, while in yet others I could sense designs of the Orient – very popular in Paris recently – and which Madame had ordered in on some of her newest fabrics. I tittered to myself when I looked at these paintings. I thought the young man was disinterested in his mother’s business, but he would probably make a better tailor than us all! He had an eye for pattern and design – a true love of fabric and cloth, as palpable as Eleanor or Stephanie. It’s just that he expressed it in paint.


There was one last thing that struck me about this portfolio and it concerned the almost ubiquitous presence of Madame in Vuillard’s paintings. For she was everywhere, most often depicted turned away, looking serenely through a window or sitting quietly at work. At first it seemed quite beautiful, this love-affair between mother and son – for there were many infants and children in his paintings too – no doubt illusory, ghosts of his own past. I also knew that young Vuillard had never lived elsewhere – his mother once proudly informed me – even for a holiday. Yet these canvases seemed to suggest something else too … something more than just the fraternal love that a son bears towards his mother.


Suddenly, I heard Madame’s cane rapping across the living room floor.


“Is she still not back yet? How very strange… I’ve almost given up on her.”


I withdrew swiftly, banged the outer door shut and presented myself to the company in the living room. I returned just in time to see Stephanie’s hand rustling the curtain fringe. She smiled at me – I blushed.


End of Extract