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The painter Claude Lantier: Nowadays we want something different Istaknut

Book cover design for His Masterpiece Book cover design for His Masterpiece

With the end of his brush he pointed to a study of the nude, suspended from the wall near the door. It was really magnificent, full of masterly breadth of colouring. By its side were some other admirable bits, a girl’s feet exquisite in their delicate truthfulness, and a woman’s trunk with quivering satin-like skin. In his rare moments of content he felt proud of those few studies, the only ones which satisfied him, which, as it were, foretold a great painter, admirably gifted, but hampered by sudden and inexplicable fits of impotency.

Dealing sabre-like strokes at the velveteen jacket, he continued lashing himself into excitement with his uncompromising theories which respected nobody:

‘They are all so many daubers of penny prints, who have stolen their reputations; a set of idiots or knaves on their knees before public imbecility! Not one among them dares to give the philistines a slap in the face. And, while we are about it, you know that old Ingres turns me sick with his glairy painting. Nevertheless, he’s a brick, and a plucky fellow, and I take off my hat to him, for he did not care a curse for anybody, and he used to draw like the very devil. He ended by making the idiots, who nowadays believe they understand him, swallow that drawing of his. After him there are only two worth speaking of, Delacroix and Courbet. The others are only numskulls. Oh, that old romantic lion, the carriage of him! He was a decorator who knew how to make the colours blaze. And what a grasp he had! He would have covered every wall in Paris if they had let him; his palette boiled, and boiled over. I know very well that it was only so much phantasmagoria. Never mind, I like it for all that, as it was needed to set the School on fire. Then came the other, a stout workman—that one, the truest painter of the century, and altogether classical besides, a fact which not one of the dullards understood. They yelled, of course; they shouted about profanation and realism, when, after all, the realism was only in the subject. The perception remained that of the old masters, and the execution resumed and continued the best bits of work one can find in our public galleries. Both Delacroix and Courbet came at the proper time. Each made a stride forward. And now—ah, now!’

He ceased speaking and drew back a few steps to judge of the effect of his picture, becoming absorbed in contemplation for a moment, and then resuming:

‘Yes, nowadays we want something different—what, I don’t exactly know. If I did, and could do it, I should be clever indeed. No one else would be in the race with me. All I do know and feel is that Delacroix’s grand romantic scenes are foundering and splitting, that Courbet’s black painting already reeks of the mustiness of a studio which the sun never penetrates. You understand me, don’t you? We, perhaps, want the sun, the open air, a clear, youthful style of painting, men and things such as they appear in the real light. In short, I myself am unable to say what our painting should be; the painting that our eyes of to-day should execute and behold.’

His voice again fell; he stammered and found himself unable to explain the formulas of the future that were rising within him. Deep silence came while he continued working at the velveteen jacket, quivering all the time.

Source: The Project Gutenberg EBook of His Masterpiece, by Émile Zola, Editor: Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Translator: Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Date: May 30, 2009  


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