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Produced by Alfred J. Drake. HTML version by Al Haines.









IMAGINARY PORTRAITS

By WALTER HORATIO PATER





E-text Editor: Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D. Electronic Version 1.0 / Date
10-12-01



NOTES BY THE E-TEXT EDITOR:

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have transferred original pagination to brackets. A bracketed numeral
such as [22] indicates that the material immediately following the
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paragraph structure except for first-line indentation.

Hyphenation: I have not preserved original hyphenation since an e-text
does not require line-end or page-end hyphenation.

Greek typeface: For this full-text edition, I have transliterated
Pater's Greek quotations. If there is a need for the original Greek,
it can be viewed at my site, http://www.ajdrake.com/etexts, a
Victorianist archive that contains the complete works of Walter Pater
and many other nineteenth-century texts, mostly in first editions.





CONTENTS




I. A Prince of Court Painters: 3-44

II. Denys L'Auxerrois: 45-77

III. Sebastian Van Storck: 79-115

IV. Duke Carl of Rosenmold: 117-153




IMAGINARY PORTRAITS




I. A PRINCE OF COURT PAINTERS


EXTRACTS FROM AN OLD FRENCH JOURNAL


Valenciennes, September 1701.

[5] They have been renovating my father's large workroom. That
delightful, tumble-down old place has lost its moss-grown tiles and the
green weather-stains we have known all our lives on the high
whitewashed wall, opposite which we sit, in the little sculptor's yard,
for the coolness, in summertime. Among old Watteau's work-people came
his son, "the genius," my father's godson and namesake, a dark-haired
youth, whose large, unquiet eyes seemed perpetually wandering to the
various drawings which lie exposed here. My father will have it that
he is a genius indeed, and a painter born. We have had our September
Fair in the Grande Place, a wonderful stir of sound and colour in the
wide, open space beneath our windows. And just where the crowd was
busiest young Antony was found, hoisted into one of those empty niches
of the old Hôtel de Ville, sketching the scene to the life, but with a
[6] kind of grace - a marvellous tact of omission, as my father pointed
out to us, in dealing with the vulgar reality seen from one's own
window - which has made trite old Harlequin, Clown, and Columbine, seem
like people in some fairyland; or like infinitely clever tragic actors,
who, for the humour of the thing, have put on motley for once, and are
able to throw a world of serious innuendo into their burlesque looks,
with a sort of comedy which shall be but tragedy seen from the other
side. He brought his sketch to our house to-day, and I was present
when my father questioned him and commended his work. But the lad
seemed not greatly pleased, and left untasted the glass of old Malaga
which was offered to him. His father will hear nothing of educating
him as a painter. Yet he is not ill-to-do, and has lately built
himself a new stone house, big and grey and cold. Their old plastered
house with the black timbers, in the Rue des Cardinaux, was prettier;
dating from the time of the Spaniards, and one of the oldest in
Valenciennes.

October 1701.

Chiefly through the solicitations of my father, old Watteau has
consented to place Antony with a teacher of painting here. I meet him
betimes on the way to his lessons, as I return from Mass; for he still
works with the masons, [7] but making the most of late and early hours,
of every moment of liberty. And then he has the feast-days, of which
there are so many in this old-fashioned place. Ah! such gifts as his,
surely, may once in a way make much industry seem worth while. He
makes a wonderful progress. And yet, far from being set-up, and too
easily pleased with what, after all, comes to him so easily, he has, my
father thinks, too little self-approval for ultimate success. He is
apt, in truth, to fall out too hastily with himself and what he
produces. Yet here also there is the "golden mean." Yes! I could
fancy myself offended by a sort of irony which sometimes crosses the
half-melancholy sweetness of manner habitual with him; only that as I
can see, he treats himself to the same quality.

October 1701.

Antony Watteau comes here often now. It is the instinct of a natural
fineness in him, to escape when he can from that blank stone house,
with so little to interest, and that homely old man and woman. The
rudeness of his home has turned his feeling for even the simpler graces
of life into a physical want, like hunger or thirst, which might come
to greed; and methinks he perhaps overvalues these things. Still, made
as he is, his hard fate in that rude place must needs touch one. And
then, he profits by the experience of [8] my father, who has much
knowledge in matters of art beyond his own art of sculpture; and Antony
is not unwelcome to him. In these last rainy weeks especially, when he
can't sketch out of doors, when the wind only half dries the pavement
before another torrent comes, and people stay at home, and the only
sound from without is the creaking of a restless shutter on its hinges,
or the march across the Place of those weary soldiers, coming and going
so interminably, one hardly knows whether to or from battle with the
English and the Austrians, from victory or defeat: - Well! he has become
like one of our family. "He will go far!" my father declares. He
would go far, in the literal sense, if he might - to Paris, to Rome. It
must be admitted that our Valenciennes is a quiet, nay! a sleepy place;
sleepier than ever since it became French, and ceased to be so near the
frontier. The grass is growing deep on our old ramparts, and it is
pleasant to walk there - to walk there and muse; pleasant for a tame,
unambitious soul such as mine.

December 1702.

Antony Watteau left us for Paris this morning. It came upon us quite
suddenly. They amuse themselves in Paris. A scene-painter we have
here, well known in Flanders, has been engaged to work in one of the
Parisian play-houses; and young Watteau, of whom he had some slight [9]
knowledge, has departed in his company. He doesn't know it was I who
persuaded the scene-painter to take him; that he would find the lad
useful. We offered him our little presents - fine thread-lace of our
own making for his ruffles, and the like; for one must make a figure in
Paris, and he is slim and well-formed. For myself, I presented him
with a silken purse I had long ago embroidered for another. Well! we
shall follow his fortunes (of which I for one feel quite sure) at a
distance. Old Watteau didn't know of his departure, and has been here
in great anger.

December 1703.

Twelve months to-day since Antony went to Paris! The first struggle
must be a sharp one for an unknown lad in that vast, overcrowded place,
even if he be as clever as young Antony Watteau. We may think,
however, that he is on the way to his chosen end, for he returns not
home; though, in truth, he tells those poor old people very little of
himself. The apprentices of the M. Métayer for whom he works, labour
all day long, each at a single part only, - coiffure, or robe, or
hand, - of the cheap pictures of religion or fantasy he exposes for sale
at a low price along the footways of the Pont Notre-Dame. Antony is
already the most skilful of them, and seems to have been promoted of
late to work on church pictures. I like the thought of that. [10] He
receives three livres a week for his pains, and his soup daily.

May 1705.

Antony Watteau has parted from the dealer in pictures à bon marché, and
works now with a painter of furniture pieces (those headpieces for
doors and the like, now in fashion) who is also concierge of the Palace
of the Luxembourg. Antony is actually lodged somewhere in that grand
place, which contains the king's collection of the Italian pictures he
would so willingly copy. Its gardens also are magnificent, with
something, as we understand from him, altogether of a novel kind in
their disposition and embellishment. Ah! how I delight myself, in
fancy at least, in those beautiful gardens, freer and trimmed less
stiff than those of other royal houses. Methinks I see him there, when
his long summer-day's work is over, enjoying the cool shade of the
stately, broad-foliaged trees, each of which is a great courtier,
though it has its way almost as if it belonged to that open and unbuilt
country beyond, over which the sun is sinking.

His thoughts, however, in the midst of all this, are not wholly away
from home, if I may judge by the subject of a picture he hopes to sell
for as much as sixty livres - Un Départ de Troupes, Soldiers
Departing - one of those scenes of military life one can study so well
here at Valenciennes.

[11]

June 1705.

Young Watteau has returned home - proof, with a character so independent
as his, that things have gone well with him; and (it is agreed!) stays
with us, instead of in the stone-mason's house. The old people suppose
he comes to us for the sake of my father's instruction. French people
as we are become, we are still old Flemish, if not at heart, yet on the
surface. Even in French Flanders, at Douai and Saint Omer, as I
understand, in the churches and in people's houses, as may be seen from
the very streets, there is noticeable a minute and scrupulous air of
care-taking and neatness. Antony Watteau remarks this more than ever
on returning to Valenciennes, and savours greatly, after his lodging in
Paris, our Flemish cleanliness, lover as he is of distinction and
elegance. Those worldly graces he seemed when a young lad almost to
hunger and thirst for, as though truly the mere adornments of life were
its necessaries, he already takes as if he had been always used to
them. And there is something noble - shall I say? - in his
half-disdainful way of serving himself with what he still, as I think,
secretly values over-much. There is an air of seemly thought - le bel
sérieux - about him, which makes me think of one of those grave old
Dutch statesmen in their youth, such as that famous William the Silent.
And yet the effect of this first success [12] of his (of more
importance than its mere money value, as insuring for the future the
full play of his natural powers) I can trace like the bloom of a flower
upon him; and he has, now and then, the gaieties which from time to
time, surely, must refresh all true artists, however hard-working and
"painful."

July 1705.

The charm of all this - his physiognomy and manner of being - has touched
even my young brother, Jean-Baptiste. He is greatly taken with Antony,
clings to him almost too attentively, and will be nothing but a
painter, though my father would have trained him to follow his own
profession. It may do the child good. He needs the expansion of some
generous sympathy or sentiment in that close little soul of his, as I
have thought, watching sometimes how his small face and hands are moved
in sleep. A child of ten who cares only to save and possess, to hoard
his tiny savings! Yet he is not otherwise selfish, and loves us all
with a warm heart. Just now it is the moments of Antony's company he
counts, like a little miser. Well! that may save him perhaps from
developing a certain meanness of character I have sometimes feared for
him.

[13]

August 1705.

We returned home late this summer evening - Antony Watteau, my father
and sisters, young Jean-Baptiste, and myself - from an excursion to
Saint-Amand, in celebration of Antony's last day with us. After
visiting the great abbey-church and its range of chapels, with their
costly encumbrance of carved shrines and golden reliquaries and funeral
scutcheons in the coloured glass, half seen through a rich enclosure of
marble and brass-work, we supped at the little inn in the forest.
Antony, looking well in his new-fashioned, long-skirted coat, and
taller than he really is, made us bring our cream and wild strawberries
out of doors, ranging ourselves according to his judgment (for a hasty
sketch in that big pocket-book he carries) on the soft slope of one of
those fresh spaces in the wood, where the trees unclose a little, while
Jean-Baptiste and my youngest sister danced a minuet on the grass, to
the notes of some strolling lutanist who had found us out. He is
visibly cheerful at the thought of his return to Paris, and became for
a moment freer and more animated than I have ever yet seen him, as he
discoursed to us about the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens in the church
here. His words, as he spoke of them, seemed full of a kind of rich
sunset with some moving glory within it. Yet I like far better than
any of these pictures of Rubens a work of that old Dutch [14] master,
Peter Porbus, which hangs, though almost out of sight indeed, in our
church at home. The patron saints, simple, and standing firmly on
either side, present two homely old people to Our Lady enthroned in the
midst, with the look and attitude of one for whom, amid her "glories"
(depicted in dim little circular pictures, set in the openings of a
chaplet of pale flowers around her) all feelings are over, except a
great pitifulness. Her robe of shadowy blue suits my eyes better far
than the hot flesh-tints of the Medicean ladies of the great Peter
Paul, in spite of that amplitude and royal ease of action under their
stiff court costumes, at which Antony Watteau declares himself in
dismay.

August 1705.

I am just returned from early Mass. I lingered long after the office
was ended, watching, pondering how in the world one could help a small
bird which had flown into the church but could find no way out again.
I suspect it will remain there, fluttering round and round
distractedly, far up under the arched roof, till it dies exhausted. I
seem to have heard of a writer who likened man's life to a bird passing
just once only, on some winter night, from window to window, across a
cheerfully-lighted hall. The bird, taken captive by the ill-luck of a
moment, re-tracing its issueless circle till it [15] expires within the
close vaulting of that great stone church: - human life may be like that
bird too!

Antony Watteau returned to Paris yesterday. Yes! - Certainly, great
heights of achievement would seem to lie before him; access to regions
whither one may find it increasingly hard to follow him even in
imagination, and figure to one's self after what manner his life moves
therein.

January 1709.

Antony Watteau has competed for what is called the Prix de Rome,
desiring greatly to profit by the grand establishment founded at Rome
by King Lewis the Fourteenth, for the encouragement of French artists.
He obtained only the second place, but does not renounce his desire to
make the journey to Italy. Could I save enough by careful economies
for that purpose? It might be conveyed to him in some indirect way
that would not offend.

February 1712.

We read, with much pleasure for all of us, in the Gazette to-day, among
other events of the great world, that Antony Watteau had been elected
to the Academy of Painting under the new title of Peintre des Fêtes
Galantes, and had been named also Peintre du Roi. My brother, [16]
Jean-Baptiste, ran to tell the news to old Jean-Philippe and Michelle
Watteau.

A new manner of painting! The old furniture of people's rooms must
needs be changed throughout, it would seem, to accord with this
painting; or rather, the painting is designed exclusively to suit one
particular kind of apartment. A manner of painting greatly prized, as
we understand, by those Parisian judges who have had the best
opportunity of acquainting themselves with whatever is most enjoyable
in the arts: - such is the achievement of the young Watteau! He looks
to receive more orders for his work than he will be able to execute. He
will certainly relish - he, so elegant, so hungry for the colours of
life - a free intercourse with those wealthy lovers of the arts, M. de
Crozat, M. de Julienne, the Abbé de la Roque, the Count de Caylus, and
M. Gersaint, the famous dealer in pictures, who are so anxious to lodge
him in their fine hôtels, and to have him of their company at their
country houses. Paris, we hear, has never been wealthier and more
luxurious than now: and the great ladies outbid each other to carry his
work upon their very fans. Those vast fortunes, however, seem to
change hands very rapidly. And Antony's new manner? I am unable even
to divine it - to conceive the trick and effect of it - at all. Only,
something of lightness and coquetry I discern there, at variance,
methinks, [17] with his own singular gravity and even sadness of mien
and mind, more answerable to the stately apparelling of the age of
Henry the Fourth, or of Lewis the Thirteenth, in these old, sombre
Spanish houses of ours.

March 1713.

We have all been very happy, - Jean-Baptiste as if in a delightful
dream. Antony Watteau, being consulted with regard to the lad's
training as a painter, has most generously offered to receive him for
his own pupil. My father, for some reason unknown to me, seemed to
hesitate at the first; but Jean-Baptiste, whose enthusiasm for Antony
visibly refines and beautifies his whole nature, has won the necessary
permission, and this dear young brother will leave us to-morrow. Our
regrets and his, at his parting from us for the first time, overtook
our joy at his good fortune by surprise, at the last moment, just as we
were about to bid each other good-night. For a while there had seemed
to be an uneasiness under our cheerful talk, as if each one present
were concealing something with an effort; and it was Jean-Baptiste
himself who gave way at last. And then we sat down again, still
together, and allowed free play to what was in our hearts, almost till
morning, my sisters weeping much. I know better how to control myself.
In a few days that delightful new life will have [18] begun for him:
and I have made him promise to write often to us. With how small a
part of my whole life shall I be really living at Valenciennes!

January 1714.

Jean-Philippe Watteau has received a letter from his son to-day. Old
Michelle Watteau, whose sight is failing, though she still works (half
by touch, indeed) at her pillow-lace, was glad to hear me read the
letter aloud more than once. It recounts - how modestly, and almost as
a matter of course! - his late successes. And yet! - does he, in writing
to these old people, purposely underrate his great good fortune and
seeming happiness, not to shock them too much by the contrast between
the delicate enjoyments of the life he now leads among the wealthy and
refined, and that bald existence of theirs in his old home? A life,
agitated, exigent, unsatisfying! That is what this letter really
discloses, below so attractive a surface. As his gift expands so does
that incurable restlessness one supposed but the humour natural to a
promising youth who had still everything to do. And now the only
realised enjoyment he has of all this might seem to be the thought of
the independence it has purchased him, so that he can escape from one
lodging-place to another, just as it may please him. He has already
deserted, somewhat incontinently, more than one of those [19] fine
houses, the liberal air of which he used so greatly to affect, and
which have so readily received him. Has he failed truly to grasp the
fact of his great success and the rewards that lie before him? At all
events, he seems, after all, not greatly to value that dainty world he
is now privileged to enter, and has certainly but little relish for his
own works - those works which I for one so thirst to see.

March 1714.

We were all - Jean-Philippe, Michelle Watteau, and ourselves - half in
expectation of a visit from Antony; and to-day, quite suddenly, he is
with us. I was lingering after early Mass this morning in the church
of Saint Vaast. It is good for me to be there. Our people lie under
one of the great marble slabs before the jubé, some of the memorial
brass balusters of which are engraved with their names and the dates of
their decease. The settle of carved oak which runs all round the wide
nave is my father's own work. The quiet spaciousness of the place is
itself like a meditation, an "act of recollection," and clears away the
confusions of the heart. I suppose the heavy droning of the carillon
had smothered the sound of his footsteps, for on my turning round, when
I supposed myself alone, Antony Watteau was standing near me. Constant
observer as he is of the lights and shadows of things, he visits [20]
places of this kind at odd times. He has left Jean-Baptiste at work in
Paris, and will stay this time with the old people, not at our house;
though he has spent the better part of to-day in my father's workroom.
He hasn't yet put off, in spite of all his late intercourse with the
great world, his distant and preoccupied manner - a manner, it is true,
the same to every one. It is certainly not through pride in his
success, as some might fancy, for he was thus always. It is rather as
if, with all that success, life and its daily social routine were
somewhat of a burden to him.

April 1714.

At last we shall understand something of that new style of his - the
Watteau style - so much relished by the fine people at Paris. He has
taken it into his kind head to paint and decorate our chief salon - the
room with the three long windows, which occupies the first floor of the
house.

The room was a landmark, as we used to think, an inviolable milestone
and landmark, of old Valenciennes fashion - that sombre style, indulging
much in contrasts of black or deep brown with white, which the
Spaniards left behind them here. Doubtless their eyes had found its
shadows cool and pleasant, when they shut themselves in from the
cutting sunshine of their own country. But in our country, [21] where
we must needs economise not the shade but the sun, its grandiosity
weighs a little on one's spirits. Well! the rough plaster we used to
cover as well as might be with morsels of old figured arras-work, is
replaced by dainty panelling of wood, with mimic columns, and a quite
aerial scrollwork around sunken spaces of a pale-rose stuff and certain
oval openings - two over the doors, opening on each side of the great
couch which faces the windows, one over the chimney-piece, and one
above the buffet which forms its vis-à-vis - four spaces in all, to be
filled by and by with "fantasies" of the Four Seasons, painted by his
own hand. He will send us from Paris arm-chairs of a new pattern he
has devised, suitably covered, and a painted clavecin. Our old silver
candlesticks look well on the chimney-piece. Odd, faint-coloured
flowers fill coquettishly the little empty spaces here and there, like
ghosts of nosegays left by visitors long ago, which paled thus,
sympathetically, at the decease of their old owners; for, in spite of
its new-fashionedness, all this array is really less like a new thing
than the last surviving result of all the more lightsome adornments of
past times. Only, the very walls seem to cry out: - No! to make
delicate insinuation, for a music, a conversation, nimbler than any we
have known, or are likely to find here. For himself, he converses
well, but very sparingly. He assures us, indeed, that the [22] "new
style" is in truth a thing of old days, of his own old days here in
Valenciennes, when, working long hours as a mason's boy, he in fancy
reclothed the walls of this or that house he was employed in, with this
fairy arrangement - itself like a piece of "chamber-music," methinks,
part answering to part; while no too trenchant note is allowed to break
through the delicate harmony of white and pale red and little golden
touches. Yet it is all very comfortable also, it must be confessed;
with an elegant open place for the fire, instead of the big old stove


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