FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 9

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The old neglected palazzo, with its
lofty carved ceilings and frescoes on the walls, with
its floors of mosaic, with its heavy yellow stuff
curtains on the windows, with its vases on pedestals,
and its open fireplaces, its carved doors and gloomy
reception rooms, hung with pictures ­this
palazzo did much, by its very appearance after they
had moved into it, to confirm in Vronsky the agreeable
illusion that he was not so much a Russian country
gentleman, a retired army officer, as an enlightened
amateur and patron of the arts, himself a modest artist
who had renounced the world, his connections, and
his ambition for the sake of the woman he loved.

The pose chosen by Vronsky with their
removal into the palazzo was completely successful,
and having, through Golenishtchev, made acquaintance
with a few interesting people, for a time he was satisfied. 
He painted studies from nature under the guidance
of an Italian professor of painting, and studied mediaeval
Italian life.  Mediaeval Italian life so fascinated
Vronsky that he even wore a hat and flung a cloak
over his shoulder in the mediaeval style, which, indeed,
was extremely becoming to him.

“Here we live, and know nothing
of what’s going on,” Vronsky said to Golenishtchev
as he came to see him one morning.  “Have
you seen Mihailov’s picture?” he said,
handing him a Russian gazette he had received that
morning, and pointing to an article on a Russian artist,
living in the very same town, and just finishing a
picture which had long been talked about, and had been
bought beforehand.  The article reproached the
government and the academy for letting so remarkable
an artist be left without encouragement and support.

“I’ve seen it,”
answered Golenishtchev.  “Of course, he’s
not without talent, but it’s all in a wrong
direction.  It’s all the Ivanov-Strauss-Renan
attitude to Christ and to religious painting.”

“What is the subject of the picture?”
asked Anna.

“Christ before Pilate. 
Christ is represented as a Jew with all the realism
of the new school.”

And the question of the subject of
the picture having brought him to one of his favorite
theories, Golenishtchev launched forth into a disquisition
on it.

“I can’t understand how
they can fall into such a gross mistake.  Christ
always has His definite embodiment in the art of the
great masters.  And therefore, if they want to
depict, not God, but a revolutionist or a sage, let
them take from history a Socrates, a Franklin, a Charlotte
Corday, but not Christ.  They take the very figure
which cannot be taken for their art, and then…”

“And is it true that this Mihailov
is in such poverty?” asked Vronsky, thinking
that, as a Russian Maecenas, it was his duty to assist
the artist regardless of whether the picture were good
or bad.

“I should say not.  He’s
a remarkable portrait-painter.  Have you ever
seen his portrait of Madame Vassiltchikova?  But
I believe he doesn’t care about painting any
more portraits, and so very likely he is in want. 
I maintain that…”

“Couldn’t we ask him to
paint a portrait of Anna Arkadyevna?” said Vronsky.

“Why mine?” said Anna. 
“After yours I don’t want another portrait. 
Better have one of Annie” (so she called her
baby girl).  “Here she is,” she added,
looking out of the window at the handsome Italian
nurse, who was carrying the child out into the garden,
and immediately glancing unnoticed at Vronsky. 
The handsome nurse, from whom Vronsky was painting
a head for his picture, was the one hidden grief in
Anna’s life.  He painted with her as his
model, admired her beauty and mediaevalism, and Anna
dared not confess to herself that she was afraid of
becoming jealous of this nurse, and was for that reason
particularly gracious and condescending both to her
and her little son.  Vronsky, too, glanced out
of the window and into Anna’s eyes, and, turning
at once to Golenishtchev, he said: 

“Do you know this Mihailov?”

“I have met him.  But he’s
a queer fish, and quite without breeding.  You
know, one of those uncouth new people one’s so
often coming across nowadays, one of those free-thinkers
you know, who are reared d’emblée in
theories of atheism, scepticism, and materialism. 
In former days,” said Golenishtchev, not observing,
or not willing to observe, that both Anna and Vronsky
wanted to speak, “in former days the free-thinker
was a man who had been brought up in ideas of religion,
law, and morality, and only through conflict and struggle
came to free-thought; but now there has sprung up
a new type of born free-thinkers who grow up without
even having heard of principles of morality or of
religion, of the existence of authorities, who grow
up directly in ideas of negation in everything, that
is to say, savages.  Well, he’s of that
class.  He’s the son, it appears, of some
Moscow butler, and has never had any sort of bringing-up. 
When he got into the academy and made his reputation
he tried, as he’s no fool, to educate himself. 
And he turned to what seemed to him the very source
of culture ­the magazines.  In old times,
you see, a man who wanted to educate himself ­a
Frenchman, for instance ­would have set
to work to study all the classics and theologians
and tragedians and historiaris and philosophers, and,
you know, all the intellectual work that came in his
way.  But in our day he goes straight for the
literature of negation, very quickly assimilates all
the extracts of the science of negation, and he’s
ready.  And that’s not all ­twenty
years ago he would have found in that literature traces
of conflict with authorities, with the creeds of the
ages; he would have perceived from this conflict that
there was something else; but now he comes at once
upon a literature in which the old creeds do not even
furnish matter for discussion, but it is stated baldly
that there is nothing else ­evolution, natural
selection, struggle for existence ­and that’s
all.  In my article I’ve…”

“I tell you what,” said
Anna, who had for a long while been exchanging wary
glances with Vronsky, and knew that he was not in
the least interested in the education of this artist,
but was simply absorbed by the idea of assisting him,
and ordering a portrait of him; “I tell you
what,” she said, resolutely interrupting Golenishtchev,
who was still talking away, “let’s go
and see him!”

Golenishtchev recovered his self-possession
and readily agreed.  But as the artist lived in
a remote suburb, it was decided to take the carriage.

An hour later Anna, with Golenishtchev
by her side and Vronsky on the front seat of the carriage,
facing them, drove up to a new ugly house in the remote
suburb.  On learning from the porter’s
wife, who came out to them, that Mihailov saw visitors
at his studio, but that at that moment he was in his
lodging only a couple of steps off, they sent her
to him with their cards, asking permission to see
his picture.

 

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