FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 11

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

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On entering the studio, Mihailov once
more scanned his visitors and noted down in his imagination
Vronsky’s expression too, and especially his
jaws.  Although his artistic sense was unceasingly
at work collecting materials, although he felt a continually
increasing excitement as the moment of criticizing
his work drew nearer, he rapidly and subtly formed,
from imperceptible signs, a mental image of these
three persons.

That fellow (Golenishtchev) was a
Russian living here.  Mihailov did not remember
his surname nor where he had met him, nor what he
had said to him.  He only remembered his face
as he remembered all the faces he had ever seen; but
he remembered, too, that it was one of the faces laid
by in his memory in the immense class of the falsely
consequential and poor in expression.  The abundant
hair and very open forehead gave an appearance of
consequence to the face, which had only one expression ­a
petty, childish, peevish expression, concentrated
just above the bridge of the narrow nose.  Vronsky
and Madame Karenina must be, Mihailov supposed, distinguished
and wealthy Russians, knowing nothing about art, like
all those wealthy Russians, but posing as amateurs
and connoisseurs.  “Most likely they’ve
already looked at all the antiques, and now they’re
making the round of the studios of the new people,
the German humbug, and the cracked Pre-Raphaelite
English fellow, and have only come to me to make the
point of view complete,” he thought.  He
was well acquainted with the way dilettanti have (the
cleverer they were the worse he found them) of looking
at the works of contemporary artists with the sole
object of being in a position to say that art is a
thing of the past, and that the more one sees of the
new men the more one sees how inimitable the works
of the great old masters have remained.  He expected
all this; he saw it all in their faces, he saw it
in the careless indifference with which they talked
among themselves, stared at the lay figures and busts,
and walked about in leisurely fashion, waiting for
him to uncover his picture.  But in spite of this,
while he was turning over his studies, pulling up
the blinds and taking off the sheet, he was in intense
excitement, especially as, in spite of his conviction
that all distinguished and wealthy Russians were certain
to be beasts and fools, he liked Vronsky, and still
more Anna.

“Here, if you please,”
he said, moving on one side with his nimble gait and
pointing to his picture, “it’s the exhortation
to Pilate.  Matthew, chapter xxvii,” he
said, feeling his lips were beginning to tremble with
emotion.  He moved away and stood behind them.

For the few seconds during which the
visitors were gazing at the picture in silence Mihailov
too gazed at it with the indifferent eye of an outsider. 
For those few seconds he was sure in anticipation
that a higher, juster criticism would be uttered by
them, by those very visitors whom he had been so despising
a moment before.  He forgot all he had thought
about his picture before during the three years he
had been painting it; he forgot all its qualities
which had been absolutely certain to him ­he
saw the picture with their indifferent, new, outside
eyes, and saw nothing good in it.  He saw in
the foreground Pilate’s irritated face and the
serene face of Christ, and in the background the figures
of Pilate’s retinue and the face of John watching
what was happening.  Every face that, with such
agony, such blunders and corrections had grown up
within him with its special character, every face
that had given him such torments and such raptures,
and all these faces so many times transposed for the
sake of the harmony of the whole, all the shades of
color and tones that he had attained with such labor ­all
of this together seemed to him now, looking at it
with their eyes, the merest vulgarity, something that
had been done a thousand times over.  The face
dearest to him, the face of Christ, the center of
the picture, which had given him such ecstasy as it
unfolded itself to him, was utterly lost to him when
he glanced at the picture with their eyes.  He
saw a well-painted (no, not even that ­he
distinctly saw now a mass of defects) repetition of
those endless Christs of Titian, Raphael, Rubens,
and the same soldiers and Pilate.  It was all
common, poor, and stale, and positively badly painted ­weak
and unequal.  They would be justified in repeating
hypocritically civil speeches in the presence of the
painter, and pitying him and laughing at him when
they were alone again.

The silence (though it lasted no more
than a minute) became too intolerable to him. 
To break it, and to show he was not agitated, he
made an effort and addressed Golenishtchev.

“I think I’ve had the
pleasure of meeting you,” he said, looking uneasily
first at Anna, then at Vronsky, in fear of losing any
shade of their expression.

“To be sure!  We met at
Rossi’s, do you remember, at that soiree
when that Italian lady recited ­the new Rachel?”
Golenishtchev answered easily, removing his eyes without
the slightest regret from the picture and turning
to the artist.

Noticing, however, that Mihailov was
expecting a criticism of the picture, he said: 

“Your picture has got on a great
deal since I saw it last time; and what strikes me
particularly now, as it did then, is the figure of
Pilate.  One so knows the man:  a good-natured,
capital fellow, but an official through and through,
who does not know what it is he’s doing. 
But I fancy…”

All Mihailov’s mobile face beamed
at once; his eyes sparkled.  He tried to say
something, but he could not speak for excitement,
and pretended to be coughing.  Low as was his
opinion of Golenishtchev’s capacity for understanding
art, trifling as was the true remark upon the fidelity
of the expression of Pilate as an official, and offensive
as might have seemed the utterance of so unimportant
an observation while nothing was said of more serious
points, Mihailov was in an ecstasy of delight at this
observation.  He had himself thought about Pilate’s
figure just what Golenishtchev said.  The fact
that this reflection was but one of millions of reflections,
which as Mihailov knew for certain would be true,
did not diminish for him the significance of Golenishtchev’s
remark.  His heart warmed to Golenishtchev for
this remark, and from a state of depression he suddenly
passed to ecstasy.  At once the whole of his
picture lived before him in all the indescribable
complexity of everything living.  Mihailov again
tried to say that that was how he understood Pilate,
but his lips quivered intractably, and he could not
pronounce the words.  Vronsky and Anna too said
something in that subdued voice in which, partly to
avoid hurting the artist’s feelings and partly
to avoid saying out loud something silly ­so
easily said when talking of art ­people
usually speak at exhibitions of pictures.  Mihailov
fancied that the picture had made an impression on
them too.  He went up to them.

“How marvelous Christ’s
expression is!” said Anna.  Of all she
saw she liked that expression most of all, and she
felt that it was the center of the picture, and so
praise of it would be pleasant to the artist. 
“One can see that He is pitying Pilate.”

This again was one of the million
true reflections that could be found in his picture
and in the figure of Christ.  She said that He
was pitying Pilate.  In Christ’s expression
there ought to be indeed an expression of pity, since
there is an expression of love, of heavenly peace,
of readiness for death, and a sense of the vanity
of words.  Of course there is the expression of
an official in Pilate and of pity in Christ, seeing
that one is the incarnation of the fleshly and the
other of the spiritual life.  All this and much
more flashed into Mihailov’s thoughts.

“Yes, and how that figure is
done ­what atmosphere!  One can walk
round it,” said Golenishtchev, unmistakably betraying
by this remark that he did not approve of the meaning
and idea of the figure.

“Yes, there’s a wonderful
mastery!” said Vronsky.  “How those
figures in the background stand out!  There you
have technique,” he said, addressing Golenishtchev,
alluding to a conversation between them about Vronsky’s
despair of attaining this technique.

“Yes, yes, marvelous!”
Golenishtchev and Anna assented.  In spite of
the excited condition in which he was, the sentence
about technique had sent a pang to Mihailov’s
heart, and looking angrily at Vronsky he suddenly
scowled.  He had often heard this word technique,
and was utterly unable to understand what was understood
by it.  He knew that by this term was understood
a mechanical facility for painting or drawing, entirely
apart from its subject.  He had noticed often
that even in actual praise technique was opposed to
essential quality, as though one could paint well
something that was bad.  He knew that a great
deal of attention and care was necessary in taking
off the coverings, to avoid injuring the creation
itself, and to take off all the coverings; but there
was no art of painting ­no technique of any
sort ­about it.  If to a little child
or to his cook were revealed what he saw, it or she
would have been able to peel the wrappings off what
was seen.  And the most experienced and adroit
painter could not by mere mechanical facility paint
anything if the lines of the subject were not revealed
to him first.  Besides, he saw that if it came
to talking about technique, it was impossible to praise
him for it.  In all he had painted and repainted
he saw faults that hurt his eyes, coming from want
of care in taking off the wrappings ­faults
he could not correct now without spoiling the whole. 
And in almost all the figures and faces he saw, too,
remnants of the wrappings not perfectly removed that
spoiled the picture.

“One thing might be said, if
you will allow me to make the remark…” observed
Golenishtchev.

“Oh, I shall be delighted, I
beg you,” said Mihailov with a forced smile.

“That is, that you make Him
the man-god, and not the God-man.  But I know
that was what you meant to do.”

“I cannot paint a Christ that
is not in my heart,” said Mihailov gloomily.

“Yes; but in that case, if you
will allow me to say what I think….  Your picture
is so fine that my observation cannot detract from
it, and, besides, it is only my personal opinion. 
With you it is different.  Your very motive is
different.  But let us take Ivanov.  I imagine
that if Christ is brought down to the level of an
historical character, it would have been better for
Ivanov to select some other historical subject, fresh,
untouched.”

“But if this is the greatest
subject presented to art?”

“If one looked one would find
others.  But the point is that art cannot suffer
doubt and discussion.  And before the picture
of Ivanov the question arises for the believer and
the unbeliever alike, ‘Is it God, or is it not
God?’ and the unity of the impression is destroyed.”

“Why so?  I think that
for educated people,” said Mihailov, “the
question cannot exist.”

Golenishtchev did not agree with this,
and confounded Mihailov by his support of his first
idea of the unity of the impression being essential
to art.

Mihailov was greatly perturbed, but
he could say nothing in defense of his own idea.

 

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