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PART FIVE : Chapter 13

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

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Mihailov sold Vronsky his picture,
and agreed to paint a portrait of Anna.  On the
day fixed he came and began the work.

From the fifth sitting the portrait
impressed everyone, especially Vronsky, not only by
its resemblance, but by its characteristic beauty. 
It was strange how Mihailov could have discovered
just her characteristic beauty.  “One needs
to know and love her as I have loved her to discover
the very sweetest expression of her soul,” Vronsky
thought, though it was only from this portrait that
he had himself learned this sweetest expression of
her soul.  But the expression was so true that
he, and others too, fancied they had long known it.

“I have been struggling on for
ever so long without doing anything,” he said
of his own portrait of her, “and he just looked
and painted it.  That’s where technique
comes in.”

“That will come,” was
the consoling reassurance given him by Golenishtchev,
in whose view Vronsky had both talent, and what was
most important, culture, giving him a wider outlook
on art.  Golenishtchev’s faith in Vronsky’s
talent was propped up by his own need of Vronsky’s
sympathy and approval for his own articles and ideas,
and he felt that the praise and support must be mutual.

In another man’s house, and
especially in Vronsky’s palazzo, Mihailov was
quite a different man from what he was in his studio. 
He behaved with hostile courtesy, as though he were
afraid of coming closer to people he did not respect. 
He called Vronsky “your excellency,”
and notwithstanding Anna’s and Vronsky’s
invitations, he would never stay to dinner, nor come
except for the sittings.  Anna was even more friendly
to him than to other people, and was very grateful
for her portrait.  Vronsky was more than cordial
with him, and was obviously interested to know the
artist’s opinion of his picture.  Golenishtchev
never let slip an opportunity of instilling sound
ideas about art into Mihailov.  But Mihailov
remained equally chilly to all of them.  Anna
was aware from his eyes that he liked looking at her,
but he avoided conversation with her.  Vronsky’s
talk about his painting he met with stubborn silence,
and he was as stubbornly silent when he was shown
Vronsky’s picture.  He was unmistakably
bored by Golenishtchev’s conversation, and he
did not attempt to oppose him.

Altogether Mihailov, with his reserved
and disagreeable, as it were, hostile attitude, was
quite disliked by them as they got to know him better;
and they were glad when the sittings were over, and
they were left with a magnificent portrait in their
possession, and he gave up coming.  Golenishtchev
was the first to give expression to an idea that had
occurred to all of them, which was that Mihailov was
simply jealous of Vronsky.

“Not envious, let us say, since
he has talent; but it annoys him that a wealthy
man of the highest society, and a count, too (you
know they all detest a title), can, without any particular
trouble, do as well, if not better, than he who has
devoted all his life to it.  And more than all,
it’s a question of culture, which he is without.”

Vronsky defended Mihailov, but at
the bottom of his heart he believed it, because in
his view a man of a different, lower world would be
sure to be envious.

Anna’s portrait ­the
same subject painted from nature both by him and by
Mihailov ­ought to have shown Vronsky the
difference between him and Mihailov; but he did not
see it.  Only after Mihailov’s portrait
was painted he left off painting his portrait of Anna,
deciding that it was now not needed.  His picture
of mediaeval life he went on with.  And he himself,
and Golenishtchev, and still more Anna, thought it
very good, because it was far more like the celebrated
pictures they knew than Mihailov’s picture.

Mihailov meanwhile, although Anna’s
portrait greatly fascinated him, was even more glad
than they were when the sittings were over, and he
had no longer to listen to Golenishtchev’s disquisitions
upon art, and could forget about Vronsky’s painting. 
He knew that Vronsky could not be prevented from
amusing himself with painting; he knew that he and
all dilettanti had a perfect right to paint what they
liked, but it was distasteful to him.  A man
could not be prevented from making himself a big wax
doll, and kissing it.  But if the man were to
come with the doll and sit before a man in love, and
begin caressing his doll as the lover caressed the
woman he loved, it would be distasteful to the lover. 
Just such a distasteful sensation was what Mihailov
felt at the sight of Vronsky’s painting: 
he felt it both ludicrous and irritating, both pitiable
and offensive.

Vronsky’s interest in painting
and the Middle Ages did not last long.  He had
enough taste for painting to be unable to finish his
picture.  The picture came to a standstill. 
He was vaguely aware that its defects, inconspicuous
at first, would be glaring if he were to go on with
it.  The same experience befell him as Golenishtchev,
who felt that he had nothing to say, and continually
deceived himself with the theory that his idea was
not yet mature, that he was working it out and collecting
materials.  This exasperated and tortured Golenishtchev,
but Vronsky was incapable of deceiving and torturing
himself, and even more incapable of exasperation. 
With his characteristic decision, without explanation
or apology, he simply ceased working at painting.

But without this occupation, the life
of Vronsky and of Anna, who wondered at his loss of
interest in it, struck them as intolerably tedious
in an Italian town.  The palazzo suddenly seemed
so obtrusively old and dirty, the spots on the curtains,
the cracks in the floors, the broken plaster on the
cornices became so disagreeably obvious, and the everlasting
sameness of Golenishtchev, and the Italian professor
and the German traveler became so wearisome, that
they had to make some change.  They resolved
to go to Russia, to the country.  In Petersburg
Vronsky intended to arrange a partition of the land
with his brother, while Anna meant to see her son. 
The summer they intended to spend on Vronsky’s
great family estate.

 

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