"An exhibition full of heat and light and erotic animus, then. Indeed, Manet's Blonde with Bare Breasts of 1879 is as dapper an offering of cheesecake as anything in the French tradition, out-Renoiring Renoir; and your appetite is further piqued by a selection of his delicious still lifes. But you can only take this line of reading so far..."***
-- Julian Bell, Manet: 'Sudden Sensuous Dazzle,' [review of the art exhibition, Manet: Inventeur du Moderne, at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris], The New York Review of Books, July 14, 2011, p. 18
Darling, if three painters were up in the aerie at the moment with me, as the sun begins to mellow at this hour, past six, then Redon would I think seize on the little gemlike purple glass vase of flowers sitting on my desk before me and select tints to capture the precise colors of the assorted blooms that I picked this afternoon from the garden, tubes of paint with names like 'burnt rose,' 'cinnabar,' and 'vermilion' for the deep reddish-orange almost coral zinnias (a shade that at first I think would make a beautiful lipstick, but then imagine would be a bit too London swingin' sixties strong); 'amethyst' or 'sapphire' for the sweet blue-violet browallia stars, exquisitely creased and velvety to the touch, each radiant depth of white pierced at the center with the same tincture as its purple petaled plumage - 'plum'; and bumpy swizzle sticks of salvia, plumcolored too, a darker shade, 'damson' perhaps - consulting Roget's - and what hues are 'bishop's purple' and 'fluorite violet,' or 'mallow' and 'mulberry for that matter?
All set off as I view them, M. Redon too, against a pale wall, for he has set up his easel behind my chair, where nearer to him he also has a view of my bare naked back, whose aesthetic attributes someone else would need to describe as I cannot see them, not without holding a mirror up and regarding myself reflected in a second mirror, and of which M. Redon, obsessed with the vase of flowers, seems oblivious. So, my dearest, since I have no camera - not til tomorrow I'm told - your head may be aswim just now with this swirl of visual information, to say nothing of how fragrant I am having recently stepped from a verbena-soaped shower; or of how soft and smooth my skin is, extending like an Aleutian mountain range in all sorts of gently curving directions; and my kisses - come here you - taste of pink icefilled wine, but then of something deeper, more intense, a suggestion of 'burnt lake,' 'coqueliqot', or 'Majolica earth,' wherein the possessive of my name is contained.
So the flowers are a tidy tiny swirl of blooms, pink and purple and the green of leaves, a unity of tones & colors, inserted in a vessel to prolong their life and for me and M. Redon and you to savor in their fleeting moment of plucked glory from the garden where only birds, indifferent to the annuals' charms, can glimpse them, and indeed they don't look like much growing within the raised beds that I'm trying, with only partial success, to keep weeded. I went about with scissors and snipped a zinnia from here, salvia from there, and browallia from a box obscured from view from the porch by an enormous raspberry bush with exquisitely ripening fruit of which I popped a few as I stood in my perfect new - let's see - 'Pompeii pink' top and drifty watercolor skirt - the berries are so sweet & flavorful, I could collect half a pint and charge four dollars and no one, no matter how cosseted and spoiled, could ever (as I once witnessed at a roadstand) berate the farmer that that they weren't as sweet and delicious as they had desired...
Dearest, are you still with me? M. Redon has run out for another paintbrush, not sure where he'll get one around here, certainly not the WalMart. He'll be gone a while I imagine, he'll have to go all the way into town, down Route 9 on his rickety bicycle.
But dearest, you & I are not alone. In fact, Renoir is here, and he is doing a giant sarcastic eyeroll with regard to the inconsequential little vase of flowers, not when he sees this lush peachy pink cornucopia hair-up in a bun but falling out all over the place Slavic - not unlike rounded French - Venus me. And so I sip from my glass and hold my head and carriage erect, and M. Renoir ever the professional sketches me in pastels first but I know what he's thinking: he's going to turn me into a big old roiling sweetly sentimental oil of the sort that even my grandmother would approve.
M. Renoir sets off into the sunset too. Monsieur Pierre Bonnard is left, and he is so obsessed with baths and bathers that he is very disappointed that he was unable to capture me in my ablutions. He tries to persuade me now to lie down in the fiberglass tub, but I tell him, my dear M. Bonnard, I haven't taken a bath in years and when I do, it will not be in this grotty old thing, it will be in a big beautiful magnificent porcelain one, of the sort that I have glimpsed in your paintings. All I do here - is shower. Do you like showers, M. Bonnard? He shakes his head sadly, politely frowns - non.
So he's gone down the stairs too (I forgot to mention that M. Renoir, ever the capitalist, dashed off once he had what he needed; he's probably staying with that hedge-fund guy up the road in that exquisite property I covet).
Ah, who's creeping up the stairs now. Bringing a fresh glass of ice no less! And a sardonic story to boot! None other than the canny James Bond of womanizing Impressionists, M. Édouard Manet. Who disregards the miniature living Redon, embrasses my dewpointed flesh in the sultry heat, and then paints a portrait of me, which I like, he got my breasts about right, but what's with the chapeau - wait, is that even me?
hopeless to edit just now my darling love
so am launching this virtual paper boat
with very many kisses
Édouard Manet (1832-1883), Blonde with Bare Breasts, 1879, Musée d'Orsay, Paris