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Poussin`s Penultimate Summer

by michwo 

Posted: 09 September 2016
Word Count: 982
Summary: The French painter, Nicolas Poussin, who died in Rome in November 1665, was devoted to his wife, Anne-Marie, who died of a consumptive cough in October 1664. He spent the summer of 1664 caring for her as her health gradually worsened.
Related Works: The Snow Child • 

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                                                            Poussin’s Penultimate Summer
            Anne-Marie!  Anne-Marie!  Damn these hands for shaking so.  A letter from Paris, from Le Brun.  He writes he went to see my Seasons. Passart and de Brienne declared themselves in favour of my wintry deluge and Bourdon liked Spring, but Le Brun, court painter to the king himself remember, liked Summer best.  Good man!  That was the hardest for me to do as well.  Does anyone in Paris have any idea what summer's like in Rome?  My fellow Norman, Saint-Amant – we met him once, I think, quite a character if I remember rightly -  gone to meet his Maker like we all will now, of course – evidently knew what it was from first-hand experience.  Yes.  You remember him.  Came from near Rouen.  His father set up as a merchant.  The son did well for himself.  Much travelled.  Spring on the outskirts of Paris.  Summer in Rome.  Autumn in the Canary Islands.  Winter in the Alps. He knew all those places like the back of his hand.  Rome though.  He had it to a T.  He knew how the Tiber dries to a trickle in places during the dog days, choked up with rushes and reeds.  I won’t be painting any more in summer with these hands.  I miss those days with Claude Lorrain when we thought nothing of setting up our easels in the open air and painting what we saw.  I think I once painted a sedge-warbler for Dal Pozzo’s younger brother who commissioned me to paint birds.  I miss him too.  Another one gone.  Anne-Marie, have I aged?  Those two self-portraits that I did in ’49 are no longer me, are they?  When that Dutchman came to visit us here in the 1650s, van Hoogstraten, he talked about having studied in Amsterdam under a man called Rembrandt who had painted half-a-dozen portraits of himself at least.  More now, I imagine.  We’re lucky, my dear.  Still together after over thirty years.  Roving eye that man apparently.  No sooner had his young wife died he took up with the maid.  I could never have done that to you.  Too old now anyway.  Are you comfortable?  Shall I plump the pillows so you can prop yourself up a bit more?  My paintings were my mistresses ever since Gillette when I first came to Paris from Les Andelys in 1612.  Gillette left me after I lent her to a friend of Frans Pourbus as a model to enhance his painting of Catherine Lescault.  Crazy old man!  Years he spent on that painting of a famous courtesan adding finishing touches until he obscured the subject of the painting completely.  “I can see her,” he said, tapping his head, “in here and she is wondrously beautiful!”  I vowed then never to become infatuated with my models and never to waste my life on trifles.  Nothing I’ve done has been a trifle.  Nothing.  Marrying you put me on an even keel to do the things that I had in me.  And friends and patrons like Pointel and Chantelou helped me find a market for my work.  The Israelites Gathering Manna – now there was a painting, Anne-Marie!  Painted that for Chantelou in ’39.  Knew my Old Testament then.  Still do for that matter.  Exodus.  Chapter Sixteen.  Verse Thirty-Five.  And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years…until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.  Is not the host that the Abbé Nicaise brings to you your manna, my dear? And in my painting does not Moses point to heaven to indicate it is a gift from God?  And then, when they finally got to Canaan, there was Joshua to take over, of course, and the spies bringing back the giant grapes in my Autumn, who are they but the two men also mentioned in the Pentateuch?  And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho.  And from grapes we ferment the communion wine.
            How I should have liked to be lazy now from time to time, Anne-Marie, but no-one in my pictures relaxes so why should I.  I’ve never really learned how to relax.    I know that now.  Count yourself lucky, my dear, to be bedfast at the moment.  It makes you philosophical.  You take things as they come.  That’s good.  You married me when you were Ruth’s age and I had, though I had not quite reached the age of Boaz, already turned thirty and your father, bless him, had nursed me through a serious illness.  Your brother Gaspard became my pupil and showed great talent painting landscapes.  And now he paints independently of me and is well established in his own right.  Did I not redeem you both by marrying you and teaching your brother?  But, though I left Rome in 1640 at the instigation of Chantelou’s cousin to re-seek my fortune in Paris, you would not go with me and it was I who grew homesick for Rome and came back to you both.  And here I have lived in exile from my native land of France ever since…  Is that someone at the door?  I’ll go and see who it is.  Claude!  Come in!  Claude Lorrain, Anne-Marie!  Let’s all take a little wine for our stomachs’ sake.  ‘Wine that gladdens the heart of man’ as good King David once opined – and woman too, Anne-Marie.  My compliments, Claude, on that drawing last year of the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca that you executed so well.  How small those trees make them look and even Father Abraham you sketched in as a witness is dwarfed by them!...  Anne-Marie, you’re coughing blood!  Claude, quickly!  Go and fetch the abbé Nicaise right away.  Tell him it’s urgent.  I’ll stay with her.  If she dies I never want to lift a brush again.

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Comments by other Members

TassieDevil at 03:56 on 10 September 2016  Report this post
Hi Michael,
I see we are of a similar age and that you reviewed Perfect Match. As a courtesy to you I shall attempt to review this although I was reluctant simply because my cognitive abilities seem constrained these days and your story required more appreciation of history and the fine arts than I can give.
I live in France and after nine years of struggling with the language, can only marvel at someone who can translate works and also who would want to. You obviously possess great writing skills but, in your review of my piece of vacuous nonsense, you cast self-doubts on your future as a writer. Don't. If anything might I suggest writing your own work as well if that's not too presumptive. I write for women's magazines - womags. I admire those who can write in a more literary fashion and there are plenty of avenues for such writers. We each play to our own desires and skills.
Although I taught some art in a prevous life, I had to do a quick Wiki refresh of this person, especially when you mentioned The Seasons.
I found this quite emotive yet strangely formal and wonder is this a translation or your own snapshot of a man in his winter as shown through your eyes and from your research. I think that needs to be known to ascertain how much of you is there. Sorry if I should have known.
I'm currently reading about Dante and can only marvel at how the lives of the famous can be analysed and be brought to life showing that we all share the same emotions - in this case love, regret, admiration of the skills of others. I like the clipped sentences and feeling of a wandering mind dealing with the death of his wife as well as his own lonely future.
For me this was an enriching tale, well told and thought provoking. Isn't that what all writing is there for? Thank you for posting although, given the nature of Fast Fiction and it's 'raison d'etre' of weekly challenges,, perhaps Ctritique Central might expose your writing to a wider audience.

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