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The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back From the Dead

Old age not for old people

“Old age wasn’t for sissies. But the suspicion

was building in him that it was all much simpler than that.

Old age wasn’t for old people.  To cope

with old age, you really needed to be young – young,

strong, and in peak condition, exceptionally supple and with very good reflexes …”

[from The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, Jonathan Cape]

I’ve read that the author of The Pregnant Widow, among others entering senescence, has suggested that one answer to the coming of old age that’s not for the old, might be the construction of ‘euthanasia booths’ on every street corner. If not that, there’s always one’s own Masada. Unless you’re Henri Matisse who youthfully wended his way into and to the end of old age?

[extract from

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead]

His heaviness was lifting. He picked up the scissors from his lap, pointed to a sheet of paper that she had painted a light shade of opal as he’d asked. After she handed it over, he began cutting a bird.

“I remember Marie Vassilieff, Olga Meerson, Joaguina, Claude Boule, Fatima, Pauline Chadourne . . . … a waitress from the Tiaré . . . … the sublime Tahitiennes. Princess Nézy, plump Doucia Retinsky maybe 12 or 14 years old. Oh. Carla Avogadio, Mme. Franz Hift, Jeanne Marin, Victor Crosals, Denise Arokas, my grandchildren, a thousand others. Figs, pomegranates, myself …”

He raised his voice.

“Cook?”

The cook heard him and came to the doorway.

“What do we have that would appease my sweet tooth?”

Cook smiled, left and returned with a fancy box of marzipan that she pressed into the old man’s upturned hand. He pulled off the top of the box. Inside were little animals – a fuchsia cat, a lilac fox, an olive-green pig, a chromium-yellow duck, a mustard-colored cow, a slate-blue sheep. Matisse put down his scissors and took off his glasses. He looked down at the various pieces, unsure for a long time. He reached into the box, hesitated, then chose the cobalt-blue rabbit.

“Ah. Good colors sing!”

He took a small bite, chewed with pleasure.

“Each color in its own way is a stick of dynamite. And . . . … my models . . . … I’ve had hundreds . . . … maybe thousands. Just think, penetrated and impregnated thousands of times, pregnant, conceiving and then giving birth thousands of times. A fertile life indeed. Ecstatic. Enough creation to fill every seat on the train from here to Paris. Bring me my stick.”

He roughly bit the blue rabbit in two. Lydia handed him the long stick and a choice of charcoal pieces, then pinned a fresh sheet of paper onto the wall beside the others. His hands were black before he finished inserting the piece of very black charcoal into the tip. He sighed contentedly.

“Without work, I simply cannot exist.”

The Japanese nightingales must have woken because they began to trill. After a few seconds they abruptly stopped. Lydia went looking for a clean rag so he could wipe the black dust off his fingers. She did not hear him when he spoke.

“I’m 82. I have not changed. All this time I have looked for the same things. My models are the principal theme of my work. I’ve depended entirely on my models whom I observe at liberty and then I decide on the poses that best suits their natures.”

 

Because additional help was needed, a hard-up young woman, Jacqueline, who had been modeling and acting as a studio assistant, was offered a live-in position. Once she was settled, if he felt well enough in the afternoon, he invited her to join them for a glass of Alsace wine. He did not complain when the summer heat began; hot or not he continued wearing the gray sweater. He started modeling something small with clay and agreed to let Alberto Giacometti, the not-so-young Swiss artist and sculptor, do his portrait.

When Giacometti arrived at the first session, Matisse told him, “Work quickly. I’m surely at the end.”

There was a vase filled with rhododendrons on the work table surrounded by shards of broken crockery, swatches of embroidery, a marbled bowl filled with charcoal bits. The large puppet with yellow and white feathers attached to the wooden head hung from the wall, its various limbs attached to the body by heavy twists of rope that had unraveled through the years. The limbs that had been painted various bright colors had faded completely.

 

The Great Colette had died. All of France was in mourning. When Lydia picked up the telephone, it was a newspaper reporter bringing news that Matisse’s first love, Caroline Jobaud, called Camille, had died.

“It’s being said that Monsieur has returned to his Catholic upbringing since he designed the Vence chapel, that old age and ill health, maybe despondency, has sent him back to God.”

“Oh?”

“ . . . … the Catholic writer Henri Daniel-Rops said when he visited the chapel, ‘The Christian finds here nothing between himself and God.’”

Spots of jade and scarlet appeared on her face. As if she was speaking to a child, she explained, “Whenever Monsieur Matisse is asked this he responds in the same way and I quote: ‘My only religion is work. I made the chapel to express myself completely and for no other reason.’ Nothing has changed him. He was and is an agnostic.”

“He was once a Catholic.”

“True. By the way, he’s not despondent.”

“Has a priest been to visit him?”

“No.”

Matisse had given Camille a fistful of violets when five of his earliest paintings were included in an exhibition at the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Art. One had sold. Later Camille left him because he changed his painting style, had abandoned the – as he called them – blisters and earth colors of his early work, began going wild with color. It did not seem to her that any good would come of deranged Technicolor madness. Lydia went into his room, told him about Camille’s passing.


Lydia said to Jacqueline, “Change? People think things change, but they don’t change.”

In his blue and white striped pajamas, Matisse had been in bed all day, hardly doing more than making a few drawings with pencil. Giacometti was with him for three hours. When he was leaving, Lydia walked him to the door.

“He says that he cannot see.”

In early evening Jacqueline cooked cod and potatoes and brought the tray to his bed. When she returned an hour later, the food was untouched. When she nagged he put up his hand.

“Stop. I’m not hungry. Please take it away.”

She took the tray. Hoping to tempt him, she returned with a plate of his favorite pastries – palmiers. He took a few bites.

“Save the rest for tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll have an appetite then.”

He called out to Lydia, “Please bring fresh paper and a pencil.”

She had been inventorying sketchbooks and stray drawings. Before he began to sketch, she held sketchbooks one at a time.

“This?”

“Lisette.”

“This?”

“Claude.”

“This?”

“Zorah.”

 

After the doctor left, he tried to get out of bed but could not. Lydia went to take a bath because it was All Saints Day, November 1st. Later he told her that the sound of rushing water from the other side of the apartment was the last thing he remembered hearing, and the last feeling he remembered was being crushed by his corset. He later told her that when he opened his eyes he saw but did not feel the doctor puncturing his forearm with a sharp needle.

When the drug began to take effect, he was less groggy, got talkative.

“Renoir wasn’t kept from painting in old age by the agony of rheumatism. He painted regardless. Even if his deformed hands were swathed in bandages, he worked. Once I painted a mischievous sequence of monochrome blue nudes. I would like to do another series of blue nudes before I die . . . if I’m given one more tiny reprieve . . . if one of my saviors is praying somewhere today. The new series will have no mischief.”

The doctor returned in the evening. Matisse tried to push himself into a sitting position but the doctor held up his hand.

“You must not.”

He scrutinized the doctor’s oval head, champagne-colored moustache, teal-blue eyes. He would have taken up a pencil if he could pick up his hand, but he could not. He looked at Lydia.

“I’ve always known that one day I would be right, that one day would be the last day of my life. Now it has come.”

 

November 2nd was All Soul’s Day, the Day of the Dead, the day of white flowers. After the doctor told Lydia that he had had a cerebral embolism and would not last long, she gave up the idea of going out to the cemetery to look at the graves decorated with asters and chrysanthemums. She told Jacqueline, “There’ll be other All Soul’s Days.”

Matisse slept. Lydia poured a glass of milori-green vodka, lit a cigarette and sat down at the English-green wood desk picking up her pen. She described the early part of the day before his embolism in her diary:

 

I washed my hair. With my hair wrapped in a towel, turban-style, I came to see him. I laughed and said, ‘Any other day, you would ask me for some paper and pencil.’ ‘Bring me some paper and pencil.’ he said. I brought paper and a ballpoint pen. He began to draw me. He made four sketches of my head and shoulders, about six inches high with a fresh sheet each time. He gave me the sheets, then asked to see the last drawing again. He held it at arm’s length. Looked severely. ‘It’s good,.’ he commented.

 

She drank the vodka. The time had come to pack the yellow suitcase. She could not put it off any longer. He would die either today, All Soul’s Day. Or tomorrow. She poured more vodka to fortify herself.

By afternoon she had organized her possessions and left a small pile of what didn’t fit in the suitcase on top against the wall of her room. his daughter Marguerite would arrive shortly, would surely be the one with him when he breathed his last breath. Lydia sat at his bedside, could detect his eau de cologne among the smells of old age and sickness. There was silence except for the sound of a fly beating its wings against the window glass, trying to get out. The red room was suffused with cast-iron flecks of light.

He was conscious but either could not or did not care to speak. The bells of the churches began to ring. The special mass for All Soul’s Day was beginning. After a few minutes the sound of singing floated into the room and a clear light splashed across the pale pink floor. Lydia peeled the pearl-yellow coating off her face before she turned and left him alone in the room.

 

New blue

The Snail 1953 Henri Matisse 1869-1954 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00540

The Snail 1953 Henri Matisse 1869-1954

Since my second cataract surgery – 8/7 – the world seems to have been washed clean. Actually, scrubbed, purified, reborn, revitalized, refreshed. In fact, I’ve fallen madly in love with the color blue. Blue (!) Blue – the visible color on the spectrum between green and violet, the Jewish color, the color (cobalt blue) of the glass on my coffee tables, the color that’s abundant in sea and sky though hardly seen in fruits or vegetables.It’s one of multitudes of colors in variations/combinations decorating my novel The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead, it’s the color blue that in some sense becomes it’s spine. See below, a few samples of my new love, the color blue, turning up in various swatches lifted from this blue book:

from section Chimiez, 1935

One bright blue day after Lydia sat for him, because his joints were suffering with neuritis, he asked if she would please scrape strontium yellow and lilac from a painting that did not satisfy him. She did this very well. Another day he asked her to scrape a section of white shaded with cadmium red, then, she watched with curiosity as he replaced the newly scraped area with madder and some white. The cushion shown in the painting was outlined with black. When she watched him repaint the darker part of the cushion Prussian blue, pure, applied with a finger of viridian, she understood what was meant when it was said that he was a “great man.”

from section Florida Everglades, 1954

Their bay was usually calm and green, rich with clusters of mangrove thickets. Because Matisse loved birds, Roy became curious about birds, learned to identify storks that flew in flocks – a lonely cormorant, wading birds, turkey vultures. Everything was in miniature on the houseboat – small bed, minute sink, minute cooker in which Roy cooked stews and soups while she cleaned as best she could with a sponge dipped in hot water into which a drop, just a drop, of ammonia had been dropped. Around the room Roy had speared pithy quotations by admired artists with pushpins. Pinned on the bathroom door:

When he took his exercise by walking the gritty streets of Paris he was often alone but sometimes accompanied by a lady friend. He described an experience he had had to one of his female companions: “I entered my studio and was struck by an indescribably beautiful painting, all irradiated by an interior light. I could only distinguish . . . forms and color and meaning. Suddenly I realized that it was one of my own paintings turned on its side. The next day in daylight I tried to recapture my previous impression . . . with the painting on its side but I could always find the object, the blue light of dusk was missing. I felt a terrifying abyss opening under my feet.” In 1910 Wasilly Kandinsky was 44.

from section Chimiez, 1940

He decided to inventory his birds – the cardinals, the nightingales, his favorites, the white pigeons and doves that flew freely through the apartment so that daily life was punctuated by streaks of color passing through various kinds of light, by the shushing sound of wings against air, by occasional splats of unwelcome green slime landing where it did not belong. The white of the white birds was various – powdery, icy, feathery, snowy, blinding, wedding-white. He lost count, called, “Lydia!”

Large windows looked over the rooftops of Nice as far as the Bay of Angels. He had first come to the Mediterranean in 1898, in the month of February. He and Amélie were on their honeymoon. Now he sent her 7,000 francs a month. Since 1898 he had never once tired of drinking in this landscape of Le Midi from one vantage or other. The transaction had been completed the previous week and, late in the afternoon, the buyer of 30 of his birds arrived with empty cages, departed with full cages. The birds could be heard shrieking long after the door shut behind them. It was chilly and smoke was rising among the groves below. He said to Lydia when she joined him, “If I were religious I would beg God for an extension of my life. I need time. I need years. My work is not finished.”

He walked onto the balcony and looked down at the eucalyptus tree below that stood among various plants – queen palms, shrubs, plantings – on the grounds of the convent in which he had so often strolled, on less chilly days, among silent nuns dressed in black. He spent the morning painting oysters, then he and Lydia lunched. After lunch he took a nap. When he woke, he paced up and down the vast glass-enclosed hallways for 40 minutes. His goal was to walk 3,300 meters. Instead of counting steps, he ticked off various colors as he walked: rose pink, ultramarine, black, ivory black, viridian, cadmium yellow, cobalt blue, yellow ochre, pure black, gray . . .

Through the afternoon he again painted oysters, then returned to the hallways to walk some more. He ticked off: cadmium red, cobalt violet, ultramarine, silver, white, black. Up and back, up and back. Two thousand meters completed, he joined Lydia for tea among his many plants. As he sipped, his eyes wandered up the wall toward works he owned and loved by Cézanne and Courbet. He could no longer imagine his life without Lydia. She poured more tea into the half-empty blue cup.

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from section Paris 1952

The word “Tahiti” conjured the blue in Gauguin’s Blue Horse. Tomorrow, if he were strong enough, he would think about doing something in that particular blue.

“And his feeling for you?”

“He’s given me a string of pearls.”

Hesitantly she added, “Perhaps you would do him the honor of looking at one or two of his paintings? Give a critique? Vous voulez bien?”

“Of course, as a favor to you.”

When she was gone Matisse and Lydia examined the day’s work. It was scanty indeed because his eyes had burned all day. The cook brought in a plate of skate in black butter. Lydia began to eat but he only picked because he did not like to eat at night.

“Must Claude go so far away? I do not have a good feeling about her going so far away. Renoir once told me, ‘On an uninhabited island, no one is going to take up painting.’”

from section Paris 1952

He examined each of Roy’s paintings. After scrutinizing the final painting, he wheeled his chair over to the table, took pen in hand and scribbled a letter of recommendation on a sheet of off-white paper.

Eh bien.”

He folded the letter in thirds, slid it into an envelope. Roy’s lime-green eyes leaked glee. Matisse said, “I think you might find it helpful to go to the Louvre and study the Egyptian antiquities.”

At that moment, Matisse’s face went deathly white. Shutting his eyes, he whispered “I’ll be myself in a moment or two.”

After a while he opened his eyes.

“I’ve got much work to do.”

Relieved that he had not died during his visit, Roy asked, “How do you make yourself work if you’re so ill, Monsieur?

“Nothing interferes with my work. I don’t have much time left and there’s more to do. I dearly hope your wife will not forget me in her prayers. Perhaps it is she who has been keeping me alive. Do you have another question?”

“How many colors did you use on your pallet when you paint?”

“Never more than 12 but I can’t really paint anymore because of my health.

“Do you make much use of black?”

“Yes . . . I use it to cool the blue.”

from section New York 1971

Finally, he finished a painting – Woman in Blue Gandurah. It was the first he had been able to take to completion since 1948. He was exhausted. To catch his breath he worked on cut-outs, sketched and did drawings, doubting if he would ever have the stamina to again complete a painting. No one wanted to tell him what Jean Cocteau had said about him: “The sun-drenched Fauve has turned into a Bonnard kitten.” But he found out anyway.

Eye spasms returned. The pain was excruciating. One of his models told him about an acupuncturist living in Paris, an Indonesian. He was willing to try. Needles were inserted between his big toe and smaller toes, into the webbing of his feet. They were wiggled and left for an hour and 10 minutes, then removed. The acupuncturist with the shiny maroon face had brown rings around his black eyes.

“I need to open your liver channel. The pain is connected to your liver.”

When the doctor left, it was as if he had rowed a boat for an hour. He sank into a dreamless sleep, the deepest he had experienced in 60 years. When he woke he called to Lydia.

“Bring my sheers, bring paper . . . bring the sheets you painted with flat black paint, sheets painted plum red as well. And . . . all the blues you have – powder blue, cornflower blue, robin’s egg blue, azure . . .

The acupuncturist’s promise was kept, the eye spasms abated. Matisse could work. He called the newest work – made from cut paper – The Swimming Pool. He tried to contain it but it ended up over 7 feet high and over 4 feet wide. Unfortunately, within a month, the eye spasms returned. So Lydia arranged for the acupuncturist to call again. This time, when he had gone, Matisse did not feel sleepy. He called for his shears, began work on The Parakeet and the Mermaid, which came to exceed The Swimming Pool in size. Eleven feet high, 25 feet wide. This time the eye spasms were worse than before. One moment he saw Lydia clearly and the next he could not see her at all.

She told him, “You are not the only one experiencing heavy weather. Pablo has pneumonia. Marc Chagall’s wife has fallen in love with another man.”

Mattisse

‘Attention must be paid’ so said Willy Loman’s wife

IMG_4112

I’ve been neglecting my four most recent creations: A three year old, a two-and-a-half-year old, a two-year-old and a one-and-a-half year old. (Though all very recent, they represent fifteen years of  intensive on-and-off work.) They come to mind … but then I enshrine my time on other things. Time passes. I swallow hard and slap the side of my head; am reminded that Willy Loman’s wife Linda said of Willy, ‘Attention must be paid’.

Give a hand: Tell a friend! Order one or more as summer reading! Take to the beach! Take camping! Take on an airplane flight and leave for the stewardess to read when you depart! Buy two or three for bedside table! Order early for holiday/birthday/anniversary/wedding/retirement gifts! Again:  Attention must be paid!

Themes vary from: Matisse to Alcoholism to Jewish Identity to Gay Life in the 40’s and 50s and more.

Very soon a new book will be launched. Before that, let’s do read the others. Like you and me, Attention must be paid!

Nominations in the category of Most Neglected :

Potato Eater:

The raw true story of Padric, a gay hustler from the Bronx who spent 1941-1965 in and out of 20 prisons- paperback

Padric McGarry was the surviving twin born in 1925 to the unwed 15-year-old daughter of Irish immigrants. Raped at the age of 7 by an older boy, he learned early during his Bronx childhood to use his wits and good looks to hustle and steal at every opportunity. He eventually did time in twenty prisons across the US, where McGarry improved his criminal skills and snatched moments of comfort with Miss Scarlet and other queens in the “Homo Blocks.” The Potato Eater is an unsentimental biography that offers a stark, unembroidered view of the intersection of gay and prison cultures. For this unapologetic and often darkly comical account of a rootless life at the bottom of the heap, award-winning author Alison Leslie Gold drew on interviews she made with McGarry in the 1970s, as well as his letters and his own notes. McGarry died, with two years of sobriety, in a halfway house in San Diego in 1982. From an audio tape made in 1977 in New York City: “I was 16 when I was arrested for corrupting the morals of soldiers and sailors, blocking a public doorway, and disturbing the peace. In prison I began to grow up and learn. I learned how to pick pockets, how to open five kinds of safes, how to forge checks, how to work second story, how to boost. We’d practice there. I learned all the necessary things to spend 20 more years in different prisons. Riker’s Island was my Junior High School. Sing Sing and Dannemora State were my High Schools. The chain gang and Leavenworth were my colleges. Immediately I had ‘Homosexual, Degenerate, Cock Sucker’ stamped on my records so I was rarely in population with the rest of the men. I was kept in segregation with junkie queens, wino queens, booster queens, prick peddlers, drag queens and some men who just preferred to be in the homo block where they were adored and given sexual comfort. Life in segregation with those mad sissies was like being caged with a mass of mad, screaming peacocks.”

Not Not a Jew, a novella in verst   

In 1930s Berlin, Eli G. is an abstracted young Jewish painter addled by Marxist idealism and tangled memories of his mother and the shtetl. Longing to move to Paris, Eli feverishly paints maps and watches the baby while his wife Vera gives up her ambition of becoming a doctor and works as an accountant. This is where Not Not a Jew – A Novella in Verst, by Alison Leslie Gold, begins, wryly shadowing the life arcs of Eli, Vera, and their son Ira who are depicted in glistening kaleidoscopic shards. Although Ira tries to lose himself through sex, food, and restless travel, he returns to his parents to grapple with his birthright as their lives are ending. In Not Not a Jew, internationally acclaimed Holocaust writer Alison Leslie Gold presents a boldly surrealistic novella that explores Jewish identity, rootlessness, Diaspora and self-absorption in a century of upheaval and annihilation.

Elephant in the Living Room:

The story of a skateboarder, a missing dog and a family secret

by Alison Leslie Gold and Darin Elliott

Eleven-year-old Danielle Godot has her own room in a nice house near the beach, two devoted parents, a kid brother who is only occasionally a pain in the you-know-what, a parakeet, a rabbit and a loyal best friend who is as into skateboarding and animals as she is. What could possibly be wrong with this picture? In Elephant in the Living Room, authors Alison Leslie Gold and Darin Elliott show that even colossal problems can be invisible as long as no one wants to see them for what they are. Gutsy, tom-boyish, big-hearted Danielle loves her father fiercely. But she is embittered by the loss of her beloved mutt, Beckett, who disappeared as a result of one of her dad’s bouts of drinking-induced irresponsibility. What’s wrong with him? Are they all going crazy? Aimed at children from the ages of about 10 to 14, and all who are confounded by problem drinking, Elephant in the Living Room tells the story of how a good man’s slide into alcoholism damages the people who love him most, and how his family summons the courage to make themselves – and him – face up to it and get help. The narrative is leavened with Beckett’s clear-sighted and irreverent commentary and the book concludes with a list of resources for those whose lives are affected by alcoholism.

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

In The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead, award-winning author of Anne Frank Remembered and The Devil’s Mistress, Alison Leslie Gold presents the life of nun-cum-artist’s model Claude Boule. Inspired by a true story and told in spare, evocative prose, this improbable, color-soaked life arc spans the art of Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol, a convent in 1930s Nice, wartime Lyon, postwar Paris, New York in the dazzling 60s on to millennium’s end. The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead explores the abstruse relationship between artist and model: Who transfixes whom? The incidental, often travail-filled, life of Claude Boule – impenetrable and inscrutable – serves as a poignant foil for intimate views into the creative processes and behind-the-scenes life of one of the 20th century’s most momentous artists. The brash assemblage of The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead also encompasses diverse uncelebrated but no less vividly tinctured people whose lives were touched – erotically, devoutly, unscrupulously and in other often unpredictable ways – by the model’s.IMG_5984

IMG_0699[All are available on Amazon as paperbacks and/or kindles

by Alison Leslie Gold

(except Elephant is by Alison and Darin Elliott)

Karen Stone, c’est moi

Who imagined ever becoming Karen Stone, Mrs. Stone? I didn’t, though I knew (and even looked forward to) maturing like good wine during my very own golden Roman Spring. *** ‘Her body had flown like a powerful bird through and above the entangling branches of the past few years, but her face now exhibited the record of the flight.‘ Mine too. C’est la vie. No complaints. Unless, of course, a youthful Paolo clothed in a ‘dove-grey flannel suit‘ or even the solitary figure of a beautiful derelict in too-small black overcoat whose open collar shows a ‘triangle of bare ivory flesh‘ awakens inadequate defenses in me. Heaven help me then. Heaven protect me. Heaven’s-hand-rail please, within arms reach.

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Claude Foot, the Parisian-born older woman-hero from The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead, encounters her ‘Paolo’ in the guise of a young Japanese art student in New York, 1964, rather than in Rome in 1952. The result of their encounter – one older, roughed-up by life, one youthful, as yet unruffled – is vastly different. Following, an excerpt from The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead, in which the steadying handrail is needed by the more youthful, tremulous hand while the older woman, whose youth has drained away, is left unscathed by the encounter:

New York, 1964

The girl’s bell-bottom trousers were peacock blue, the boy’s were mandarin orange. Peter Yakatori compared them – alike but different – through the glass storefront on East 10th Street that was melting in the hot morning sun. Leaning closer for a better look, he was able to reach right through it, since it was not glass at all, merely the sheen that had settled over everything now that the pill he had just taken – Placidyl – was taking effect. Inside the store was a hand-lettered sign – FREE STEW AND COFFEE DIGGERS FREE STORE. The boy and girl who had first caught his eye were serving coffee and bowls of beef stew to two customers. One was a small man wearing a black shirt with a Nehru collar whose head was shaved. He reminded Peter, whose real name was Junichiro, of his father in Tokyo. He could easily imagine this man or his hairless father as a hairless gorilla. Another was a sleepy woman wearing mismatched clothes – a silky shrimp-pink peasant blouse, tight toreador pants the color of candied violets cinched by a butter cream plastic belt – who was as juicy as an overripe peach. She was about 50, made his penis stiffen.

Peter went inside, sat across the table from where the woman was eating a second bowl of free stew. He accepted a bowl of his own and a glass of tap water in a mug from the waiter. When the sexy woman finished her second bowl, rust-red juice had dribbled onto her blouse. She picked up a brown shopping bag stuffed with magazines and balls of aluminum foil. He followed after her, watching her without her knowing. She stopped often to reach down into garbage cans to retrieve various objects. He kept ten feet away, his left hand inside his yellow raincoat pressing his genitals as she wandered across town to Second Avenue, turned up Second.

While walking, she filled her bag with various discards that caught her eye – two shoes and shoelaces from a wire trash basket, a handful of discarded magazines and newspapers bundled beside a second-hand bookshop on Second Avenue, held together with twine. She reached First and 11th, leaned over to sift through an almost empty trash basket while he stood with his back against a brick wall, rubbing and kneading his erection. When she went into a building, it became lax. He swallowed a green and pink capsule and took out a cigarette. His hand was shaking when he lit the match.

She came back out holding a buttered roll and his hard-on stiffened once more. He followed until she was about to enter a building, then politely went up to her and spoke in correct but accented English.

“Forgive the rudeness of speaking to you. I am an exchange student from Japan. I am here in New York studying art and have been searching for a subject. I think you could be that subject. Is there a chance you would allow me to use you as a model?”

She brightened.

“It happens to be the work I once did.”

“I would pay you by the hour.”

“I would say yes.”

“May I telephone you?”

“I have no telephone but if you tell me when and where, I will go. I need the work. My husband moved to Maine, stopped sending money. I’m stranded here.”

“I’m living with a fellow student from Tokyo in a tiny room at the Broadway Central Hotel. Perhaps you can suggest a place where we can work?”

She told him to come to her apartment, which happened to be on the third floor of the building in front of them. She told him when.

Since arriving in New York in October, Peter had been gluttonizing on the city. Neither he nor the city slept. He walked every day, all day, every night, all night, helped by various pills. He was partial to this Lower East Side neighborhood, admired the freshly baked breads through the window of Lanza’s and Veniero’s Italian bakery. At night he danced at the Dom on St. Mark’s Place. He read signs tacked to electric poles promoting free poetry readings, attended those on Monday nights at Le Metro on Second Avenue. He had visited every avant-garde art gallery on the Lower East Side, in the Village, every established gallery on the Upper East Side and on 57th Street.

On his way to the appointment with the object of his inspiration, he stopped at a bookshop and bought her a copy of a popular poetry book – A Coney Island of the Mind – as a gift. He took a shortcut across Tompkins Square Park that had the four-story-high mural of Isaac Hayes and a monument that depicted two children staring up at an ocean liner. The plaque explained that liner sank in 1904, took down more than a thousand, mostly German, people from the neighborhood. The monument made him cry, not because he cared about a tragedy so long ago but because the pill he had swallowed had kicked in.

Inside her apartment, he was upset by the unmade bed and dishes crusted with old food. He asked her to undress, watched her do so. When she was unclothed, he instructed her to stand at the small window, her back toward him. After two hours he said that the session was finished. She put on a caramel and beige robe and indigo slippers. He gave her a $20 bill. He had done more than 60 drawings. She said to him, “You’re fast as a rabbit.”

“This is New York. If I don’t hurry I’ll be stepped on.”

 

He promised to take her to the school at which he studied art because they employed live models, so he picked her up in the morning in a taxi. The school was the Art Students League on West 57th street, where he guided her to the administrator’s office, presented her with a flourish. She impressed the administrator with her credentials, was hired to pose for two life-drawing classes. After she left the building, Peter signed up for both.

In her first class, Peter relished the salmon-pink lipstick coating her inviting lips and the tomato-red nail polish on her fingers and toes. He gazed with appetite at her neck and inner arms. These were two of the places on a woman’s body that excited him. He could not see as much as he wanted because the instructor had seated her on a three-legged wooden stool and draped a plaid twill throw across her lap. He leaned toward Impero, the man who shared his hotel room.

“If I could rest my head against her, I would be happy to ejaculate into the palm of my own hand and could without doubt draw a masterpiece.”

Impero did not see what he saw, merely warned, “Don’t get deported.”

Peter’s glassy black hair was combed back, giving him the look of a swain from the 1920s. His throat and underarms were soaked with Paco Rabanne scent. After class he saw her eating scrambled eggs in the cafeteria.

“May I sit with you?”

“Yes.”

“May I sketch you while you eat?”

“Yes. I need money.”

While she ate, he made a dozen quick sketches of her face. She had applied a new shade of lipstick, lobster red, exaggerating the outline of her lips. He chose red charcoal to use to make his sketches. When she stood up to empty her tray, he gave her $20. He did five more drawings as she walked away.

 

New York, 1965

He wanted to sketch her as she went about her life in her apartment, told her to pretend he was not there. He stood against the wall preparing himself mentally, studying her as she removed the slipper-shoes, saw dirty feet with puffy toes. She picked up a newly retrieved magazine and sank into the corner of the soiled sheet on the mattress of the convertible couch.   She shut her eyes for a few minutes, then opened her eyes and glanced again at the magazine. He made a few lines on a page of his sketchbook and quickly turned to the next page. One of the magazines was fat and swollen, the pages curling at the corner. He saw tiny squirming white worms between the pages of the magazine.

She pushed the worms aside, took up a scissors that was beside her and cut out an article that told about a Matisse exhibition, a retrospective show that had opened in Washington. The article mentioned that Matisse had died on November 3rd, 1954, at age 85 and that the finale of Bach’s Passion of Saint John – In Paradisum by Gabriel Fauré – had been played at his funeral. Matisse had been buried at Cimiez.

She counted how many years it had been since he died. When had she stopped praying for his longevity? Why had she not known about his death? She tried to clear her mind. She must have been in Florida where Roy never took the newspapers. She read:

… Matisse was on his way to the last sacrifice when he built the chapel in Vence and dedicated it to Notre Dame du Rosaire. Its walled garden, the windows letting in the crystal light through the colors of his magic palette, and his Stations of the Cross. That is how he did end on an organ note.

 Reading this gave her a sharp stab of regret. Why had she not returned to convent? She had always imagined she would walk in the walled garden in her older years and that Matisse or his spirit would look down and see her as she once was.

She took a half sandwich wrapped in silver foil from her bag, ate and slowly read:

… Russian emigrée Lydia Delectorkaya, born in Siberia in 1910, schooled in Harbin, Manchuria, married briefly to a Russian whose identity is unknown, was penniless when she left the U.S.S.R. and friendless when she arrived in Nice, speaking no French. Among various jobs, she worked part-time as a nurse caring for Madame Matisse in 1933. After six months she became a studio assistant to Monsieur Matisse, remaining with him as his companion until his death. One writer on Matisse has said of her – ‘Lydia arrived with nothing in 1933, walked out with nothing in November 1954. She gave everything that was given to her by Matisse to Russian museums. When Madame Matisse complained about Lydia Delectorkaya, Matisse wrote to his son Pierre – ‘Perhaps even your mother will admit that the wildly acclaimed high quality of my recent painting owes something to Lydia’s services. At my age, inspiration is fragile.’ Lydia Delectorkaya was not invited to the funeral of Monsieur Henri Matisse. Though she lives in obscurity, she recently published a book on her years with Matisse.

She was glad to know about Lydia’s past. All her impressions had been that Lydia had no life except serving Matisse. She had never heard Lydia speak about herself, had never indicated one way or other if she and Matisse shared intimacy of an erotic kind. Neither had he. Her suspicion, unlike almost everyone else that knew them, was that they had not. She glued the accompanying poem, “Luxe, calme et volupté” by Baudelaire to a sheet of black construction paper:

La tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté

Luxe, calme et volupté

(There all is order and beauty

Luxuriant, voluptuous and calm)

She glued the poem beside the clipping, cut two rectangles from a sheet of brown construction paper, and glued them together in the shape of a cross. She stood up and glued the assemblage to the front of the refrigerator door that no longer opened properly. Peter put down his sketch book and chalk. He had filled every page. He said he was hungry and invited her to go with him for a meal. She told him he could get good delicatessen sandwiches on Second Avenue, to bring one for her, told him what she wanted, then added, “Matisse died, you know.”

 

When he was gone, she sat with her hands in her lap. The door was cracked an inch so when he returned, she would see him before he saw her. Shortly, she saw him approach the door and reenter her apartment. Before he did anything else, he scrubbed some dishes with a new plastic bottle of liquid soap which he had picked up at a bodega on the corner. When there were clean plates, he unwrapped and laid out sandwiches – pastrami on rye, brisket on a roll, also sour pickles with black peppercorns clinging to their skin, and a cardboard carton containing warm kasha varnishkas. She asked, “Do you like strong mustard?”

“If you do.”

She mixed a few spoonfuls of Coleman’s dried mustard with water and lobbed mustard onto the meat. From a paper bag squeezed among rolls of yellowing newspaper under the bed, she took a bottle of red table wine a student at the League had given her. Peter uncorked it with a rusty corkscrew she gave him. He popped a pill into his mouth. Seeing him crumple up the pager bag in which the food came, she pulled it from his hand and smoothed it out.

“Never waste.”

She greedily ate while he turned the sketchpad upside down and, using pieces of pastel chalk, made a few quick close-up studies of the fat sandwich, the hand, the mouth full of yellow mustard and brown meat. He drew her tongue licking the knife blade. When she finished eating, smears of mustard were left on either side of her mouth. Soon the pill took effect, and the slovenly aspects of her room and her person no longer bothered him. He went down onto his knees and kissed the tips of her thick toenails. He cradled her crusted heals in the palms of his hands, kissed his way up her legs. When he got to her mouth, the pill had burst open even more and her passive lips became, fat, dancing, living things.

On his next visit, he took a pill on arrival and gave one to Claude to swallow with a glass of red wine. As soon as she fell into a coma-like sleep, he got on his knees and put his head in her lap and wrapped his arms around her legs. He stroked himself for a while, undid her clothes, then made love to her. Afterwards, while she continued sleeping, he covered her with a piece of fine red silk, cleaned up the apartment as much as he could. He swept the dirt-encrusted rug, poured strong blue fluid into the toilet. When she opened her eyes, he was naked, standing against the window, making a drawing of her in a large sketchbook. A pinching pain in her neck had traveled down to the right side of her buttocks and she smelled ammonia.

While he drew with red chalk, she took the mirror from her shopping bag and put on fresh makeup – cat eyes outlined in green, red lipstick on her puckered lips. She fluffed up her hair, searched for vertical lip lines and eye crinkles. After putting the mirror back into the bag she curled up on the bed-couch. He continued working while she cut things from magazines, glued cut-outs onto colored paper. She cut out a photo of a giraffe and glued it onto a photograph of the New York skyline. She glued both against a Moroccan design. She wrote with black sharpie:

A giraffe visits New York.

“Roy took the sketchbook Matisse gave me as a gift for my marriage.”

She had become a limp rag, clutching his wrist.

“Please find it for me, chéri. I’ll let you do any intimate thing to me you want if you do.”

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 [short extracts from Part III – The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone

a novella by Tennessee Williams]

Claude Boot

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[from Part II – ‘In Paradise’ –

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead]

Paris, 1950

His bed, from where he sometimes worked, was surrounded by the usual clutter of china crockery, bolts of colored cloth, some rolled, others half-unrolled. There were scraps and curls of colored paper at this feet; azure, chestnut, indigo, amber. An opulent fur-lined pink silk Chinese robe with a high collar made of white fur lay across a chair. He called to Lydia, asked who was booked to sit that morning. The housekeeper answered.

“Madam Lydia is out, Monsieur.”

He splashed a few drops of eau de cologne on his neck. His cat leapt up onto his lap and he stroked its thick coat.

The work in progress hung opposite his bed so that he could meditate on it during bouts with insomnia. The background of the painting was not yet right – strontium yellow and cadmium yellow middle no. 3. He had said to Lydia when he backed away to study what he was doing: “A little yellow must more skillfully be incorporated into colors of the body. More yellow on the left buttock until there’s a hint of greenish-gray. Remind me of this tomorrow after my model leaves and I’ll work some more.”

He heard the front door open and close.

“Who’s booked this morning!”

Lydia’s voice answered.

“A new one.”

“Where did you get her?”

“Pablo recommended her.”

“Why isn’t he using her?”

“She’s not his type.”

“Eh bien.”

Though he had mixed feelings about Pablo, he trusted his judgment on models. He liked and did not like the man. He liked him enough to give him a brace of white pigeons, but had heard the gossip that, while having soup with Mademoiselle Françoise, on seeing a hair floating on the surface of the soup, Pablo had commented, “It looks like a line drawing by Henri.” It was ridiculous that such coarseness, such petty jealousy, could rankle him, but the tiny Spaniard was skilled with his little peccadilloes.

He heard the sounds of the arrival of his model and, as it had for his entire working life, a flush of blood coursed through his arteries. Once more there was the possibility of a coup de foudre, a thunderclap. He strained to stand in order to properly greet the woman with the small body and deep black eyes whom Lydia showed into the room; but could not garner the strength, so he greeted her from the wheelchair. He gathered materials while the model went behind the Chinese screen to undress. When she emerged, he looked, thought, looked. He abandoned the idea of the Chinese robe. He took in the mismatched, small breasts, the bony hips, the glistening lick of public hair.

He told Lydia to drape a Turkish fabric across her thighs. Behind her he wanted the great standby, the azure and white-dotted vase. There was something about this model’s dour but sweet face that reminded him of Camille. After an initial ripple of pleasure at the reminder of Camille, an ache of remorse bit him. Poor Camille. What a disaster. He would not let the remembrance upset him. What a sad life she had had. The doves cooed. Lydia brought materials, moved into and out of the room. Time had not diluted his gratitude for Lydia’s efficiency, indispensability. Not once had he looked at Lydia with complacency.

He wondered if he should rearrange the girl’s pose from sitting to lying on a perch of cloth? He craved a cigar. He called Lydia.

“Please remove the vase of flowers, it has lost its freshness.”

He instructed the model to lie on her side, hip arched, to curl her arm over the protruding hipbone so that her hand limply hung down. She obeyed his instructions. Her weak, bony hand dangled, the fingertips touched a curled pubic hair. Again, he was not sure about whether to keep or change the pose. He asked Lydia for the Congolese tapestry that never tired him as a backdrop, then turned the page of his drawing book and started a fresh drawing. Despite swollen feet and the reminder of Camille, if this was the last day of his life, it was a fine one. His fingertips were young when he held the chalk; the awaited penetration came.

After an hour he noticed that the model had goose bumps. Discarding the nub of chalk, he called Lydia.

“Please light the stove.”

Because he was no longer allowed to drink coffee, he called for the cook to bring tea and, while they waited, the model covered herself. Thoroughly pregnant with inspiration, impatient to begin again, he rolled the wheelchair over to the window to admire the view, not bothered that the birds were cooing loudly. Again he craved a good cigar. When the model had gone, he told Lydia not to hire her again. One Camille was enough for a lifetime.

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Remembering Claude Boot who modeled for Henri Matisse from 1950-1954 on her birthday – today, 16 December. She is the central character in The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead available on Amazon as a book or as a kindle

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Page 100 – The Woman who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

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… When John left, Alice was still sleeping. He stopped at his apartment, filled a little bag with a change of underwear and a toothbrush, hurried to Claude’s apartment. At Union Square he got caught in rush hour. He imagined people hurling through space when he saw bunches of bodies popping up from the subway step. Against his own will, he stopped in a liquor store and bought a case of vodka and a gallon of grapefruit juice. It was too heavy to lug, so he arranged to have it delivered. It would not hurt to test himself.

When the delivery arrived, he decided to have just one drink, see if he could stop at one. He mixed juice and vodka to a specific shade of yellow. He had two drinks and stopped, was relieved. Obviously he had regained control. That night, though Alice waited, he did not go back to her house. He slept curled up in a corner that was already cleared.

***

He rented a dumpster, had it parked at the curb in front of the building. When all the plastic packages of clothes were cleared, he found a three foot high pile of papers and junk mail on a coffee table.  He carefully went through the pile. At the very bottom of the pile, lay the lease to the apartment. It was dated 1959. He napped for an hour then chopped up the old mattress with an ax. He chopped up the rotting furniture and carried the bits and pieces down to the dumpster. He filled black plastic bag after bag with fabric and old newspaper. If house dust came from dead skin, he had come to live with it. He was willing to be a cannibal.

There was another pile of unopened mail against the wall, this one shoulder-high. Again he went at it piece by piece. He found a slip of paper with what might be a bank account number. He did not throw away a scrap of paper the size of a postage stamp without considering whether or not it might be important. After a few more hours of work the day had passed. He mixed grapefruit and vodka to make a drink that was a shade of buttercup and curled up to sleep. When he woke, he swallowed a few hairs of the dog.

As the mounds against the walls diminished, filthy paintings were revealed. He uncovered a door and discovered that it was a closet filled with debris. There was a shelf with a pile of cocoa-brown towels folded neatly. He tried to unfold one of the towels but it broke in two, revealing that it had once been a snow-white terrycloth towel.

His work had become an archeological dig, layer after layer. He discovered a wood-burning fireplace. Nothing he tried would clean the brick over the fireplace. Finally, he tried acid. It worked, revealed soft, charming, ochre bricks. He uncovered mildewed books, articles cut from old newspapers, a postcard written in all caps:

STOP BOTHERING US.

STOP LEAVING

PACKAGES AT MY DOOR.

ROY

He put one newspaper clipping aside. In it was a black and white photo of a slim, fair-haired young man with the face of a Great Dane holding a paintbrush with a long handle. The man was painting an abstract canvas. The subject matter of the painting was an abstract sailboat. Standing against him, looking over his shoulder, stood Claude. Her waist was cinched with a tight belt. She looked about 40.

The caption beside the photograph read:

Claude Foot watching her artist husband, Roy, putting finishing touches on one of the paintings he is exhibiting this month at the Little Gallery in Maple Road, Birmingham.

 The text of the clipping read:

Foot Exhibits at Little Gallery

 Two of Roy Foot’s most prized possessions are a letter from the great French painter Henri Matisse and his autographed book of pencil, ink and charcoal drawings.

They came to him after a surreptitious inspection of the young artist’s work by the master ….

Roy says that as far back as he can remember he wanted to paint. He studied both before and after World War II. For four years he lived and painted in Paris.

That was when his wife, Claude, who posed for Matisse, persuaded him to look at Roy’s work – with the resultant commendation. Now Foot has returned here from the current exhibit of his paintings at the Little Gallery in Birmingham.

He said, “The going hasn’t always been easy. It’s plain hard work.”

Foot describes his work as semi-abstract. He “feels” his angles and curves and puts them were he “sees” them in the composition.

He’s a young man of casual mien with eyes atwinkle or of somber pensiveness. It’s the former mood that provides the whimsy in the birds he loves to paint.

 Prefers Blues

 For a long time he was interested in “pure” color, but today he works principally with cobalt blues, Mars green and umbers.

He discovered an “affinity” for one or another of those tones by shifting jars of permanent color about on the floor one evening. And that was it. As a result, he has completely discarded reds and similar flamboyant tones.

He’s no novice at exhibiting. In Paris he showed at the Salon d’Automne and Salon de la Jeune Peinture. He has had one-man shows at Galérie Breteau and the Hacker Gallery in New York.

Now he is returning to their studio-home in Fernanina, Fla., which, incidentally, they built with their own hands. Roy grins when he tells about the 3,000 bricks Claude personally cleaned before the chimney could be built.

 Fun at Home

 Claude works in her garden and waters her banana tree, which was flourishing when he left. And he can’t wait to see “my son,” Toby, a formidable police dog his wife befriended. She’ll be cooking her specialty Boeuf Bourguignon, and as Roy puts it – “re-arranging her clothes.”

 And Roy will paint.

The case of Popov was half-empty. John found bundled mildewed newspapers full of worms. He found something the shape of a book wrapped in what must once have been a crinkly citron scarf. When he unwrapped it, the silk fell apart. Inside, in a small framed print, the glass smashed, a Matisse painting – Woman in a Blue Gandoura Dress. Another small painting in a frame had been crushed beyond recognition. There were more bags of clothes and fabrics. …

[The Woman who brought Matisse Back from the Dead

is available in paperback and as a kindle

at Amazon]

Page 1 – The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the De

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead

 

***Page 1 – The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead***

     Paris, 1950

                 The studio on the Boulevard du Montparnasse was not far from the Boulevard Raspail crossing. The door to the concierge’s loge was ajar. The husband of the concierge was urinating into the sink when he noticed the full-bodied woman framed in the door as she entered the building and walked toward the lift. These chalk-faced women who came and went all had the same effect on him. This one was not pretty per se, her legs were too short, her grape-gray dress belonged to another season and gave off the scent of mildew. Though he was not a rutting dog, she aroused him. Something leaked from her like peach juice from a too soft peach. The concierge saw her too. It was the time in the morning for brioche and milky coffee and she had just spread a coral and gray striped cloth over the table. She clucked to her husband, “Of course she’s the new little model. Monsieur Matisse will make use of her for a while, then, when he’s through with her, as with the rest, he’ll order a fresh one and another after that.”

                 The new model stepped out of the lift-cage at the Sixth Floor. She contained the bun of red-brown-green hair with one hand, removed two long egg-shell-white hairpins with the other. She held the pins with the strongest teeth that remained in her mouth before plunging each one deeply into the unruly nest. She was not concerned when a few wiry curls escaped nor that the smear of lemon-yellow lipstick across her lips had rubbed into the corner of her mouth. After she made the sign of the cross she tapped on the door.

                 Inside, the shutters were drawn. The artist’s Russian assistant, rumored to be his slavish mistress, told her to wait at the door near a woman’s torso done in the Greek style. Once invited to enter, rather than looking toward the grizzled artist when he greeted her from his wheelchair, the model’s cocoa-gray eyes were drawn over his head to the large charcoal drawings of the Seven Stations of the Cross that had been drawn/redrawn/erased/drawn/rubbed. Because she was Catholic, she experienced the urge to get down on her knees before the brash drawings.

*                                                                          

                 Scattered through the studio were broken shards of china and crockery, bolts of colored cloth, embroidered tapestries, canvas, bottles of turpentine, linseed oil. Henri Matisse sat in a wheelchair beneath the drawings of the Seven Stations. He was shriveled and white. He wheeled over, shook her hand. Though she did not need to, she reminded him that they had met before. He looked at her with friendly eyes. She leaned toward him, heard him say, “Of course I remember you.”

                   She was thirty-six, wore down-at-heel shoes and her feet hurt. She could not resist saying, “I prayed that God would give you more time … and he has.”

                 “You did. And you have given me nine extra years.”

                 A rose tint spread across what part of his face was visible above his white beard, behind his thick glasses.

                 “I see you left your order.”

                 “Temporarily.”

                 “Will that be possible?”

                 “If God wills it.”

                   He was ready to work. Not sure if she had also shed her Catholic modesty, he gave instructions to disrobe. When she willingly obliged, he saw that inhibitions had been shed. He pointed to a chair. A bouquet of orange marigolds stood in a vase on the table at which she was seated. He told her to keep her legs uncrossed, to lean into the tabletop. He instructed her to look away from the orange flowers that gave off an appealing smell of wet earth. When an hour had passed and he was deep in concentration – two thick pencils in hand – she glanced at his blissful face. Magnified through gold wire eyeglasses, his unblinking eyes were several shades of blue and even gray; intense, steady and steadying eyes that appeared to change color — as she remembered them. He wore a black wool hat, a cigarette dangled from his lips.

                    Her body and face spilled over him until his senses were wet. About his models he had many times said: “I’ve got to be so penetrated, so impregnated by my subject that I could draw it with my eyes closed.” People who knew nothing presumed that it was he who did the penetrating, did not realize it was the subject that pierced and flooded all of him.

                    She had been doing this work for Alice Hoska and other artists since the war and could keep a pose even if it became tiring or painful. She did not mind suffering. Fortunately a fat black stove heated the room since, if she had one souvenir beside intimidation and hunger from the past, it was that she could never seem to shake off the cold. The artist worked until twelve then sent her away, instructed her to return after lunch. She took the lift-cage down, crossed the street, sat on a bench in a small square. She ate two yellow-ochre pears, two brown buns, and swallowed a garlic clove to purify her blood. She was still hungry when her sack was empty. Nearby was a kiosk that had pots of white carnations for sale though it was winter. While she sat, the sky went from dusky gray to gunmetal gray. At a few minutes before two, she pushed back the grill of the lift.

                 When she was naked once again, she awaited his instructions. The strong smell of fresh garlic was steeping through the room. He positioned her, told her he would stop work at five but did not. At six the émigrée assistant, Lydia Delectorkaya – blamed for his marital break-up –urged him to save his eyes for to following day. It was not possible to tell if Lydia’s concern was amorous or practical. He worked for another hour before he put down the pencil, then wheeled the wheelchair away and turned his attention to twittering turtledoves. Lydia put an envelope into the model’s hand. The money in it would pay for a pair of nylon stocking with dark seams down the back that she had been coveting at Printemps.

                 “Monsieur would like to book you for the week. Is Sunday a problem for you? Do you need to go to Mass? Do you have a man friend to see on Sunday? And … what shall we call you?”

                 “I was baptized Paule Boule although you knew me as Sister Paule. My name was changed during the war, to Claude. I do go to church on Sunday, do have a man friend,” then added as an afterthought, “It’s an honor to sit for Monsieur. I would work through the night with pleasure if he requests.”

                 “You will be paid double for Sunday.”

                 Matisse began to cough. An off-white bird flew across the room and landed on the back of a fringed lampshade. The bird stretched its wings. When the coughing stopped, he caressed the bird’s neck. As soon as Lydia showed the new model out, he loosened his corset, had his nurse help him with his personal needs, then stretched out on his bed for a rest.

mats-wmnMattisse with birdIMG_1542

[Photos: Matisse’s companion, Russian-born, Lydia Delectorkaya; Henri Matisse, late in life; Claude Boot aka Claude Boule/Claude Foot, who modeled for Matisse between 1950-1954]

[[Novel The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead available from Amazon as a paperback book or as a Kindle]]

What now? Tearing pages…

sunset

Having calmed (I thought) my young, neglected novella along with my eleven other disturbed creations the other night, I entered a period of empty-headed wellbeing that, unfortunately, was rudely interrupted just now just as the sun was sinking into the Aegean Sea. I heard a disturbing sound that made the hair on my neck stand up straight. I could hardly believe my ears. Again, it emanated from the tall bookcase in the old house. Perhaps a mouse, or several mice, were chewing on Alice Munro? This is the sound. Have a listen: [The sound]. Opening the cabinet’s double-glass doors, I realized it was the sound of tearing paper. These were the culprits:

IMG_0461.JPGThe Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead and

The Potato Eater.IMG_1235.JPG

After I’d separated them, I saw they had been in the midst of…I can hardly admit it…tearing out each other’s final pages.

Why, I demanded, sliding M.G.Le Clézio’s Desert between them to keep them apart. Why destroy endings I worked so hard to complete?

Would you prefer if we tore off a cover, or the first lines…? Came the answer – a question answered with another question.

No, I replied.

Or pages mid-book, just as plots and characters, and emotions are building?

No. Not that either.

Then what would you have us tear out?

How about … nothing … Or, if you must … the copyright page?

How about posting our publisher’s Flap Copy?  You posted your sniveling novella’s Flap Copy the other night. What are we, chopped liver?

Okay. If that’s what you’d like. Consider it done. [see below]

Flap Copy: The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead 

In The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead, award-winning author of Anne Frank Remembered and The Devil’s Mistress, Alison Leslie Gold presents the life of nun-cum-artist’s model Claude Boule. Inspired by a true story and told in spare, evocative prose, this improbable, color-soaked life arc spans the art of Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol, a convent in 1930s Nice, wartime Lyon, postwar Paris, New York in the dazzling 60s on to millennium’s end. The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead explores the abstruse relationship between artist and model: Who transfixes whom? The incidental, often travail-filled, life of Claude Boule – impenetrable and inscrutable – serves as a poignant foil for intimate views into the creative processes and behind-the-scenes life of one of the 20th century’s most momentous artists. The brash assemblage of The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead also encompasses diverse uncelebrated but no less vividly tinctured people whose lives were touched – erotically, devoutly, unscrupulously and in other often unpredictable ways – by the model’s.

Flap copy: The Potato Eater

Padric McGarry was the surviving twin born in 1925 to the unwed 15-year-old daughter of Irish immigrants. Raped at the age of seven by an older boy, he learned early during his Bronx childhood to use his wits and good looks to hustle and steal at every opportunity. He eventually did time in twenty prisons across the US, where McGarry improved his criminal skills and snatched moments of comfort with Miss Scarlet and other queens in the “Homo Blocks.” The Potato Eater is an unsentimental biography that offers a stark, unembroidered view of the intersection of gay and prison cultures. For this unapologetic and often darkly comical account of a rootless life at the bottom of the heap, award-winning author Alison Leslie Gold drew on interviews she made with McGarry in the 1970s, as well as his letters and his own notes. McGarry died, with two years of sobriety, in a halfway house in San Diego in 1982. From an audio tape made in 1977 in New York City: “I was 16 when I was arrested for corrupting the morals of soldiers and sailors, blocking a public doorway, and disturbing the peace. In prison I began to grow up and learn. I learned how to pick pockets, how to open five kinds of safes, how to forge checks, how to work second story, how to boost. We’d practice there. I learned all the necessary things to spend 20 more years in different prisons. Riker’s Island was my Junior High School. Sing Sing and Dannemora State were my High Schools. The chain gang and Leavenworth were my colleges. Immediately I had ‘Homosexual, Degenerate, Cock Sucker’ stamped on my records so I was rarely in population with the rest of the men. I was kept in segregation with junkie queens, wino queens, booster queens, prick peddlers, drag queens and some men who just preferred to be in the homo block where they were adored and given sexual comfort. Life in segregation with those mad sissies was like being caged with a mass of mad, screaming peacocks.”

And there you are. Are you satisfied? I queried, wanting to get back to my sunset before the light had totally drained from another seamless day.

There was no reply, so I repeated the question.

Again I heard nothing except Virginia Wolfe sighing or perhaps it was Jack London dreaming of dining on hardly-cooked hare. I shut and hooked the glass doors, then, hurried upstairs to the terrace. Unfortunately, when I stepped outside, night had fallen and the mosquitoes had entered stage left.

night

Mosquitos in December

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Born 16 December 1916 – ninety-nine years ago tomorrow, Claude Foot née Boule (who modeled for Henri Matisse between 1950-1954 in Paris), became the central character in my novel The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead. I’d come to know Claude at the end of her life and happened to be with her a few days before she died. December was bone-chilingly cold that year. Nothing like this December, balmy and warm (eerily so). Last night (perhaps a prequel of what’s to come), a humming tempest of mosquitos reappeared from wherever mosquitos go in winter to bite my wrists, ankles, arms, even feet. I scratched my way through the long night. Following, a swatch from that December as rendered in my book. Meet Claude, Alice, her patron, and John, her guardian:

On her birthday, December 16th, the city was covered with ice from rain that had frozen. Alice hired a car to take her across the slippery city. She told the driver to wait, then navigated the icy sidewalk to the front door of the nursing home. She had with her a tub of strawberry ice cream, a furry brown stuffed bear wrapped in blue and white striped paper, French perfume, had put everything inside a buff and black Saks shopping bag. Claude was in room 1111, a two-bedded room. An indigo-colored curtain separated her from the unseen person on the other side.

She was in the bed beside the door, supine, her face in fixed repose. A black eye-patch was covering her left eye. Alice pulled up a chair and sat beside her. When Claude opened her right eye she showed no surprise. She let Alice squeeze her hand. Alice bent and kissed it, she looked up and saw that Claude was wearing new, too white, false teeth.

“The food?

“You must speak up, chérie, I don’t hear well on this side.”

“Is the food good?”

“I detest it.”

“The staff?”

“They’re not patient.”

A tray of pureed food was rolled in. Claude was indifferent to it. She searched for the button to raise herself up, could not find it. Alice looked, found it and raised her to semi-sitting position. She went into the bathroom, got a white washcloth, ran it under hot water, soaped it, and came back to wash Claude’s hands and face. She sat down on the chair and watched as she unwrapped her birthday gifts. It took her 30 minutes to remove eight pieces of scotch tape from one package that was wrapped in velvety yellow paper. It took her another half hour to unwrap the rest. When she had removed the last piece of tape, she folded all the wrapping paper and put it under the bed cover, just as John rushed in.

“Ah, chéri.”

He was bony, unshaven, shaky. He kissed Claude.

“Happy birthday.”

“Don’t tell The Lady how old I am.”

He laughed.

“It’s on your chart, Claude. It’s too hard to keep a secret.”

She was 88 years old. She made wiggling motions with her hand and he laughed again.

“Oh sorry. I forgot.”

He looked toward Alice.

“She wants me to bring in her snake. It’s a toy… don’t worry. She wants the snake so she can scare the old people here.”

Claude brought John’s hand to her lips, kissed it repeatedly, making little pt-pt-pt sounds with her lips, left smudges of tomato-red lipstick on his knuckles. John lowered the bed to its original position while he told Claude about a new painting of his new black friend he had begun. Alice touched his back with her free arm. He was a sack of bones.

“Claude said you have a new ‘friend’ in your life. Is that who you’re drawing?”

“Yes.”

“A lover?”

He turned his back on Claude, spoke so Claude could not hear.

“Yes, if you must know. I don’t talk about my sex life in front of Claude.”

He turned back to Claude, handed her his gift that was wrapped with aluminum foil. She shook her head.

“You open it, chéri.”

John unwrapped a framed print then hung it over a monitor meant for oxygen on the wall where she could see it. It was a reproduction of a painting of Christ by Rouault. Claude made the sign of the cross, then shut her good eye.

************

Claude went on oxygen. Two days before Christmas Alice stood in the doorway of her room. The walls were painted pale avocado, the bedding was navy blue, the side table was painted a soft shade of oyster gray and had been varnished. Claude saw her, raised two fingers. Alice went in and sat beside her on a vermilion straight-backed chair, took her hand. Claude’s cocoa-gray eyes met hers.

“Did you find out about Julia Warhol?”

“Yes I did.”

“Where is she? She must be very old.”

“I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news.”

“Is she dead?”

“Yes.”

“By her own hand? I would not like to think of her stranded in purgatory for all eternity like my mother.”

“I don’t understand?”

“Never mind. Will you light a candle for her at her church, the ugly gray one on 15th Street?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Not one. Light many, chérie. She would like more than one.”

Claude dozed. Alice sat for an hour. Ben’s ghost walked up behind her, buried his fingers in her hair. Warm currents streamed from her scalp into her neck, radiated out toward her tense shoulders. Ben’s voice was lively. He told Claude that he and Alice would watch over John when she died. Before that, though, he would spend Christmas with her. Alice wondered, What about me? Who will spend Christmas with me?

“I’ll come to visit you on Christmas Day.”

Claude whispered, hardly moving her lips.

“I forbid you to come on Christmas.”

Her tomato-red lips sucked on the oxygen nozzle. Alice sat down again, trying to decide what to do about Christmas.

The Woman who brought

Columbus Museum of Art, Art Book Club Presents — TWWBMBFTD

Focusing on fiction and non-fiction books that feature art and artists as central story elements, each of these programs includes a presentation by Executive Director Nannette Maciejunes, followed by refreshments and casual group discussion. The Art Book Club is presented on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, four times annually. Admission is free for Museum members, $5 for nonmembers. Register here.

2015 Art Book Club Programs

 

The Woman Who Brought Matisse Back from the Dead by Alison Leslie Gold
Thursday, April 23, 2015 – 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Sunday, April 26, 2015 – 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

 

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