An Atelier Des Dames by Margaret B.
After years of patient endeavor, of hope deferred and heart oftentimes
made sick, Paletta found herself at last in Paris. Behind her were years
of anxious calculations and shabby economies, a chequered pathway of
brilliant ambitions and sombre discouragements. Before her was another
vista of several years of art-study in the great capital—a vista
arched, she could not but know, by as heavy clouds as had ever darkened
her path. Yet she felt, even although she could not see its end, that
the forward vista climbed ever upward toward glorious heights, upon
which the storms of despair never beat, and where she could more nearly
touch upon the divine ideals that ever elude the grasp of even the
loftiest of earth's climbers.
And thus she was content. Paletta was yet a little young, it must be
said, yet in that blessed youthfulness when the loins are girded with
the strength that reduces mountains to molehills and forces the Apollyon
of dismay to flee from out every dark valley.
Behold Paletta—twenty-three years of age, with a winy color upon her
lips, the faintest perceptible shadow of fading upon the roses of her
cheeks, a little anxious wrinkle between her earnest gray eyes, a slight
nasal twang in her New England voice, and a fresh flounce upon her old
black alpaca dress—the first morning of her experience in an atelier
des dames in Paris! She had come down the hill from her dark little
room on Montmartre, fancying that the gray December day was crystalline,
that the dingy Rue Germain Pillon—with its dirty gamins of both sexes
in cropped hair and blouses or white caps and black gowns, its frowsy
women slouching in doorways, its succession of odorous cuisines
bourgeoises, vile-smelling lavoirs, cheap fruit-shops and plebeian
crémeries, its slimy cobblestones, its gutters running not with
laughing waters, and sending up scents not of spicy isles ensphered
by sun-illumined seas—was a rainbow arch over which she passed with
airy tread toward the Krug studio. For had she not at last finished for
ever the detestable photograph-coloring which had been a daily
crucifixion of all her artistic feelings for years? Had she not at last
reached the Enchanted Land for which she had labored and pined for half
her life? Had she not clothes enough to last her with patient mendings
and persistent remakings for two years? Had she not a thousand dollars
at the Crédit Lyonnais? And did not that stately entrance before her
lead into a spacious courtyard, and that courtyard open upon the famous
Atelier des Dames, where, at the feet of celebrated masters of form
and color, she was to learn some of the mysteries of the art to which
she had vowed her life?
"JE VIEN ME PROPOSER COMME MODÈLE, MESDAMES."
Within the court, before the handsome building whose story after story
of immense north windows showed it to be a collection of artists'
studios, she found an interesting tableau vivant. A group of
chattering models came laughing across the sunny court. In one corner
loomed a huge square object surmounted by the conical crown of a
Tyrolean hat. Nothing else was visible except a pair of gaitered feet
mixed among the legs of a sketching-easel, making the whole seem some
queer phenomenal creature which science had not yet classified or named.
Before this phenomenon stood—or rather fidgeted—a beautiful Arabian
horse with flashing eyes, and limbs clean cut as if by Doric chisel in
marble of Pentelicus. This superb animal was held by two grooms, one at
his head, the other holding first one foot, then another, as the order
to pose the unwilling model fractionally in the attitude of a prancing,
curveting Bucephalus came from the square, five-legged, unnamed creature
in the corner.
"Ah!" thought Paletta as she followed her shadow over the sunny
pavement, "the famous animal-painter Jacques is behind that great square
canvas, I know, for I saw him there yesterday painting a struggling
The large room was closely packed with easels—so closely, indeed, that
an inadvertent motion of hand or foot often sent a wave of excitement
through the whole atelier. Heads of every color, from youthful flaxen to
venerable gray, were bent over their labors. Hecubas and Helens worked
side by side; maulsticks everywhere gave the scene the appearance of a
winter-denuded thicket; plaster hands, feet and torsos hung upon the
walls; bull-headed Nero swelled upon a shelf beside the mutilated Venus
which is a revelation of the glory that merely human beauty can attain without a gleam borrowed from the divine; fat Vitellius seemed to snore
open-eyed beside lean and wakeful Julius Cæsar; a mask of Medusa leaned
lovingly upon the shoulder of Dante; Apollo Belvedere smiled upon an
écorché—in atelier parlance "skun man;" finished and unfinished
studies of heads, bodies and detached sections of bodies hung from nails
in every possible and impossible place. Upon a slightly elevated
platform sat the model in his usual street-costume, with oily hair,
parted in the middle, falling in long waves upon his shoulders. A spiky
circle rested upon his brow, and upon his face was such a stupendous yet
futile effort after an expression of divine sweetness and resignation as
caused maulsticks to separate themselves every now and then from the
denuded thicket and to wabble vaguely about his mouth or play wildly in
his hair, accompanied by the commands, "Posez la bouche!" "Posez les
yeux!" or, in good American accents, accompanied with a sniff of wrath,
"Call him a good Christ? Umph! He'd pose better as a first-class
"THE BEST CHRIST IN PARIS."
The model's divine smile broadened suddenly into a very human grin.
"Do you understand English, monsieur?" demanded Miss New Haven
suspiciously, remembering the freedom with which the personal merits and
defects of the French and Italian models were usually discussed in their
presence in the Anglo-Saxon tongue.
"A leetle, mademoiselle: I have lived in Londres during two years."
"As artists' model?"
"Oui, mademoiselle. I have made the Jesuses, the St. Johns and the
Judases for the great English artists teel I have ennuied myself
"Because ze artists Anglaise are ze masters vairy difficile, not comme
les artists Français. Zey demand zat ze model pose during two hours sans
repose, and zey nevvair give of to drink to ze model."
"Did you return to Paris when you ennuied yourself so énormement?" asked
a yellow-haired English girl who had painted countless vaporous and
ravishing Eurydices and filmy Echoes from broad-waisted, pug-nosed
Cockney models, and who always declared that she would recognize a
"professional" even among the shining hosts of heaven.
"Non, mademoiselle. I rested at Londres to make la musique."
"Comme ça;" and the Italian made sundry rotary motions of the arm, as if
grinding an invisible hand-organ.
THE ELDER SWEDE AND ARAMINTA SHODDY.
"Did you earn more money with the music or as model?" asked Mademoiselle
Émilie, the girl-artist from Madrid, with black hair dyed golden, who
always swore by Murillo's Virgins, and who did her work dreamily, as if
the motions of her hands were timed to the languorous rhythm of some
far-off, daintily-touched guitar beneath vine-wreathed balcony and
"In Londres I gained more money as musician. In Angleterre zere is not
mooch love of ze Christ, ze St. John and ze Judas. It is not a Catholic
country, comme la France, and ze Anglaises aime bettaire ze gods of ze
old Greek hommes. In la France zey aime ze true religion, and I gain
mooch money, and am in ze Salon many times evairy year, because I am ze
best Christ in Paris."
A wail swept up from French, American, English, Swedish, Spanish,
Norwegian, Russian and West Indian bosoms.
"We'll embrace the religion and the gods of the old Greek hommes then,
or throw ourselves into the profoundest gulfs of infidelity, while we
remain in Paris," ejaculated Bostonia in a vigorous stage-aside.
"Have you a wife?" asked Madame Deschamps, a fashionable
"Oui, madame. Ma femme is Lucreza, whom you know. She has made
the nymphs and goddesses for a thousand pictures, but now she is
so much fat that the messieurs will have her only for the head, although
she still poses for the ensemble in the ateliers des dames."
Here the best Christ in Paris grinned satanically as a polyglot howl
went up from among the students.
"That's his tit for the tat of the 'Cheshire cat,'" laughed Madame
Lafarge, a French-American Corinne with an all-French moustache.
"We won't have Lucreza again if she is too fat to pose for the nude
except in a ladies' studio," snapped the elder Swede.
"Oh, I have forgotten to say zat she has upset ze pail since eight
days," chuckled the man.
"Upset the pail?" And twenty pairs of eyes looked full of
"Giggle! giggle! giggle!" came sputteringly from behind Concordia's
easel as she gasped, "Don't you understand? He has improved his English
among the Americans in Gérôme's studio, and he means she kicked the
bucket eight days ago."
"Quelle langue! quelle langue est la langue Américaine!" sniffed
the elder Swede, wiping off a brushful of "turps" in her back hair.
Paletta twisted her head so as to peer through the forest of easels at
the last speaker.
"What daubs she must make!" she thought, gazing at spectacled green
eyes and hay-colored hair à la Chinoise with her fixed idea that "an
artistic nature always wrought a semblance of its own beauty upon its
"What was the Greek religion?" questioned a girlish voice.
Paletta twisted her neck again. "What lovely ideals must blossom
upon her canvases!" she thought as she saw a fair vision of
rose-tints, creamy texture and sculptured lines ensphered in a halo of
"Who is that poor woman who has so mistaken her vocation?" she asked
with compassionate gesture toward the coiffure à la Chinoise.
"That? Oh, that's the celebrated Swedish artist, Miss Thingumbobbia, of
whom you have heard, of course. She returns to Stockholm next week to
paint the king's portrait. Mon Dieu! but I would give all my hair for
the genius of her little finger!" answered pretty Mademoiselle Hubert,
scraping her palette viciously, as if it were responsible for her
artistic inferiority to the gifted Thingumbobbia.
"O-o-o-h!" gasped Paletta. "But who is the sweet creature with golden
hair, who looks infused with fair ideals to her very finger-tips?"
AN AMIABLE MADONNA!
"She? Oh, she's Miss Araminta Shoddy from Michigan Avenue, Chicago, who
is finishing her education in Paris. She comes here twice a week for
drawing-lessons from the antique, and also in pursuit of general
information, I should think, judging from her questions. Only yesterday
she said, 'Ladies, who can tell me the costume of the Venus de Melos? I
have an idea that it would be stunning for my next fancy-dress ball!'"
"Ladies," cried Miss San Francisco, invisible among the easels, "has
Professor Manley given out the subject of our composition for next
"Yes," answered a dozen voices—"'The Flight into Egypt.'"
"Oh, Miss Shoddy, Miss Shoddy, will you pose for my Virgin Mother?"
cried another dozen.
THE MORNING LESSON.
"Oh, Mees Shoddy, if you will pose for my Madonna I will pose for
yours," echoed the Raphaelesque Thingumbobbia.
"HE'S GONE, GIRLS!"
Just before noon the forest of easels swayed slightly beneath a breeze
of excitement. A masculine step was heard at the door. The model's
expression became if not divine, at least superhuman. The ladies ceased
their chatter, and plied their brushes and crayons with increased
diligence. The morning professor entered, and passed from easel to
easel, commending this, criticising that, rebuking something else,
making a few touches of the brush upon several canvases, crossing others
with a network of charcoal-lines to prove inaccuracy of drawing,
distributed très biens and pas mals judiciously, and then with a
pleasant "Bon jour, mesdames," passed away, leaving behind him about an
equal measure of delight and dismay.
"H-E-A-VENLY CHEESE FOR A FRANC A POUND?"
"I hope his bed-clothes will always come up at the foot!" growled
Austina, whose canvas looked like a map of a humming-bird's flight done
"Let's all subscribe and buy The Angel a bouquet for Christmas," gushed
enthusiastically the British blonde Godsalina, upon whom one of the pas
mals had fallen, and who had the true faith of her nation in the
efficacy of "tips" for sovereign or beggar.
"JE SUIS À VOUS."
Then the model stretched his legs, returned to his normal and carnal
expression of countenance, and disappeared to return no more till the
morrow, leaving the platform vacant awaiting the nude female model who
was engaged for the afternoon. The atelier was abandoned to Sophie, the
femme de ménage, who stirred the fires, gathered stray brushes from
the floor, changed the background drapery for the afternoon model,
rearranged the easels into afternoon position, and brought out glasses
and plates for the ladies, who lunched in the anteroom. And then a
looker-on in a Parisian atelier des dames would readily have understood
the words, "He's gone, girls!" even were that looker-on deafer than the
deafest old woman who ever mistook a thunder-clap for one of her lord's
champion snores. In the anteroom conversation ran during lunch in
various channels. Some of the ladies discussed the ever-absorbing topic
of the price of living, and boasted of marvellous exploits in the way of
economy. Other and fewer students, to whom money was as the dust upon
the bust of Pallas over the studio-door, talked of the last "first
representations" at the Français, of Croisette's rapidly amplifying
figure, of Sarah Bernhardt's unnecessary immodesty in dressing Racine's
Andromaque, of the Grant reception at Healy's, of Lefevre's slipperiness
of texture, of the lack of the true sentiment of piety in Bouguereau's
religious pictures, of the harum-scarum amusements among the Americans
at Bonnât's atelier, and the latest gossip of the private studios.
"Want to know where you can buy just h-e-a-venly cheese for a franc a
pound?" mumbles young Madame New Jersey with her mouth full of Gruyère.
"Where?" from several excited listeners.
"Over in the Latin Quarter, close by the Rue Jacob Brasserie, where so
many American students hold daily symposia."
"I'll go and buy a quarter of a pound this very evening," said Miss
"I too! I too! et moi aussi!" cried others of the many who lived à la
Bohémienne in lofty mansards of maisons meublées, dining at cheap
restaurants, breakfasting by aid of spirit-lamps from corners of
dressing-tables and lunching on charcuterie in the anteroom of the
Krug studio, searching high and low for "cheapness" as for a pearl of
"And pay twelve sous for your omnibus fare!" cried the practical little
Illinois maiden, Dixonia.
"Je suis à vous, mesdames," said the favorite model, Alphonse, at the
"Alas, sweet Adonis! we have engaged our people for the next three
"And I am desolé, mesdames, that you have not want of me;" and the
graceful Alphonse melted away like a snow-wreath in a south wind.
At one o'clock came the sallow Frenchwoman, with the face of a Gorgon
and the figure of a Juno, who posed for the ensemble. She stood
against the dark crimson background, outlined pure and white like a
marvel of Phidian sculpture upon which the Spirit of Life had slightly
breathed. So still, so white, so coldly, purely statuesque she seemed,
that one sometimes entirely forgot that she was else than the fair
statue born from the block of marble at the command of a divine genius,
till the chiselled arms were seen to quiver and the sculptured knees to
almost bend. Then a reproachful cry ran through the atelier: "Shame!
shame! We have forgotten that she was a woman and not a statue, and
have kept her posing two hours without a repose."
"How much do you earn by this wearisome business?" asked Paletta
pityingly as the tired model, wrapped in a threadbare waterproof,
cowered over the stove during "the repose."
"If I pose for a half day of each week like this in an atelier des
dames, I earn twenty-five francs a week, but what I earn by posing for
artists in private studios depends much upon chance. Sometimes I am
needed only for a leg or arm or bust, or even hand: then I earn less of
course, for it makes broken hours. I would demand much more from the
ateliers des dames had I a handsome face, but always my ensemble is
painted with the head of a prettier model where there is any purpose of
using me in a picture."
"Do you become often as fatigued as you are now?" continued Paletta.
"Often more so. I have posed for nearly an hour upon one foot with
extended arms in a dance of bacchantes, till I have fainted. Oftentimes
I am kept in a running position upon one foot, with the other far behind
me, in Atalanta's race; sometimes suspended by cords from the ceiling,
with arms and legs in horribly uncomfortable positions, till everything
seems to spin before me."
"Do you dislike to pose for male artists?" asked Paletta.
"Dislike? Why should I with so fine a figure as this?" answered the
woman, throwing off her cloak to resume her pose. "I'd like it better if
I had a handsome face, but I'd like it much worse if I had flabby flesh
or buniony feet."
Paletta saw that no question of modesty entered the model's mind, and
she went back to her easel to paint the rounded limbs and marble
huelessness of fair Dian, chastest of all Olympia's deities, wondering
if, after all, what is called modesty does not come as much of habit as
of nature—if the veiled face of the Oriental is not as immodest as the
unclothedness of the artist's model.
Margaret B. Wright.