Ébauche, Esquisse, Étude, Tableau
by Nuala O’Connor
Mademoiselle Amélie Noellie Parayre sits beside me at this dull Paris wedding. She’s cadaver-pale, serious in the eyes. At the cold press of her fingers, I’m seduced. I see her already in my yellow chair, draped in red, purple tulips at her elbow, myself at the easel. I see her under me in bed.
‘Monsieur?’ she says; I realise we have not yet spoken.
‘Mademoiselle,’ I say, ‘you’re hired.’
She laughs. ‘For what, sir?’
I hold out my hand and Amélie’s head dips, quick as an oystercatcher, and the touch of her lips on my soiled skin sends a thud to my groin.
She lifts her eyes. ‘I accept, Monsieur Matisse.’
Amélie won’t pose nude; she’s damnably irritating. She calls me fauve – wildcat – because I urge rather than cajole; she remains immoveable and I sulk.
‘Why did you come?’ I say.
‘To sit for you.’
‘Oui. The first man to see me as I was born will be my husband.’
‘Well, then,’ I say, ‘we’ll have to marry.’
She nods and sits into the yellow chair as if she has sat there all her life. I prepare my palette.
‘Remove that wretched hat. Where did you get it?’
‘I made it, Monsieur.’
She leaves the hat on. I begin.
Amélie brings a large dowry and a bowl of goldfish to our marriage. We name the fish after favourite painters: Moreau, Poussin, Manet. I name the spry, sallow one Parayre and Amélie pretends to be irked.
‘Really, Henri, not even the prettiest fish!’
At last I’m permitted to see her beauty: long, milky, darkly tufted in the right places. I make studies of her on our London honeymoon, crumpled on a hotel chair, after hours of caresses. I paint her in Corsica, a standing nude in sunlight, nipples plump as damsons. I sketch her in her native Beauzelle, reading to her father, who listens as if Amélie’s is the only voice in the world. She becomes monumental to me. Addictive.
Amélie manages home, work, life, so I can keep my painting pure. I saturate my canvases with ultramarine, scarlet, saffron. I’m violently sensitive to these hues, they control and steer me, colour as sensual source. I turn to the body of my wife to express my fervent, religious love for life.
Amélie and I, we live, we love. I paint. We grow, we change, we love.
All of this comes before Amélie’s hat shop. Before our two boy-babies. Before the financial ruin of my parents-in-law. Before Lydia of Siberia tries to shoot herself when I choose my wife over her. Before Nice and the sea. Before doves replace goldfish. Before Amélie breaks inside, leaves me. Before Lydia takes Amélie’s place.
But for now, for now, I gaze at my wife, relaxing in our yellow chair, luminous, capable, fixed. And I lift my eyes heavenward and thank my gods for sending to love me, among all men, an incomparable woman, Amélie Noellie Parayre.
Odalisque with the Red Coat by Henri Matisse (1937), via @lonequixote.