The Substance and the Shadow
The Substance and the Shadow
Paul SmithIn 1878, the author Marius Roux, a noted friend of Emile Zola and Paul Cézanne, published La proie et l’ombre, a little-known roman à clef featuring a thinly disguised Cézanne as the main character, Germain Rambert. The text prominently features several conversations drawn from famous Impressionist discussions on the nature of art. La proie et l’ombre offers a unique insight into the thoughts and lives of the Impressionists. Cézanne scholar Paul Smith has resurrected this all-but-forgotten novel, recognizing its value in expanding our understanding of the Impressionists’ world in general and Cézanne’s in particular.
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This translation, titled The Substance and the Shadow, also brings to the foreground the effects of a burgeoning capitalist economy on the artistic practices of the period. With changes in the Salon and the dealer system, art in France was no longer reserved for the privileged few, and artists increasingly found themselves attempting to appeal to the merchant classes. Art had become a commercial endeavor in ways never before imagined, and the story details Rambert’s—and, by extension, Cézanne’s—attempts to cope with the shift.
In a substantial introductory essay, Paul Smith discusses the nature of the roman à clef and its use as a historical document, and provides an examination of the relationship between Roux’s characters and their real-life counterparts.
Paul Smith is Professor of Art History at the University of Warwick England. He is the author of Seurat and the Avant- Garde (1997), Interpreting Cézanne (1996), and Impressionism: Beneath the Surface (1995). He is also the editor of the anthology Seurat: Re-Viewed (forthcoming, Penn State Press).
The Substance and the Shadow
This world is full of shadow-chasers, / Most easily deceived. / Should I enumerate these racers, / I should not be believed. / I send them all to Aesop’s dog, / Which, crossing water on a log, / Espied the meat he bore, below; / To seize its image, let it go; / Plunged in; to reach the shore was glad, / With neither what he hoped, nor what he’d had.
—La Fontaine, The Substance and the Shadow
the commodity reflects . . . the social relation of the producers to the sum total of labor as a social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers. Through this substitution, the products of labor become commodities, sensuous things which are at the same time supersensible or social. . . . the commodity-form . . . is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves that assumes here, for them, the phantasmagorical form of a relation between things. This I call the fetishism which attaches itself to . . . commodities.
According to its title page, La proie et l’ombre was published in 1878. The novel quickly fell into obscurity, however, sharing the same fate as Roux’s other works, and along with them, the author himself. Most of what else is known about the novel survives, paradoxically enough, from its association with more famous names. It appears to have been published in early April, since it was reviewed by Joris-Karl Huysmans in the Brussels-based periodical L’artiste on the 20th of the month (and slightly earlier by an anonymous reviewer in Le rappel). Stéphane Mallarmé also responded to Roux’s gift of a copy in a letter of 30 April. The copy Roux sent to the book’s dedicatee, Flaubert, also survives, and contains a profuse inscription supplementing the elaborate printed dedication, which indicates that the novel was completed in August 1876. It is also possible that Frédéric Mistral read the book, as one of the few extant sources on Roux are letters he wrote to the poet, which indicate he sent the older man his publications. La proie et l’ombre was also mentioned in a review of the fourth Impressionist exhibition published in the Petit journal in April 1879; but because Roux worked for this journal, it is likely that the author himself, or one of his colleagues, wrote the puff.
The only further trace left by the novel are two cryptic remarks Cézanne addressed to Roux in a draft letter composed some time in 1878 or 1879, in which he implores: “I hope you will be able to separate my humble persona of an Impressionist painter from the man, and that you will only want to remember your old friend,” adding, “I call on you, not as the author of The Shadow and the Substance, but as the child of Aix-en-Provence, under whose sun I too first saw the light of day.” These remarks nevertheless testify to the main interest of the novel, which is that La proie et l’ombre presents an image of Cézanne—in its central character, Germain Rambert—that the painter recognized, but that he was also keen to repudiate.
Roux was able to do this because, in addition to being Zola’s oldest and intimate friend, his earliest collaborator, and a stalwart of Zola’s “jeudis” and “mardis” gatherings, and other reunions involving the novelist, Roux acted as a go-between between Zola and Cézanne in the 1860s, becoming the painter’s “companion,” until their acrimonious break up around 1871. During their friendship, however, Roux was Cézanne’s first (rather grudging) critic, and the sponsor of the artist’s first “exhibition,” which comprised one painting placed, briefly, in the window of a Marseilles art dealer. Roux’s novel is vital, therefore, not just to an understanding of what Cézanne did in the 1860s and early 1870s (the period it treats), but, in virtue of its characterization of these events, to any appreciation of what Cézanne’s subsequent practice was intended to repudiate.
La proie et l’ombre may also illuminate the factual basis, and sources, of Zola’s own novel “about” Cézanne: L’oeuvre, which was first published in feuilleton in 1885—some seven years after Roux’s text. And although there is no mention whatsoever of La proie et l’ombre in any of Zola’s literary remains, it is inconceivable that he did not know it. An indication of a debt to Roux may perhaps have slipped out nevertheless in Ernest Vizetelly’s preface to his translation of L’oeuvre, in which he describes his friend’s “Cézanne”—Claude Lantier—as “like the dog in the fable that forsakes the substance for the shadow.”
In many respects, although not all, and although the action is set between 1871 and 1874, Germain is clearly modeled on the Cézanne Roux knew before they fell out around 1871, and whose public persona can be identified with his Self-Portrait of c. 1866. Germain hails from a small town in Provence, Aigues-les-Tours, which is conspicuously similar to Cézanne’s native Aix-en-Provence. Here resides his domineering father, who is reminiscent of Cézanne’s. And as Cézanne did around 1860, Germain has abandoned law to live and work as a painter in Paris, where, like his real counterpart, he installs himself in a series of studios situated on the Left Bank.
In Paris, Germain becomes an habitué of the Restaurant Bruno, the haunt of the “École des Batignolles,” and the “Impressionists” or “Intransigents,” which is clearly modeled on the café Guerbois, which Cézanne and his Impressionist colleagues frequented from around 1866, where they formed a self-conscious group, although they mixed with several writers and other artists. It even has a back room in which the painters and their associates gather, like the Guerbois. Here Germain joins in the Brunos’ lively polemics against the art establishment, and their plans to launch an independent exhibition. Indeed, Germain is highly voluble, as was Cézanne when roused, and like him readily defends an aesthetic of “temperament” and “strength.” But rather as with Cézanne, Germain’s imposture only barely masks the “impotence” and “doubt” that sabotage his every painting.
Roux’s Germain is also an unscrupulous egoist whose headlong pursuit of easy money causes him to end his days “a ruined man.” Like the dog in La Fontaine’s fable, “The Substance and the Shadow,” which drops the food in its jaws in the attempt to seize its more enticing reflection, Germain falls foul of the delusions of avarice. To make sure the reader gets the allusion, Roux makes the rationale of his title explicit in one highly contrived scene early in the novel, in which Germain’s devoted mistress, Caroline Duhamel, takes an evening walk with her lover’s brother, Philippe—a painter on a scholarship from Aigues to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and compete for the Prix de Rome. Philippe points out how the city skyline near the Pont des Arts with the risen moon above looks like a “magic-lantern show” featuring a giant dog holding a cheese in its jaws. Initially, Caroline’s only reaction is to look pensive; but when Philippe points out the effect to Germain, who joins them at this point, she responds by pointing to the reflection in the water, and says: “I hope . . . that the great brute doesn’t give up the substance for the shadow!” Caroline, in other words, warns her feckless lover not to forsake her and an honest career—of the kind that Philippe is carving out at the École—for more chimerical rewards. But Germain abandons Caroline all the same (when she is just about to go into labor!) for a rich widow, Ernestine Mazouillet. Roux’s point is, then, that Germain pursues satisfaction in the form of money instead of seeking it in natural emotional bonds, or hard work.
Even Germain’s dealings with Ernestine evince his complete and unnatural subjugation to money. Although he feels strongly attracted to her physically, it is the prospect that her wealth will resurrect his career as a painter that decides him to seduce her. So, for instance, when Germain thinks that Ernestine will receive only twenty-five thousand francs from her deceased husband’s estate, he makes up his mind to call off their impending wedding—until he realizes that she has other assets that bring her fortune to forty-thousand francs. Unsurprisingly, their relationship fails, as does Germain’s ambition to use Ernestine’s money to promote his artistic ambitions. Despite setting himself up in a sumptuous atelier, Germain attracts no clients; and after an abortive attempt to master photography, he is forced to collaborate with Ernestine in a series of shop-keeping ventures, all of which turn sour (not least because Germain insists on keeping jealous guard over his wife when any customers are present). In a last-gasp bid to set things right, Ernestine buys the business at the Restaurant Bruno; but in the face of Germain’s continuing dissipation, she elopes with the visiting wine merchant, Calixte, her childhood sweetheart. As the narrative draws to a close, Germain is rumored, understandably enough, to have committed suicide; but in the last two pages Philippe stumbles upon his brother lurking, completely deranged, in the shadows near the Louvre and the Pont des Arts.
Germain’s “unnatural” and compulsive attachment to money emerges again and again in the novel. Germain even resorts to suing his own father, when, on the eve of his marriage to the young family maid, Annette, the old man threatens to withdraw his son’s allowance. Worse still, when Rambert père eventually settles seven thousand francs on his two children to be shared equally (despite having eminently fulfilled his paternal obligations), Germain pockets the whole amount.
Clearly, Roux’s novel is an attempt to bring La Fontaine’s allegory up to date with the capitalist world: it draws the analogy between Germain and La Fontaine’s dog, in other words, in order to represent the artist as an opportunist complicit with a laissez-faire economy that creates an alluring but devastating image, or phantom, of personal satisfaction in the form of wealth. This last point can be appreciated better when it is realized that La Fontaine is not mistaken in using the French word “ombre” (shadow) to mean “reflection,” but he does so because his model, Phaedrus’s collection of Aesop fables, uses the Latin term “simulacrum” (meaning apparition, shade, or ghost), a synonym of umbra (or shadow), to describe the “alienum” (other) that the dog sees in the “speculum” (mirror) of the water. (Cézanne, an admirer of La Fontaine, and an assiduous Latinist, would surely have known this.) It would seem, then, that Roux is struggling to describe Germain’s embroilment in a world of illusion, in which an excessive and exclusive love of money cuts him off from every source of real, embodied happiness, and eventually renders him a mere shadow of himself. It is perhaps only a coincidence that Marx draws on similar, “spectral” imagery to describe the closely related phenomenon of commodity fetishism with the term “phantasmagoria” (referring to the insubstantial ghostly images projected by magic lanterns, which enjoyed a vogue in the first half of the century). But although no Marxist, Roux can nevertheless fairly be credited with holding views that were critical of something he specifically identified as capitalism, since—among other things—he produced a humorous but devastating critique of speculation and fraud in his novel of 1879, La poche des autres, which describes a conspiracy to sell shares in a nonexistent company executed by the directors of the journal La gazette des petits capitalistes.
The Roman à Clef
Of these two sides to Germain—artist and money-grubber—it may seem that only the first is relevant to an understanding of Cézanne. But the great interest of Roux’s novel lies precisely in the connection it makes between both aspects of Germain’s character and Cézanne’s.
Fiction and Fact
Cézanne’s response to La proie et l’ombre, like his response to Zola’s L’oeuvre, shows that novels like these could be seen to refer to real events and characters. Its other readers also reacted to La proie et l’ombre as if it were a roman à clef. It is clear from Mallarmé’s response, for example, that he thought it contained coded representations of real events and characters that were meant to be read as such by an informed section of its intended audience, which was used to deciphering novels in this way. Thus he chided Roux in his letter of 30 April 1878 (that he sent in response to receiving the book) for treating “the Impressionists (of whom some are miraculously gifted beings, who have found their way belatedly after many struggles) [as] a band apart, extravagant and stupid.” Similarly, Huysmans declared in his review of the book, published in L’artiste on 20 April 1878, that he did not share Roux’s view that “the Impressionist painters” were “impotent buffoons.” The anonymous reviewer of Le rappel also recognized that La proie et l’ombre treated “the world . . . from which the Impressionist have sprung.” To some considerable extent, therefore, La proie et l’ombre follows an established literary convention in alluding to real people, even if most failed to recognize, or state, that it was primarily concerned with the persona Cézanne adopted in his early career. More particularly, it was one of several books published at the time that took the Impressionists and their milieu as their overt, and sometimes recognizable subject matter, the most notable of which was Philippe Burty’s novel of 1880, Grave imprudence, which describes pictures closely comparable to the works of Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, and Degas, some of which are clearly modeled on specific paintings.
Like Grave imprudence, Roux’s novel does more than present real events and characters in the guise of fiction, as did several romans à clefs of the 1880s and 1890s representing literary and artistic circles (and which sometimes signaled duplicity by employing the parenthetical subtitle roman parisien, or roman contemporaine). In this respect, it is more complex and elusive than, for example, the archetype of these later novels: Félicien Champsaur’s scurrilous Dinah Samuel of 1882. This novel identifies the real people represented by its characters through transparent cryptonyms, or descriptions of their telltale physical and behavioral idiosyncrasies, while also cannibalizing “chroniques” that Champsaur published elsewhere. Some passages of La proie et l’ombre do have the feel of reportage, yet fact cannot be extracted straightforwardly even from these. Roux’s novel is also equivocal because it harks back to an earlier tradition of atelier novels (particularly the Goncourt brothers’ Manette Salomon of 1867), which are more concerned with treating aesthetic and philosophical themes of general interest than they are with representing specific individuals and their foibles. It is, in addition, a plainly caricatural text in many places, Germain being an especially hyperbolic character. Germain also possesses characteristics that Cézanne does not, since Roux’s text combines several real identities in the one character at the same time as it distributes the characteristics of the same individual among several characters. It also toys with the locations and chronology of real events. Roux thus builds an imaginary world at the same time as it records fact, weaving both together into one cloth. It could even be said that he creates a “world” of sorts, within which things seem coherently organized like they are in the real world, but that is actually its own to a considerable degree.
The same is true of Zola’s L’oeuvre. Hence, even though its many similarities with La proie et l’ombre could seem to corroborate the factual basis of Roux’s text (in the events of Cézanne’s life), they could equally well indicate its dependency on his friend’s novel, or their common dependency on earlier atelier novels. Novels like Zola’s and Roux’s do draw upon fact, in other words, but not in ways that allow any algorithms capable of extracting fact from fiction to be applied to them. Perhaps, then, the technique of relating this kind of text to the real, historical world is best compared to dream analysis, inasmuch as both involve tracing displaced, condensed, and revised contents to their source in reality on the basis of an arduous, and necessarily tentative, process of reconstruction.
The interest of art-novels does not reside solely in how they follow from fact, however. Rather, a large part of their significance comes from how they help shape and constitute the world they represent. Art-novels, for instance, contribute to the discursive field that makes artistic practice possible, in some aspects at least, only in certain forms. In particular, literature of this sort supplies a repertoire of roles for artists that entail particular career trajectories and aesthetic and moral values. Cézanne himself certainly identified closely with at least two of these. In the first place, he aspired in 1859 to living a “bohemian life” in the manner of Murger’s illustrious clichés, and he even admitted in later life to having been a “bohemian” until he was forty. Very likely, then, he identified with the “bohemian,” Anatole, in Manette Salomon. Cézanne also saw himself as a raté in the mode of—among others—Frenhofer, the solipsistic visionary in Balzac’s story of 1831, “Le chef d’oeuvre inconnu,” and Naz Coriolis, the painter in Manette Salomon ruined by his own sensitivity to color and what is portrayed as his wife’s venality. Zola actually spoke of Cézanne as a “raté” in later life, and used the word to characterize Claude Lantier. At the very least, then, Cézanne must have often felt that the fate of the raté beckoned strongly to him.
The intertwining of literature and life is more complex still, since recognizable literary representations of individual artists can strongly affect those they portray—as is evident from Cézanne’s response to Roux’s and Zola’s novels “about” him. Also among such works is Duranty’s story “Le peintre Marsabiel” of 1867, which portrayed the “temperamental,” coarse, and specifically Provençal persona Cézanne presented in public in the early and mid-1860s—as part of his calculated attempt to become the enfant terrible of the avant-garde. In Duranty’s story, for example, Marsabiel/Cézanne declares: “‘I have realized that paintings are made with temperament (he pronounced it ‘damnbéramminnte’) rather than brushes.’” Marsabiel also declares: “‘Nature is bourgeois! I give it temperament!’”
More significant than the fact that Duranty (only mildly) caricatured Cézanne is that by bothering to do so he effectively supported what can only be interpreted as the painter’s deliberate campaign of self-promotion. Strong evidence for this conclusion comes in a letter of 1868 from Fortuné Marion to the German musician Heinrich Morstatt, which describes Cézanne’s tactics with regard to the Salon. Marion states that although Cézanne’s “name is already too well known, and too many revolutionary ideas in art are connected with him for the painters on the jury to waver for a moment” (that is, accept him), he nevertheless retains his “persistence and nerve,” and has even vowed that “they will be fucked like that for all eternity with all the more persistence” (in other words, that he would continue to bait the jury). Marion thus also adds sagely: “For all that, he ought to think about finding a different and all altogether finer means of getting publicity.”
What also suggests that Cézanne positively appreciated Duranty’s story is that he played up to its caricatural image, vaunting his individualism and eccentricity, as if in emulation of Marsabiel. He continued to employ, for example, the same tactics with respect to the Salon in 1868, 1869 (probably), 1870, 1876, and 1879 that originally won Duranty’s attention. (And no doubt such behavior made it all the easier for Duranty to republish his Marsabiel story four times.) On the occasion of the rejection of his Portrait of Achille Emperaire and a lost nude from the Salon of 1870, when he again turned up on the last day for submitting paintings, Cézanne even gave an interview to the caricaturist Stock outside the Palais de l’Industrie recorded in a portrait-charge (or affectionate caricature), which shows he continued to act like Marsabiel, drawing attention to himself by his strong southern accent, his sartorial idiosyncrasy, and with the impassioned profession: “The others [Courbet, Manet, Monet] feel and see as I do, but they have no courage. They paint pictures for the Salon. . . . I have the courage of my convictions, and he who laughs last, laughs best.” Cézanne was not just joking here, since he obtained multiple copies of Stock’s image to show to his friends—as is clear from a letter of 7 June 1870 to the Aixois artisan, Justin Gabet, in which Cézanne tells his friend that he might obtain one from his uncle.
The rationale behind Cézanne’s irrational behavior was more complex, and specific, however, than that of publicity-seeking. It springs from the fact that, in the market of the midcentury onward, the exchange value of a work of modern French art was increasingly becoming tagged to (what passed for) the artist’s “temperament.” Cézanne’s vaunting of his own temperament can therefore be seen as an attempt to manipulate the price his art could fetch on the market—if not with an eye to immediate success, then with a view to the “futures” market. Emulating Marsabiel was thus a risky, but potentially very lucrative, ploy within a broader commercial strategy.
This picture of Cézanne as a painter motivated by financial gain is certainly unfamiliar; but evidence for seeing things this way occurs in early letters from Zola to his friend, which indicate that Cézanne did indeed embark on his career as a painter with the aim of achieving commercial success. In the first of these, a letter of April 1860, Zola warns Cézanne against the “disaster” of “commerce” and “commercial painting,” even while purporting to believe that Cézanne “dream[s] . . . of making art and not engaging in commerce.” A measure of urgency can be detected in Zola’s admonitions in his next letter (of the same month), since he warns Cézanne three times against “commercial painting.” But most revealing of all is the letter Zola sent Cézanne in August 1860, in which he not only warns his friend against the example of the popular novelist and “businessman,” Ponson du Terrail, but also urges him: “Do not think of money, and do not let this thought obstruct that of art.” Zola even tells Cézanne that the artist “must not prostitute art,” words that, although those of their mutual friend, Baptistin Baille, nonetheless indicate the author’s own unease about the probity of his friend’s ambitions. Indeed, only slightly later, Zola told Baille in a letter of the end of June or the beginning of July 1861 that Cézanne “would like to succeed . . . despite the somewhat affected contempt in which he holds glory.”
Cézanne, of course, responded with anything but enthusiasm to Roux’s portrayal of his earlier venal and temperamental character, since by 1878 the painter had changed radically. Roux’s novel nevertheless left a lasting impression and shaped the Cézanne that emerged in the following years.
“Substance” and “Shadow”
A further difficulty (of a very different kind from the last) entailed by regarding La proie et l’ombre as an account of Cézanne’s embroilment in capitalism is that for all that Roux does describe what the effects of capitalism are like for artists like Germain, he tends to spiral away from any causal explanation of how capitalism works into the circularity of an ad hominem, moralizing invective. Notwithstanding, Roux clearly struggled to make sense of what he could not entirely grasp (from within “bourgeois” ideology), and his real concern can thus fairly be identified with the problem of how money seems possessed under capitalism, once this is sufficiently ubiquitous, of a particular but mysterious power in consequence of its de facto ability to put a price on everything. Of course, countless stories, some of them premodern, describe the ruinous fascination money has exerted. But Roux’s account points to something new and distinctive about the kind of allure that money could exert under mature capitalism: not only that it promised comfort, power, and social status, to an unprecedented extent because of its universal reach, but also that its blandishments were illusory, and destructive as a consequence. Put another way, what Roux strains to analyze is what Georg Lukács analyzes as the qualitative change in human experience brought about when capitalism reaches a point of quantitative maturity, when it can remold life “in its own image” by subjugating consciousness to a “second nature,” or an ersatz world, in which human nature, human relationships with the natural world, and the social relationships these would otherwise foster all become corrupted.
Roux is certainly perceptive enough to make Germain do serious allegorical duty, and not only does he behave with an uncanny resemblance to La Fontaine’s dog but also to the alienated subject of Marxist analysis. As will emerge, Germain’s love of money is blind and irrational, as if money were something magical that must be had at all costs. He also regards his own creativity merely as a means of making money, thus making it almost into a reified “thing” that exists beyond his control, like a commodity cast adrift in the marketplace. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, Germain becomes a mere commodity himself. He even exchanges a cooperative relationship with his fellows for a bitterly competitive antagonism against them. What is more, Germain thinks he finds the “answer” to his existential and social impoverishment in a fetishized attachment to commodities and the abstract representation of their fetish value, money. His solace, of course, is only a phantom: a mere “shadow” (to use La Fontaine’s words) of real life, or (to draw on Marx) a “phantasmagoria,” or ghastly shadow world that lures the subject away from the satisfaction of real, embodied existence with disastrous consequences.
Cézanne, Germain, and the Alienation of Artistic Creativity
Germain’s imaginary slide into alienation corresponds closely in many respects to aspects of Cézanne’s actual practice, and arguably illuminates it. Most obvious perhaps, Germain’s venal and alienated relationship to his own “temperament” seems to provide a model for explaining Cézanne’s, who evidently did regard his “temperament” as a commodity, too.
Roux establishes the framework for his treatment of Germain’s relationship to his own “temperament” by making it clear from the outset that his fantasies of financial success come to supplant any intrinsic interest painting has for him. Very early in the novel, for example, it is established that Germain dreams of making a splash at the Salon with a “bombshell” of a painting, and soon afterward, Roux details the painter’s whimsy over the “Glory” he enjoys from this success. Later, describing Germain’s memories on the train back to Paris from Aix, he reveals how the painter had come to Paris ten years before to achieve “glory,” and was still gripped by a fantasy of the world at his feet, believing now that he would achieve “glory” through the independents’ exhibition. Most tellingly of all, Roux exposes how Germain’s fatuousness was well known within the world of the novel: the hapless Monsieur (Amédée) Mazouillet, for instance, plays up to Germain while in Paris by telling him how he had attached “glory” to his name in an article in the Mémorial d’Aigues-les-Tours, mentioning his role in the Impressionist Société de peinture. All in all then, Germain’s practice is almost entirely devoted to satisfying his lust for glory; and his professions of following his “temperament” (and the like) are almost entirely empty, being at best inextricable from venal ambitions of the kind Zola associated with Cézanne’s own quest for commercial success.
The Color of Money
Roux begins his demolition of Germain’s aesthetic impostures, or his exposé of Germain’s venality, on the second page of the novel, in an episode describing a conversation about a small landscape sketch he makes while staying at an inn in Marlotte, near Fontainebleau. Roux’s protagonist here is Caroline, who articulates the (authorial) voice of reason throughout. She first suggests something is amiss with Germain’s claims when she says she cannot “feel” the “impression” he says the painting expresses. Since the term “impression” (which, is closely related to “sensation,” meaning “sensation” or “feeling”) is meant to refer to sincerely felt experiences, Caroline’s comment strongly suggests that Germain’s work is insincere, or forced. Caroline also dismisses the resemblances between Germain’s work and Epinal and Japanese prints, which might otherwise be taken as signs of naïveté or sincerity, simply as signs of incompetence. Having sewn the seeds of doubt about Germain’s sincerity, Roux then equates his practice with commercial ambition in a slightly later episode, in which Germain shows his painting to “the master,” a “prince among landscape painters,” who presides over the painters at the inn in Marlotte. Evidently a sincere artist with a genuine feeling for nature, the “master” sees through Germain immediately, asking him if it is his wish “to pass down to posterity” that makes him sign his work “Germanicus Rambërr.” That is, it is clear to the master that Germain has pretensions to making a name for himself that are inconsistent with proper artistic motives. Taken together with an authorial aside following on the heels of this exchange, to the effect that Germain “had not felt” the painting, it is only too clear that Germain is prepared to fake his art for success.
To further undermine Germain’s credibility as a sincere artist with a feeling for nature, Roux contrasts the deep affection that Caroline displays for the forest of Fontainebleau upon the couple’s departure for Paris, with Germain’s complete insensitivity toward it. Hence, as their train enters the forest, not only does Caroline force herself to close her eyes in a poignant attempt to “forget” the two huge oaks, “Velázsquez” and “Murillo,” standing by the chemin de la Gorge-aux-Loups, but she curls up in a corner of the carriage “to escape the various impressions along the road, sown with so many happy memories”—and even whispers, “Farewell” to the Fourceau rock as she passes it. Germain, on the other hand, is completely oblivious both to Caroline’s emotions and to their object. So, as she suffers, he indulges in a solipsistic diatribe against the second-rate, “official ‘machine’” art originating from the nearby castle of Fontainebleau. A little later, while Caroline smiles in sympathy with “the gaiety of the greenery,” Germain is “seduced by the color,” imagines a tableau in green, a sublime green.” By analogy with Duranty’s Marsabiel, who used “a trowel of green” in the belief that “a kilogram of green was greener than an ounce of the same color,” Roux implies that Germain’s fondness for green has nothing to do with sensations of nature at all, but is rather the affected enthusiasm of a persona that he must present in public as “temperamental.” That Cézanne did make large paintings in the Fontainebleau region in 1866, perhaps in Roux’s presence, may be some indication that Roux’s remarks reflect the spirit in which the real artist envisaged his early landscapes.
Roux casts doubt once more on Germain’s love of the motif for itself in a passage recounting his dreams of making a picture of the Parisian quais. Although this begins with Germain declaring, during a cab ride along the quai, “Ah! What a beautiful subject!” the painter goes on to make twenty imaginary “masterpieces” between the Pont de Bercy and the Pont des Saints-Pères, and then to entertain more venal fantasies, in which he imagines himself as a successful, decorated painter. Roux, in other words, suggests that Germain paints for success, or for money. And again, Germain’s ambitions may very well represent ambitions that Cézanne cherished himself.
Germain sees in one quai motif “subtleties of color that he had no way of rendering.” His experience has a close parallel in the experience of the painter Brissot, in Burty’s Grave imprudence, who comes across a superb view from Bercy toward Notre-Dame while promenading “as a Parisian flâneur,” and in which the metropolis offers itself up “through color and line” as “the city unique in slenderness and strength, in ideals and resources.” Brissot, that is, like Germain, sees Paris in a surface of sensations of color as a place whose logic is that of the commerce. What this suggests is that some artists—including perhaps Cézanne—were attempting to effect an accommodation between sensation and the visual ideology of capitalism. But while the individualism so central to Impressionist aesthetics can easily be likened to laissez-faire ideology, there is nevertheless a profound and ineluctable contradiction between embodied delight in the real physical world of color and fantasies of satisfaction in the shadow world of phantasmagoria. This may explain why the colors Germain sought eluded him, so that “his brush no longer put black on top of blue; his brush ‘spewed the color onto the canvas.’” It may also explain the somewhat flashy, or superficial, quality of color in Cézanne’s Quai de Bercy, which (although likely a copy of a painting by Guillaumin) arguably exhibits a color sensitivity hijacked by capitalism, and a preference for the “bariolages” (gaudy, motley colors) of the advertising hoarding, or the commodity on display. Indeed, Germain moots the idea of painting the “bariolée” crowd of the railway station, and he installs a screen in his second atelier whose “bariolages” (along with other things) color the room.
Roux develops the notion that Germain’s sensitivity to color is impeded by the love of money most systematically in those passages that concern his inability to make a painting of the beautiful countryside around Aigues. Back on his home ground, Germain resolves to paint “certain corners of the landscape that had stayed in his mind’s eye,” believing that he, “the painter of the great outdoors, was going to find himself once again in the land of the sun, amidst this powerful nature that was completely born of streams of light from the star-king.” Clearly the landscape is conducive to Impressionist painting, and Germain’s enthusiasm grows rapidly as he thinks of “the wide horizons, the high hills clearly defined by their brittle ridges against a background of fire; hills strewn with spindly pines and full of hollows of shadow, of large holes overlooked by massive rocks, of huge stones making blue stains on the red land.” Germain even tells himself that this, and not the “ludicrous herb omelette” of the Île-de-France, is the kind of “splendid motif” he ought to paint. However, even here, where everything is congenial to his talent, and to the rendition of sensation, financial intrigues (over his father’s estate and Ernestine’s inheritance) exert a deadening effect on Germain’s sensibility, and he paints nothing. Roux evidently intends to suggest that the contradiction between sensitivity to nature and color and the love of money is ineluctable. Germain, in other words, is no better than the member of the “public” described by Théophile Thoré in his Salon de 1847, whose preoccupation with “money” renders him “blind in front of paintings colored by light,” or insensitive to nature.
Roux develops this antinomy between the love of nature and the love of money one more time in the wake of an episode where Germain enjoys a minor success at the Salon with his Marlotte landscape sketch (as a result of a subterfuge perpetrated by Philippe, who finished the painting, and Caroline, who submitted it). Flushed with success, Germain tries to cash in on his new status as a Salon artist, and so signs the painting, as is now his wont, “Germanicus Rambërr”: to brand it—as that of “a name.” It is in much the same spirit that Germain attempts, afterward, to make a killing by specializing in the “rich, powerful nature” of his native land, the “colossal,” “majestic” nature of the Midi that would allow him “to impose his originality.” But this does not happen because Germain simply cannot bring himself to paint the landscape. Landscape painting, it would seem, can be done only when the doing of it is intrinsically worthwhile; once commodification enters the picture, it blocks the activity altogether.
There are few significant Cézanne landscape paintings of Aix from the 1860s or early 1870s, and none that have the richness either of Roux’s descriptions or of Cézanne’s own later depictions (or descriptions). Germain’s inability to perceive or paint nature and its color could therefore easily represent Cézanne’s own immature inability to see or represent the phenomenological depth and chromatic variety of his own world. It would appear, then, that both Germain and Cézanne were so preoccupied with the exchange value represented by landscape painting that they lost touch with its “use value,” or its ability to express and thereby revivify the painter’s embodied sensation of nature. What is more, for the Cézanne of the late 1870s, very likely a reader of Thoré, Roux’s text must have touched a raw nerve.
The Commodification of Temperament
Implicit in these passages is another major theme of Roux’s text: that Germain regards his talent, or what he calls his “temperament,” as a commodity, and thus as an independent, almost alien “thing” existing beyond himself in the marketplace. The motif is developed, for example, in the picture Roux gives of Germain newly installed in his lavish second studio, where the artist fantasizes about being a “temperament” capable of producing a “masterpiece”—as if possessing the commodities that come with success somehow corresponds to, or expresses, the value of his “temperament.” Roux’s parody of Germain’s aspirations has some poignancy, however, because, and for all his ineptitude, he really does have “temperament.” What Roux proposes, therefore, is that Germain’s inability to paint can be put down to the effect his avarice has of making him lose touch with himself.
The deadening effects of regarding “temperament” as a commodity are made plain in an episode describing Germain’s attempts to produce a sentimental genre picture for the Salon—as part of a fantasy campaign of making “fifty thousand francs” a year. The scene opens with Germain’s realizing that he must make “concessions” to “bourgeois” taste, as “his temperament had always pushed him too far for his painting to have a salable worth.” Accordingly, he embarks on a highly improbable painting of a “society lady” who suckles the infant of a dying woman, whom she encounters in the Bois de Boulogne—even though making such a “slick” (chic) painting is averse to his “temperament.” Like most of Germain’s other efforts, however, the painting ends up as an “abortive . . . masterpiece.” But Roux is at pains to make it clear that its failure is not simply a result of Germain’s lack of skill. Instead, he explicitly argues that the “pretty” technique Germain is forced to use in order to please his audience is incompatible with his real “strength.” So, too, the painter’s “impressions” are “too intense” for him to ignore. Indeed, Germain’s “strength” and “artistic temperament” are comparable to “the unknown strength of nature”; his “strength” is even such that it seeks to pour out and “fertilize art” just as the storm-cloud “fertilizes the earth.” But what Germain might do spontaneously is incompatible with, and is defeated by, what commodification demands. This contradiction eventually causes him to lapse into nightmares, “doubt,” thoughts of death, and subsequently to undergo more mood swings—like Cézanne, who was notoriously moody and given to constant feelings of depression over his ability. It is possible, then, that Roux not only reflects what was the case, but that he actually suggests a tangible cause for Cézanne’s irrational moods.
As he slides into penury in the wake of his blocked creativity, Germain seeks help from his rival, Damasquère (who is modeled on Carolus-Duran), an adept at exploiting the art market, who tells him of some ruses of his own, and of some practiced by his friend Lespignac (based on Zacharie Astruc). True to form, Damasquère’s response is highly informative for Germain, but it is also revealing for the modern reader, since it shows how the business of making money could alienate some artists so completely from the creative (or life-enhancing) dimension of painting that it caused the artwork to become all but meaningless to them as the product of their own labor. For instance, Damasquère tells Germain of a confidence-trick practiced by his colleague Lespignac in his quality as a painter. This works as follows: Lespignac hands his hat to an accomplice outside the shop of an art dealer to whom he has already sold some work; he then enters the shop and begs a louis from the dealer on the pretext that he needs to replace the hat he has just “lost” in the wind. Lespignac can scoop sixty francs in one day in this way—money that he “repays” only in the form of otherwise worthless pictures. Another subterfuge Lespignac resorts to involves using his father to create a spurious demand for his work among any dealers unfortunate enough to be new to the trade. The scam is simple enough: the older man approaches the dealer, asking for works by Lespignac, and shortly afterward the painter turns up to fill the “gap” in the market. It is perhaps no surprise that Lespignac ends up as an art dealer himself, selling to a “rich clientele.”
Among the other possibilities Damasquère suggests to Germain is that he join him in making copies of paintings in the Louvre, which a dealer operating through the Hôtel Drouot will pass off as copies of the old masters made by Ingres, Delacroix, and suchlike. Damasquère also proposes that Germain organize an auction of his work at the Hôtel Drouot and push up the bidding himself. But Germain eventually opts to act on Damasquère’s suggestion that he make some paintings for the fashionable dealer Dramard, who can give them a role in a prestigious exhibition—among, for example, the fifty-thousand-francs-worth of paintings recently bought by the famous singer Fortini, who will—of course—allow some to be sold. Even though eventually Dramard declines to take the few reasonably finished paintings Germain manages to muster, the painter nevertheless enjoys a vivid fantasy of anticipation, in which he sees his name on a poster trumpeting the figure of fifty thousand francs. Here, then, in his own dream world, Germain has turned his temperament, and himself along with it, into a monetary quantity tout court.
It may seem that, for all this, the artist-painter and his art in these episodes are still a cut above the ordinary artisan and his wares. But Roux makes it clear how mistaken any such assumption is in an episode where Germain flirts with the idea of joining the sculptor Godet in manufacturing bondieusérie (religious statues and the like) five or six days a week. (“Père” Godet is clearly based on Cézanne’s one-time housemate, Philippe Solari, who did work in a bondieusérie.) Godet is evidently suffocated (or alienated from himself) by his labor, even though he tells Germain he is still “a sculptor properly speaking for one or two days” a week. So when Germain goes to visit Godet with the ambition of joining him in his work, he experiences a strong sense of unease the moment he looks in the window of the adjoining shop, where the garish statues of the Virgin and the Saints made by his friend are displayed. He feels that behind each picture or artifact lurks “the soul of an artist”; and fearing the “possible death of his faith” in art, he resolves not to “bury himself there,” simply because his doubt in his own “strength” had forced him to consider expedients. The irony here of course is that Germain is just as alienated by his own practice as Godet is by his: both, in effect, have transformed themselves into commodities by selling their talent.
Germain thus offered Cézanne several cautionary tales about the pitfalls awaiting the artist who sold himself. But since Cézanne was actually connected with the real models for Roux’s commercial artists, and was attuned to the commercial possibilities of art himself from the outset of his career, it could be that Roux was actually describing the dangers of what had once been Cézanne’s own trajectory.
Estrangement Between Artists
For Roux, one of the more distasteful aspects of Germain’s and his Impressionist colleagues’ practice is that they pursue success and money opportunistically, without, for instance, putting in the kind of hard work Philippe expends at the École des Beaux-Arts. But worse still for Roux is how Germain and his colleagues go after money without showing any scruples about doing one another in. In one (admittedly caricatural) passage of La proie et l’ombre, Roux even assimilates Germain’s competitiveness to a form of misanthropy that can only be described as evil. The passage in question describes how Germain, while pursuing Ernestine in Aigues, realizes that the ailing Monsieur Mazouillet (fatally infected during a visit to the Paris sewers) is not “expected to last the night.” Forsaking all decency, Germain urges himself on in his pursuit of Ernestine’s inheritance by telling himself that he is “very smart to be daring enough to hatch a macabre plan, an engagement settled over the corpse of an adversary.” (Although there is no evidence to suggest that Cézanne ever thought such thoughts, it is nevertheless significant that Roux connected the painter’s Stendhalian aesthetic of “strength” and “daring” to a wholly self-centered and immoral venality.) But Roux does not stop there; rather, he continues by explicitly connecting Germain-the-scheming-suitor to Germain-the-painter, as if to suggest that the fascination with money so subsumed his personality that it made him regard everyone, Mazouillet and his painter colleagues alike, as competitors. So it is that Germain starts to fantasize about making a blockbuster picture by “setting the scene [ of his scheme] down on canvas” and submitting it to the Salon in the hope of showing a thing or two to his competitors, a “pack of poor devils wearing themselves down to the bone with abortive attempts.” And Germain continues to tell himself: “‘With money, you do what you want; you have friends, people in the right places who open doors for you.’”
Even if this passage is all but grand guignol, it could nevertheless indicate the sort of fantasies that painters of Cézanne’s generation might have had as a consequence of finding themselves in competition with one another in a radically new and cutthroat, capitalist marketplace, where additional exchange value could be attached to the work of art solely in consequence of its claim of uniqueness.
The Sex Appeal of the Commodity
Roux also describes brilliantly how the imperative for painters to regard, and produce, their works as commodities plays out in Germain’s practice (perhaps without fully realizing it). Early in the novel, for instance, Germain is shown trying to attach a kind of sheer novelty to his painting that might set it apart from the work of other painters. In effect, Germain is seen attempting to give his work what Walter Benjamin describes as the fashionable (but inorganic) “sex appeal” bound up in commodities: an alluring, pristine uniqueness that renders its competitors redundant. So it is that Germain plans to outdo Damasquère at his own game by producing a painting of a duchess for the Salon that will be a “modern” version of the lush, Medici-like portrait in which the successful painter specializes. Accordingly, Germain orders a huge “canvas of 120” from his dealer, Martin, and he employs a fashionable rive droite model named Sarah to pose for the figure. And although Germain comes unstuck when he is forced to return the large canvas because his atelier is too small to accommodate it, he nevertheless attempts to lord it over his fellow Brunos, especially Damasquère, by describing the painting he has made (in his own fantasies) at length. Later, even though Germain does acquire a large atelier, and new pigments from a manufacturer at Saint-Ouen, his dream of “a veritable glut of yellow and vermilion” comes to nothing, because he cannot control the repetition of colors in the foreground and background, and “the magisterial work” ends up as “a smearing of whitewash.” The rub is, though, that in his desperation Germain resorts to treachery by asking his model, Sarah, to betray the technical secrets of the other painters for whom she poses.
While parody, elements of the story are nevertheless strongly reminiscent of Cézanne’s attempts to work on a huge scale in the 1860s. By extension, Roux also provides an economic rationale for Cézanne’s aim (as he described it to Stock) to surpass Courbet, Manet, and Monet by producing paintings more saturated with strong sensation than they dared to. That is, the rationale of competition seems to explain why Cézanne produced several paintings in the 1860s that were specifically designed to outshine similar works by these very artists. Cézanne, for example, produced a version of Lot and His Daughters around 1865 that far exceeds Courbet’s relatively tame version of the same theme in its pornographic explicitness and emotional charge. He also painted a Déjeuner sur l’herbe around 1870 that seems to address the relative emotional flatness of Manet’s and Monet’s versions of the same theme. And Cézanne produced two highly emotional and expressly “modern” versions of Manet’s “Olympia” in the early 1870s. So for all that Germain’s efforts are caricatured by Roux, they nonetheless suggest that Cézanne employed the tactics he did as a direct result of the way that capitalism made “mutual” antagonism the price of artistic success.
The Impressionists and the Salon
The great problem with Roux’s account is that it can only “explain” how competition affects artistic practice by appealing to an ideology that characterizes agency solely in terms of people’s “private” reasons for acting, and that cannot embrace the fact that causes beyond the purview of agents often determine these reasons. Nevertheless, even though Roux would have the reader believe that innate character traits like avarice, envy, and duplicity explain the competitiveness, mutual suspicion, and double-dealing that artists perpetrate upon one another, his account is still suggestive for the informed reader about the ways in which more fundamental social and political forces operate upon and within artistic practice in its alienated form. Most especially, Roux’s jaundiced description of how the Impressionists relate to one another seems to indicate something real and significant about the effects that laissez-faire ideology had on this particular community.
What Roux narrates is a tale in which the Impressionists and Germain are tarred with the same, quite appallingly unscrupulous, brush. This emerges not least of all in the selfishness and duplicity of their motives for banding together. Germain, for instance, purports to support the independent grouping because he considers the Salon hostile to “temperament”; but he expresses this opinion only to make his mark within a bitter, bickering discussion where each artist seeks to establish his “authority.” In the same episode, Germain agrees to subscribe to sixty shares in the new venture, as do his associates; but talk is cheap, and only a few Brunos actually pay for their shares. Lespignac is nevertheless confident of financing the exhibition (and its attendant journal) because he has cynically enlisted the “bourgeois” and “capitalist” Mazouillet, who aspires to become a dramatic poet, to their number. Subsequently, Damasquère warns Germain that Lespignac’s relationship with Mazouillet is leading to his “embourgeoisement,” and that he is likely to exploit the rich man for his own purposes. (At which point he also tells Germain of Godet’s job at the bondieusérie, thereby exposing the older man’s pose as a “martyr to art” for what it is as well.) But shortly afterward, Damasquère sets principle aside when, together with Lespignac, he recruits two well-off but inept painters to aid the Société’s finances—a wine merchant’s son and the son of a “viscount.” And when the venal augmentation of members’ numbers causes too many paintings to be submitted to the exhibition, the Brunos’ organizing committee conspire to fix the hanging arrangements in their own favor by assigning the best places to the original “subscribers.”
In such passages, Roux evidently characterizes the Bruno Impressionists’ opposition to officialdom, and their attempts to organize themselves into an independent exhibition society, as having nothing to do with commitment and everything to do with opportunism. That is, the Bruno painters will do anything to gain access to the public that their persistent refusal by the Salon has denied them. Hence, they behave toward one another in a particularly egotistical, or self-seeking, fashion whenever acceptance at the Salon is at stake. This behavior emerges with special clarity after an episode in which Germain is at the hub of the Impressionists’ machinations. Fearing the corrupting influence of Caroline, despite Germain’s continuing resistance to embourgeoisement, the Brunos try to persuade Sarah to seduce him away from his mistress. This plan backfires, however, since Sarah informs on his colleagues to Germain, which turns him against them. It then emerges that the Brunos’ reason for keeping tabs on Germain is that they, and especially Lespignac, fear he is working on a picture for the Salon. Accordingly, they send a delegation of three of the more peripheral members of their group to persuade Germain to keep faith with them. The move works, since the delegation pronounces his art to be like “nature,” and thus unacceptable to the Salon jury; furthermore, they deem his work “a revolution in art” and thus eminently suitable to the Impressionist cause. The episode ends, therefore, with Germain agreeing to join the Impressionists after all.
This is but the quiet before the storm, however. Germain later visits Bruno’s on the evening of the last day for submitting paintings to the Salon to find most of his “false brothers” absent because they have submitted their works to the Salon. Shortly afterward, as if they had done nothing of the sort, the Brunos brazenly hold meetings in Germain’s atelier aimed at finalizing the arrangements for their exhibition—but only because they have been notified of their rejection from the Salon. Worse still, once the Bruno Impressionists get wind of Germain’s (unplanned) appearance at the Salon, they hypocritically declare that he has broken his word, and they move their meetings to the basement of the Brasserie Bismarck in a fit of (not-so-righteous) indignation. Next, at the Salon opening, they churlishly attempt to sabotage the reception of Germain’s painting; but they make so much noise in front of it that they attract the sympathy of the crowd and the critics to his landscape, and are forced to withdraw in frustration and anger. The Impressionists have to be content instead with denigrating Germain’s painting among themselves, calling it “a spineless, colorless machine with no personality, perfectly suited to featuring in the market of the Champs-Elysées.” The depths to which they are prepared to sink become clear when Germain visits the Brunos’ new headquarters, to discover that they have settled their plans for the exhibition, and that Lespignac has legislated for his exclusion from the Société. Lespignac even pursues his campaign against Germain in a journal of his own, Le justicier: beaux-arts, littérature, théâtres, writing an article that uses the ineptitude of Germain’s landscape as an argument against the Salon jury and in support of the Société’s own exhibition.
All this is but a prelude to Roux’s exposé of Germain’s even greater incorrigibility. To start with, though, Germain appears to act decently, even honorably, as he defends his colleagues against Caroline’s skepticism over their motives for opposing the Salon; he also maintains his intention to exhibit with the Impressionists even after she tells him of their attempts to sneak their work into the Salon unseen. But just when the reader may be about to take Germain’s side, Roux discloses that his position is determined solely by the hope that his work will fetch “crazy sums of money” if exhibited with the Bruno group. Just as inevitably, once Germain finds he has been accepted at the Salon, his competitiveness toward his rivals emerges in its full ugliness. So, for instance, he privately denigrates his former colleagues as “small fry,” but—believing he is “the greatest landscape-painter of modern times”—he revels nonetheless in the praise they heap upon him (to his face, at least). Germain even manages to take pleasure in the defamatory article in Lespignac’s journal, which he comes across in the Brasserie Bismarck, since he believes it links his name with the “the greatest masters, the glory of France.” He takes malicious pleasure too in the fact that to find a copy of the journal for sale, he is forced to resort to a humble kiosk near the Odéon omnibus station, where he also revels in how Lespignac is now reduced to advertising his projected magnum opus, formerly “The Sea of Blood,” as “The Tub of Blood . . . impressionist poetry.”
All this may seem far removed from Cézanne. Yet it should be remembered that although the artist was involved in several independent exhibition ventures, he never abandoned hope of gaining admission to the “Salon of Bouguereau.” He even wrote to Roux in 1878: “I am going to Paris with my little wheelbarrow at the beginning of March this year,” meaning he was taking paintings to the Salon. Many of Cézanne’s painter colleagues also succeed in gaining admission to the Salon in the 1860s and early 1870s, despite their membership in groups at least notionally opposed to it. It is by no means impossible, therefore, that the self-interest with which Roux’s Impressionists act toward one another merely exaggerates the expediency with which Cézanne and his colleagues actually behaved in consequence of having to work within the competitive marketplace.
The Painter as Commodity
The final outcome of the Germain narrative has little verifiable relevance to the known facts of Cézanne’s practice, but it is nevertheless a vivid projection of where a commercial art career might have led him.
In essence, what Roux describes is how Germain turns ever inward into a fantasy world where he eventually becomes trapped—or how he goes mad. Part of this catastrophe is occasioned by what a modern reader might see as a peculiar form of alienation, wherein his personality (or “temperament”) passes over so completely into being a commodity that he has no other existence aside from that of an isolated commodity in competition with other commodities. Signs of the isolation entailed by this process are already apparent in the episode concerning the exhibition of Germain’s Marlotte landscape at the Salon, where his small success leads him into such exorbitant vanity, and vivid fantasies of omnipotence, that he dismisses reality altogether. He cannot cope, for instance, with the “indifference” his painting encounters from the general public, so tells himself that this is “‘made up of ignorant ironmongers’”—unlike the superior audience that enthused over his work at the vernissage, composed of artists and collectors “‘who scorn bourgeois images and pause only in front of masterly works’”—like his own. Germain even takes enormous pride in a complimentary article about his work appearing in the Mémorial d’Aigues-les-Tours—which he wrote himself. To cap it all, Roux gives the measure of Germain’s moral decrepitude by contrasting his behavior with Philippe’s patient progress toward success in the Prix de Rome. In this scheme, Philippe is a “peaceful river,” a man who keeps his pride to himself in the knowledge that success will not come before his time has arrived; Germain, however, is a “torrent that stays dry and then rumbles and overflows,” a man consumed by “vanity.”
The more extreme sense of isolation that competition brings with it surfaces toward the end of the novel, where Germain becomes ruined and completely paranoid. He is so bitterly opposed to the enemies who, he believes, prevented him from exhibiting “on the boulevard” that even in extremis he holds back from throwing himself off the Pont des Arts in order to spite them, and plot his “revenge.” Germain’s awful fate is, it would seem, the traditional consequence of hubris (and a punishment for deserting Caroline, who has pined away in his absence, despite a deathbed marriage to her beloved Philippe). But it makes sense to think that Roux invests so much bitterness in his treatment of Germain because doing so allows him to deny feelings (through projection) that he himself has experienced. Certainly, it could have been no easier for Roux to compete with equanimity against a commodity as alluring as Zola than it was for Germain to square up to Damasquère, or Cézanne to Carolus-Duran.
A further homology between Germain’s fate and the predictions of materialist theory is provided by his peculiarly fetishistic attachment to his third atelier in the rue Pigalle. Financed by Ernestine’s money, the atelier is decked out with eye-catching commodities once owned by the painter Goldsmith. Lespignac, who provides the studio and its decorations (at an enormously inflated price), justifies Germain’s expenditure (to Philippe) by arguing that the painter needs good accommodation in order to land the collector in a world where “art is the secret of making oneself superior.” Lespignac’s remarks reveal the deeper truth, however—that commodities function to represent social prestige in the fantasies of those who own them. More specifically, his words indicate how the possession of commodities gives Germain, who cannot actually manage to make works to sell, the wholly illusory status of a successful painter within an imaginary set of social relations. In effect, what Roux all but says is that Germain has passed over into a disembodied, phantasmagorical realm, in which he is no more than a commodity himself, isolated amidst a slew of other commodities, which offer only a bogus consolation for the real satisfaction and sociality that competition has robbed him of.
In a passage clearly designed to sum up the novel’s allegorical meaning, Roux offers an extraordinarily perceptive insight into Germain’s condition by having Caroline declare that Germain “ran into life’s hardships when he . . . wanted to make fortune a means of attaining success, whereas fortune is the result of this success.” Roux sees perfectly clearly, in other words, that Germain’s problems are caused by the estrangement from a properly human form of life that ensues from regarding money as a substitute for the kind of creative work that it was increasingly impossible to pursue in modern Paris.
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