You Were: The Model

July 8, 2010

Students of mid-19th century French sculpture have often remarked that quite a few artists seemed to have been inspired by the very same woman. While their creations generally bear different faces, the bodies of their statues appear remarkably similar. Most experts have dismissed this as coincidence. Most experts are fools.

You were the only living member of an aristocratic Parisian family that had fallen on hard times. (Hard times that  began when your grandfather was overheard saying that the Empress Josephine smelled a bit ripe and could use more perfume.) The money was gone, the jewels had been sold, and the furniture chopped up for firewood. The only thing left was your grand house on the Ile St. Louis. There were plenty of nouveau-riche arrivistes who were begging to purchase it. You could barely imagine such shame.

You needed to earn a living, but as a woman with a well-known surname, there were few job options available to you. Then one day, you noticed a sign pinned to the door of a building just across the river on the Left Bank. Artist’s Model Wanted, Inquire Within. You knocked, and a toothless old lady opened the door. She took one look at your Olympian form, nodded and dragged you inside.

A handsome fee was negotiated, and you were led to a studio, which was empty but for a chaise lounge and a dressing screen. There, you were instructed to change. You expected to find a costume behind the screen, but the only thing waiting for you was a black piece of cloth barely large enough to cover a single butt cheek. At first you assumed there had been a mistake. But the kind old woman explained that the fabric was meant to hide your face–and nothing else.

You sat behind that dressing screen for an hour, agonizing over your decision. But modesty is rarely a match for hunger pangs. You changed out of your street clothes and decided to get to work.

One perfectly pleasant nap later, the old lady returned to tell you that the session was over. She filled your palm with coins, and once you were home in your empty mansion, you celebrated your new employment with champagne and cheese. The next day you were back. And the next and the next.

When friends of your sculptor visited his studio, most were struck speechless by the form taking shape in pristine white marble. Members of the French art community began to whisper that a goddess was walking the streets of Paris. But no one knew your name, and your face remained a well-guarded mystery. Soon, one cheeky young artist figured out how to find you. He bribed the old lady who worked for the sculptor. For one hundred francs and a suckling pig, she was thrilled to arrange a meeting.

With your face carefully hidden behind a veil, you arrived at the new artist’s studio one night and prepared for your first session. You had already spent the afternoon napping at his colleague’s house, and you and the sculptor were both in the mood for a chat. He was charming, you discovered, well-read, and amusing. You began to look forward to his company, and it was no reflection on his conversational skills when, on a particularly hot summer night, you fell fast asleep.

The sculptor couldn’t resist. He tiptoed over to your side, and lifted the black cloth tied around your head. He had fallen madly in love with you weeks before, but the sight of your sleeping face shook him to his core. He was so overcome, that he fled the studio and wandered out into the night. You woke when you heard the front door slam, and sensing that the artist was gone, decided to see how his work was progressing.

You found it impossible to believe that the statue still struggling to emerge from the rock could be the work of human hands. You gazed at it for hours, barely aware of time passing. When the sun began to rise, you finally dressed and prepared to go home. You found your sculptor standing outside, staring up at the windows of his own studio.

You modeled for years to come, with the old lady acting as your agent. Your identity was never revealed, and nothing delighted your husband more than visiting Paris’s many salons and seeing his wife in bronze, marble, and clay.

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2 Responses to “You Were: The Model”

  1. Pearl Says:

    That was beautiful. 🙂

  2. Bree Says:

    Thank you so much for taking your time to delve into my past! It was lovely 🙂


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