Anna karenina, p.135
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       Anna Karenina, p.135

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 11

  On entering the studio, Mihailov once more scanned his visitors andnoted down in his imagination Vronsky's expression too, and especiallyhis jaws. Although his artistic sense was unceasingly at work collectingmaterials, although he felt a continually increasing excitement as themoment of criticizing his work drew nearer, he rapidly and subtlyformed, from imperceptible signs, a mental image of these three persons.

  That fellow (Golenishtchev) was a Russian living here. Mihailov did notremember his surname nor where he had met him, nor what he had said tohim. He only remembered his face as he remembered all the faces he hadever seen; but he remembered, too, that it was one of the faces laid byin his memory in the immense class of the falsely consequential and poorin expression. The abundant hair and very open forehead gave anappearance of consequence to the face, which had only one expression--apetty, childish, peevish expression, concentrated just above the bridgeof the narrow nose. Vronsky and Madame Karenina must be, Mihailovsupposed, distinguished and wealthy Russians, knowing nothing about art,like all those wealthy Russians, but posing as amateurs andconnoisseurs. "Most likely they've already looked at all the antiques,and now they're making the round of the studios of the new people, theGerman humbug, and the cracked Pre-Raphaelite English fellow, and haveonly come to me to make the point of view complete," he thought. He waswell acquainted with the way dilettanti have (the cleverer they were theworse he found them) of looking at the works of contemporary artistswith the sole object of being in a position to say that art is a thingof the past, and that the more one sees of the new men the more one seeshow inimitable the works of the great old masters have remained. Heexpected all this; he saw it all in their faces, he saw it in thecareless indifference with which they talked among themselves, stared atthe lay figures and busts, and walked about in leisurely fashion,waiting for him to uncover his picture. But in spite of this, while hewas turning over his studies, pulling up the blinds and taking off thesheet, he was in intense excitement, especially as, in spite of hisconviction that all distinguished and wealthy Russians were certain tobe beasts and fools, he liked Vronsky, and still more Anna.

  "Here, if you please," he said, moving on one side with his nimble gaitand pointing to his picture, "it's the exhortation to Pilate. Matthew,chapter xxvii," he said, feeling his lips were beginning to tremble withemotion. He moved away and stood behind them.

  For the few seconds during which the visitors were gazing at the picturein silence Mihailov too gazed at it with the indifferent eye of anoutsider. For those few seconds he was sure in anticipation that ahigher, juster criticism would be uttered by them, by those veryvisitors whom he had been so despising a moment before. He forgot all hehad thought about his picture before during the three years he had beenpainting it; he forgot all its qualities which had been absolutelycertain to him--he saw the picture with their indifferent, new, outsideeyes, and saw nothing good in it. He saw in the foreground Pilate'sirritated face and the serene face of Christ, and in the background thefigures of Pilate's retinue and the face of John watching what washappening. Every face that, with such agony, such blunders andcorrections had grown up within him with its special character, everyface that had given him such torments and such raptures, and all thesefaces so many times transposed for the sake of the harmony of the whole,all the shades of color and tones that he had attained with suchlabor--all of this together seemed to him now, looking at it with theireyes, the merest vulgarity, something that had been done a thousandtimes over. The face dearest to him, the face of Christ, the center ofthe picture, which had given him such ecstasy as it unfolded itself tohim, was utterly lost to him when he glanced at the picture with theireyes. He saw a well-painted (no, not even that--he distinctly saw now amass of defects) repetition of those endless Christs of Titian, Raphael,Rubens, and the same soldiers and Pilate. It was all common, poor, andstale, and positively badly painted--weak and unequal. They would bejustified in repeating hypocritically civil speeches in the presence ofthe painter, and pitying him and laughing at him when they were aloneagain.

  The silence (though it lasted no more than a minute) became toointolerable to him. To break it, and to show he was not agitated, hemade an effort and addressed Golenishtchev.

  "I think I've had the pleasure of meeting you," he said, lookinguneasily first at Anna, then at Vronsky, in fear of losing any shade oftheir expression.

  "To be sure! We met at Rossi's, do you remember, at that _soiree_ whenthat Italian lady recited--the new Rachel?" Golenishtchev answeredeasily, removing his eyes without the slightest regret from the pictureand turning to the artist.

  Noticing, however, that Mihailov was expecting a criticism of thepicture, he said:

  "Your picture has got on a great deal since I saw it last time; and whatstrikes me particularly now, as it did then, is the figure of Pilate.One so knows the man: a good-natured, capital fellow, but an officialthrough and through, who does not know what it is he's doing. But Ifancy..."

  All Mihailov's mobile face beamed at once; his eyes sparkled. He triedto say something, but he could not speak for excitement, and pretendedto be coughing. Low as was his opinion of Golenishtchev's capacity forunderstanding art, trifling as was the true remark upon the fidelity ofthe expression of Pilate as an official, and offensive as might haveseemed the utterance of so unimportant an observation while nothing wassaid of more serious points, Mihailov was in an ecstasy of delight atthis observation. He had himself thought about Pilate's figure just whatGolenishtchev said. The fact that this reflection was but one ofmillions of reflections, which as Mihailov knew for certain would betrue, did not diminish for him the significance of Golenishtchev'sremark. His heart warmed to Golenishtchev for this remark, and from astate of depression he suddenly passed to ecstasy. At once the whole ofhis picture lived before him in all the indescribable complexity ofeverything living. Mihailov again tried to say that that was how heunderstood Pilate, but his lips quivered intractably, and he could notpronounce the words. Vronsky and Anna too said something in that subduedvoice in which, partly to avoid hurting the artist's feelings and partlyto avoid saying out loud something silly--so easily said when talking ofart--people usually speak at exhibitions of pictures. Mihailov fanciedthat the picture had made an impression on them too. He went up to them.

  "How marvelous Christ's expression is!" said Anna. Of all she saw sheliked that expression most of all, and she felt that it was the centerof the picture, and so praise of it would be pleasant to the artist."One can see that He is pitying Pilate."

  This again was one of the million true reflections that could be foundin his picture and in the figure of Christ. She said that He was pityingPilate. In Christ's expression there ought to be indeed an expression ofpity, since there is an expression of love, of heavenly peace, ofreadiness for death, and a sense of the vanity of words. Of course thereis the expression of an official in Pilate and of pity in Christ, seeingthat one is the incarnation of the fleshly and the other of thespiritual life. All this and much more flashed into Mihailov's thoughts.

  "Yes, and how that figure is done--what atmosphere! One can walk roundit," said Golenishtchev, unmistakably betraying by this remark that hedid not approve of the meaning and idea of the figure.

  "Yes, there's a wonderful mastery!" said Vronsky. "How those figures inthe background stand out! There you have technique," he said, addressingGolenishtchev, alluding to a conversation between them about Vronsky'sdespair of attaining this technique.

  "Yes, yes, marvelous!" Golenishtchev and Anna assented. In spite of theexcited condition in which he was, the sentence about technique had senta pang to Mihailov's heart, and looking angrily at Vronsky he suddenlyscowled. He had often heard this word technique, and was utterly unableto understand what was understood by it. He knew that by this term wasunderstood a mechanical facility for painting or drawing, entirely apartfrom its subject. He had noticed often that even in actual praisetechnique was opposed to essential quality, as though one could paintwell somethin
g that was bad. He knew that a great deal of attention andcare was necessary in taking off the coverings, to avoid injuring thecreation itself, and to take off all the coverings; but there was no artof painting--no technique of any sort--about it. If to a little child orto his cook were revealed what he saw, it or she would have been able topeel the wrappings off what was seen. And the most experienced andadroit painter could not by mere mechanical facility paint anything ifthe lines of the subject were not revealed to him first. Besides, he sawthat if it came to talking about technique, it was impossible to praisehim for it. In all he had painted and repainted he saw faults that hurthis eyes, coming from want of care in taking off the wrappings--faultshe could not correct now without spoiling the whole. And in almost allthe figures and faces he saw, too, remnants of the wrappings notperfectly removed that spoiled the picture.

  "One thing might be said, if you will allow me to make the remark..."observed Golenishtchev.

  "Oh, I shall be delighted, I beg you," said Mihailov with a forcedsmile.

  "That is, that you make Him the man-god, and not the God-man. But I knowthat was what you meant to do."

  "I cannot paint a Christ that is not in my heart," said Mihailovgloomily.

  "Yes; but in that case, if you will allow me to say what I think....Your picture is so fine that my observation cannot detract from it, and,besides, it is only my personal opinion. With you it is different. Yourvery motive is different. But let us take Ivanov. I imagine that ifChrist is brought down to the level of an historical character, it wouldhave been better for Ivanov to select some other historical subject,fresh, untouched."

  "But if this is the greatest subject presented to art?"

  "If one looked one would find others. But the point is that art cannotsuffer doubt and discussion. And before the picture of Ivanov thequestion arises for the believer and the unbeliever alike, 'Is it God,or is it not God?' and the unity of the impression is destroyed."

  "Why so? I think that for educated people," said Mihailov, "the questioncannot exist."

  Golenishtchev did not agree with this, and confounded Mihailov by hissupport of his first idea of the unity of the impression being essentialto art.

  Mihailov was greatly perturbed, but he could say nothing in defense ofhis own idea.

 
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