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WITH PICTURES BY THOMAS COUTURE IN THE COLLECTION OF F. BARBEDIENNE.
Y first meeting with Couture, who became one of my best and dearest friends, was odd and characteristic. It was in 1834; I was not yet one and twenty, and had just arrived from the United States, well provided for in the way of courage and determination, with a goodly stock of youthful illusions, and very little besides. I was just beginning to understand a few words of French, and had entered the studio of the great and unfortunate painter Gros. If I understood but few of the things the master and pupils said to me, I understood the language of the pencil, and worked all the harder that I was more estranged. One day, as the model was resting, and I was looking at my morning's work in a somewhat melancholy state of mind, a short, thickset young man, with bright brown eyes and shaggy hair, unceremoniously pushed me aside, saying, "Donne moi ta place, petit." I was going to protest, when I saw my fellow-student so absorbed that I grew interested in what he was doing. He coolly turned over my sheet of gray paper and sketched the model, who, resting, had fallen into a far better attitude than that which we had copied. The outline drawing was so strong, so full of life, so easily done, that I never received a better lesson. When he had finished, he left my place as coolly as he had taken it, seemingly quite unconscious of my existence.
I did not then know the name of this freeand-easy comrade, but I kept the drawing and prized it. I am sorry to say that the woman intrusted with the care of my room had but small respect for the fine arts, and being one day in need of paper to light my fire, took a number of drawings for that purpose. Among those drawings was the outline sketch by Thomas Couture.
I was scarcely able to profit much by my illustrious master's directions. Baron Gros had been a very successful as well as a very great painter. His "Battle of Eylau" and his "Plague of Jaffa" at the Louvre show what he was capable of doing. But little by little fashion changed; other painters became the favorites of the moment, and Gros was left somewhat in the background. There are but few sorrows more cruel than such a sorrow-to feel one's own power; to know that one's rivals are less truly artists than one's self; and yet to assist, powerless, at
the crumbling away of one's own fame. And, as often happens, the very public, so eager formerly to praise, seems to find a cruel delight in throwing mud at the fallen idol. The criticisms which were not spared Baron Gros when his last picture was exhibited at the Salon so cut him to the heart that he threw himself into the Seine. His body was found near Saint-Cloud.
Gros's pupils dispersed, and I had no opportunity to make further acquaintance with my eccentric fellow-student.
Some years later, when the estranged boy that I was in 1834 had become a young man, I happened to pass with a comrade, a young Englishman named Coplis, near the shop of Desforges, who sold canvases and paints, and who also exhibited pictures in his window. I was greatly struck by a picture representing a young Venetian, and endeavored to excite my companion to enthusiasm. Coplis was hungry, and at first thought more of his delayed lunch than of the painting. But he soon forgot his hunger, and exclaimed, " By Jove! I must get my brother to buy that." Lucky fellow! I had a certain respect for a painter whose brother was rich enough to buy pictures. In those days painters were by no means able to build their own grand studios, and to fill them with wonderful draperies and precious bric-à-brac; as a usual thing, they belonged to modest families, who mourned over the son and brother who had embraced such a profession.
Mr. Coplis bought the picture signed Thomas Couture, and paid the color-dealer a thousand francs for it. I afterward found out that the artist received only three hundred francs. As it happened, it was I who was commissioned to go to his studio. As soon as I entered I saw that Couture was no other than the fellowstudent who had so unceremoniously taken my place. I was so delighted at the coincidence that Couture, who naturally did not recognize me at all, thought me a little crazy. I exclaimed, "I am so glad that it is you!" I must now confess a little weakness of mine. When I am excited and pleased by any unexpected event, I rather enjoy the bewilderment of those who are not in the secret. After all, each must find his pleasure where he can. But after a while Couture understood that I was not the rich amateur who had bought his picture, but only a poor devil of a painter like him