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We can, presumably, guess what the 'temptation' was. Much that has been written about Filiger assumes that he was homosexual and that this posed serious problems for him. For example, when, while he was still living in Paris, he was found lying in the street with knife wounds, was this the result of a homosexual encounter? or when, in the early twentieth century, he started moving from place to place, was he being chased away because of his homosexuality? But this rather indirect reference to a temptation successfully resisted is about as much as Cariou's book gives us by way of hard evidence. Beyond that there are frequent references in the correspondence to Filiger's 'vice', or his 'mal' (difficult to translate. In context 'evil' seems too strong. It could be 'illness'. I would like to say 'sin' - I haven't noticed much use of the word 'péché'.), usually presented by Filiger in terms that are as positive as they are negative, a necessity of his nature and a sort of springboard toward what he regards as the 'bien', the 'good', of his painting. Maybe he was referring to his sexual tastes but he could also have been referring to his addictions. His dependence on alcohol and on drugs (mainly 'ether') is well attested and seems to have got worse as he got older.

It seems very unlikely that he was a practising homosexual, or indeed that he had actual sexual relations with young boys. The very small tight knit and religiously conservative community of Le Pouldu was one in which keeping secrets would have been virtually impossible and in his correspondence as, increasingly, he withdrew from contact with other artists, he stresses his appreciation of the ordinary 'braves gens' of Le Pouldu. Like Cézanne his closest associates were people who usually don't get much of a mention in literary or artistic histories. Though it should be said that his liking for ordinary Bretons diminishes dramatically once he leaves Le Pouldu.

One of the very few references in the correspondence to his interest in young boys comes in his letters inviting Verkade to visit him. Referring to his painting Christ with Angels (reproduced above) he says:

'I have to tell you that this latest thing was made to the glory of a unique and very dear being - hence the intimate power of the work. My present poverty didn't allow me to do anything for the boy and the little model has gone off to the Mousses school in Brest, obedient to the wishes of his parents. I miss him but, what the hell, everything passes in this world, we have plenty of things to complain about during this life. And the memory remains - in the end - truer and more beautiful than the reality.'

Encouraging Verkade to visit he says: 'I'm sure you don't lack models where you are. You are in any case a charming enough boy to deserve everyones services. Since the kid's departure I often vary the heads I use and those whom I take - even the girls - do what I want them to, all willing to pose naked. When you come to Le Pouldu I will place all this little world at your disposition if that can be useful or agreeable for you ...'

This painting by Verkade shows that he took advantage of the offer - he didn't spend all his time lounging about Filiger's room, smoking and drinking and resisting temptation ...

In another letter also written prior to Verkade's visit Filiger gives some idea of his feelings about the Catholic Church and its relation to his own painting:

'Religion is something beautiful and great, but the narrow and fanatical cult practised in the countryside - above all here in this mystical Brittany, still so savage - seems to me to belong more to barbaric tradition than to Christian love - the most beautiful thing in the world! The aim of these simpletons seems more to convert everyone to one single religion - their own - than to bring souls to the good [au bien] ... no father of a family in our day would want to have for his son a single one of those blessed men who remain the glory of the church - the Saints! Michelangelo didn't give a fig for the Pope - and he wasn't wrong, nor did he have any less religion for that. And Raphael? - it seems to me that he loved the beautiful Fornorina more than the holy Virgin, but there we can't complain: he loved something on this earth ... I see before me a little angel by Fra Angelico, this standing angel playing a musical instrument (do you remember?) and I find in it a passion that is more simply human than anything else - but the head and body are so beautiful that that becomes visibly religious. So I myself - little artist that I am - understand the most wonderful secret of the primitives, simply because I love it.'

I've quoted that at some length because I think it explains well what Filiger was trying to do. His earliest 'mystical' paintings are very ethereal and wishy washy. In my view they are almost completely without interest and don't in any way hint at what, very soon, he proved able to do. I think the change came when he met the 'unique and very dear being' he refers to in his letter to Verkade. He might have been the model for one of the early ethereal wishy washy paintings - a naked boy kneeling in prayer (Cariou gives an amusing account of what happened when the local priest, out for a stroll on the beach, came upon Filiger and his model in the course of doing this or a similar painting).

Charles Filiger: Prayer, gouache on paper and card, 13 x 8cm 

The boy in question was called Joseph Pobla and I think there came a moment when Filiger realised that his actual fleshly existence was more holy, closer to his ideal of beauty, than the dematerialised 'spiritual' version. At the risk of getting carried away I think this is the message of Filiger's masterpiece of this period - his 'Last Judgment'.