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A great Paris master had begun giving lessons in the magnificent studio one of his mistresses, young wife of a man in the sardine trade, had built for him on the cours Cambronne. It was an arrangement that suited her since it spared her quite a long journey every time the itch became intolerable that only a walk along the skin of this celebrated beard could satisfy. For his part, the great decorated master [médaillé] of the Salon, least provincial of Parisians though he was, experienced no difficulty in renouncing the capital; he was sufficiently perceptive to have understood that the craft of the high society portraitist was soon going to disappear, while in one of the most backward of French towns it would continue at least as long as himself.

Already in large numbers, the feminine prosperities were pressing him to execute their image. Apart from the mark of taste and of wealth that the possession of such a 'frame' represented, they saw it as a means of obtaining Eternal Life, the certainty that they would always be a centre of unwaning light in the middle of their home.

This happy man, called Hippolyte Touront, was in no hurry to please them. He only accepted commissions when they corresponded - so he said - to his inspiration. In this way an atmosphere of mutual competition was developed among them which he was able to exploit. Some thought to arouse his genius by assuming on his sofas the pose of a cat in heat. He showed them to the door politely, preferring another kind, those who gave him to understand that they were willing to pay a handsome fee.

I was one of his pupils and quickly became the best of them. I achieved this distinction thanks to my memory, the only faculty that is necessary for academic art. It is a matter of remembering recipes, as many as those of Tante Marie and much more complicated. There are at least twenty recipes for painting eyes, as many for the nose, the hair, as many again for each variety of textile, of fur, of foliage, and there are recipes for how the recipes should be used.

As such, the painter's craft tempted me and, without giving up my secondary studies, I directed my thoughts away from the medical career on which they had for a while been concentrated. To my great surprise, Touront, even though he never stopped singing my praises to anyone who walked through the door, did not encourage me to think of it as a profession.

"You will have to forget everything you've learned so quickly. Cézanne is the way of the future."

"Cézanne's a pile of shit," a young Nantian proclaimed who, by our side, was painting some very Louis XV roses.

"Pile of shit or not, he's the one they're all going for [il a le pot]. According to a group of fashionable writers, he has discovered the Beauty that is alive, the one with a dirty arse and twisted mouth {gueule de travers]! Those who persist in showing clean buttocks and well-formed heads will die in the gutter. Fashion is powerful."

"Still", I said nervously [insinuai-je], "there are works that hold their own in spite of fashion and the times ..."

"How many?"

There were three pictures in the local museum, buried in the refuse of several ages, which could have answered him. He did not listen; only I had noticed them.

There was a big canvas which the official incompetence attributed to Murillo, a little landscape by Corot, and the portrait of a woman by Ingres. These three works gave me the secret of victory over time.

The first, in front of a plain wall, showed a musician dressed in grey and wearing red stockings. I felt that the power of this painting lay in the dimension given to the red. It was impossible for me to imagine its surface stretched further or reduced without destroying the canvas or at least reducing it to the level of those which no one would look at after twenty years.

Corot assured his own duration by a calculation of the division between great dark trees and little splashes of light.

To confer immortality on his model, Ingres reduced her almost to oblivion. His system of coloured curves drew me into his own personal cosmogony, very far removed from the pretty lady from Senones [sic - PB]. (1)

(1)  Ingres: Portrait de Mme Senonnes, 1814, Musée de Beaux Arts de Nantes

 My conviction was justified: art, that which lasts, is based on mathematics.

Nearly conscious in someone like Michelangelo, or Paolo Uccello, quite intuitive in painters such as Ingres, or Corot, it works on the basis of numbers which belong to the painting itself, not to whatever it represents.

Touront didn't agree and refused to "wrack his brains". He quoted Carolus Duran to me, the object of his perpetual admiration - who knew of no measurements other than those which enable the arm to stretch out and set a vertical pencil wandering about the air of the schoolroom [promener dans l'air de l'école un crayon vertical].

My interest awakened, I ordered all the Parisian papers which gave any space to what was going on in the arts. I learned that Cézanne's success was not preventing the Neo-Impressionists from getting support. My knowledge of their technique was entirely literary. That was sufficient for it to agree, at least in the realm of colour, with my desire for order, for rigour, and I tried it out on a number of canvasses. They were a source of great merriment to Touront. I sent them to Paris and they were shown at the Salon des Indépendants (1903). Several picture dealers wrote to me and made proposals that were not at all inconsiderable. I accepted those of one of them.