WITH DU MAURIER AND FRIENDS.
“I well remember” my first meeting with du Maurier in the class-rooms of the famous Antwerp Academy.
I was painting and blagueing, as one paints and blagues in the storm and stress period of one’s artistic development.
It had been my good fortune to commence my studies in Paris; it was there, in the atelier Gleyre, I had cultivated, I think I may say, very successfully, the essentially French art of chaffing, known by the name of “La blague parisienne,” and I now was able to give my less lively Flemish friends and fellow-students the full benefit of my experience. Many pleasant recollections bound me to Paris; so, when I heard one day that a “Nouveau” had arrived, straight from my old atelier Gleyre, I was not a little impatient to make his acquaintance.
[Illustration: The atelier Gleyre.]
The new-comer was du Maurier. I sought him out, and, taking it for granted that he was a Frenchman, I addressed him in French; we were soon engaged in lively conversation, asking and answering questions about the comrades in Paris, and sorting the threads that associated us both with the same place. “Did you know ’un nomme Pointer’?” he asked, exquisitely Frenchy-fying the name for my benefit. I mentally translated this into equally exquisite English, my version naturally being: “A man called Poynter.”
Later on an American came up, with whom I exchanged a few words in his and my native tongue. “What the D. are you—English?” broke in du Maurier. “And what the D. are you?” I rejoined. I forget whether D. stood for Dickens or for the other one; probably it was the latter. At any rate, whether more or less emphatic in our utterances, we then and there made friends on a sound international basis.
It seemed to me that at this our first meeting du Maurier took me in at a glance—the eager, hungry glance of the caricaturist. He seemed struck with my appearance, as well he might be. I wore a workman’s blouse that had gradually taken its colour from its surroundings. To protect myself from the indiscretions of my comrades I had painted various warnings on my back, as, for instance, “Bill stickers beware,” “It is forbidden to shoot rubbish here,” and the like. My very black hair, ever inclined to run riot, was encircled by a craftily conceived band of crochet-work, such as only a fond mother’s hand could devise, and I was doubtless colouring some meerschaum of eccentric design. My fellow-student, the now famous Matthew Maris, immortalised that blouse and that piece of crochet-work in the admirable oil-sketch here reproduced.
[Illustration: My blouse.
(From an oil-sketch by Matthew Maris.)]
It has always been a source of legitimate pride to me to think that I should have been the tool selected by Providence to sharpen du Maurier’s pencil; there must have been something in my “Verfluchte Physiognomie,” as a very handsome young German, whom I used to chaff unmercifully, called it, to reveal to du Maurier hidden possibilities and to awaken in him those dormant capacities which had betrayed themselves in the eager glance above named.