“Here, if you please,” he said, moving on one side with his nimble gait and pointing to his picture, “it’s the exhortation to Pilate. Matthew, chapter xxvii,” he said, feeling his lips were beginning to tremble with emotion. He moved away and stood behind them.
For the few seconds during which the visitors were gazing at the picture in silence Mihailov too gazed at it with the indifferent eye of an outsider. For those few seconds he was sure in anticipation that a higher, juster criticism would be uttered by them, by those very visitors whom he had been so despising a moment before. He forgot all he had thought about his picture before during the three years he had been painting it; he forgot all its qualities which had been absolutely certain to him—he saw the picture with their indifferent, new, outside eyes, and saw nothing good in it. He saw in the foreground Pilate’s irritated face and the serene face of Christ, and in the background the figures of Pilate’s retinue and the face of John watching what was happening. Every face that, with such agony, such blunders and corrections had grown up within him with its special character, every face that had given him such torments and such raptures, and all these faces 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 such labor—all of this together seemed to him now, looking at it with their eyes, the merest vulgarity, something that had been done a thousand times over. The face dearest to him, the face of Christ, the center of the picture, which had given him such ecstasy as it unfolded itself to him, was utterly lost to him when he glanced at the picture with their eyes. He saw a well-painted (no, not even that—he distinctly saw now a mass of defects) repetition of those endless Christs of Titian, Raphael, Rubens, and the same soldiers and Pilate. It was all common, poor, and stale, and positively badly painted—weak and unequal. They would be justified in repeating hypocritically civil speeches in the presence of the painter, and pitying him and laughing at him when they were alone again.
The silence (though it lasted no more than a minute) became too intolerable to him. To break it, and to show he was not agitated, he made an effort and addressed Golenishtchev.
“I think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you,” he said, looking uneasily first at Anna, then at Vronsky, in fear of losing any shade of their expression.
“To be sure! We met at Rossi’s, do you remember, at that soiree when that Italian lady recited—the new Rachel?” Golenishtchev answered easily, removing his eyes without the slightest regret from the picture and turning to the artist.
Noticing, however, that Mihailov was expecting a criticism of the picture, he said:
“Your picture has got on a great deal since I saw it last time; and what strikes me particularly now, as it did then, is the figure of Pilate. One so knows the man: a good-natured, capital fellow, but an official through and through, who does not know what it is he’s doing. But I fancy...”