Henri Regnault was the most musical of all the painters whom I have known. He did not need a violin—he was his own. Nature had endowed him with an exquisite tenor voice. It was alluring in its timbre and irresistible in its attractiveness, just as he was himself. He was no “near musician.” He loved music passionately, and he was unwilling to sing as an amateur. He took lessons from Romain Bussine at the Conservatoire. He sang to perfection the difficult arias of Mozart’s Don Juan. He also liked to declaim the magnificent recitative of Pilgrimage in the third act of Tannhauser.
As we were friendly and liked the same things, the sympathy which brought us together was quite natural. At the beginning of the war in 1870 I wrote Les Melodies Persanes and Regnault was their first interpreter. Sabre en main is dedicated to him. But his great success was Le Cimitiere. Who would have thought as he sang:
“To-day the roses,
To-morrow the cypress!”
that the prophecy would be realized so soon?
Some imbeciles have written that the loss of Regnault was not to be regretted; that he had said all he had to say. In reality he had given only the prologue of the great poem which he was working out in his brain. He had already ordered canvasses for great compositions which, without a doubt, would have been among the glories of French art.
I saw him for the last time during the siege. He was just starting for drill with his rifle in his hand. One of the four watercolors which were his last work, stood uncompleted on his easel. There was a shapeless spot at the bottom. He held a handkerchief in his free hand. He moistened this from time to time with saliva and kept tapping away on the spot on the picture. To my great astonishment, almost to my fright, I saw roughed out and finished the head of a lion.
A few days afterwards came Buzenval!
When the question of publishing Henri Regnault’s letters came up, some phrases referring to me and ranking me above my rivals were found in them. The editor of the letter got into communication with me, read me the phrases, and announced that they were to be suppressed, because they might displease the other musicians.
I knew who the other musicians were, and whose puppet the editor was. It would have been possible, it seems to me, without hurting anyone, to include the exaggerated praise, which, coming from a painter, had no weight, and which would have proved nothing except the great friendship which inspired it. I have always regretted that the public did not learn of the sentiments with which the great artist, whom I loved so much, honored me.