“To do it, you see,” went on the painter, “one should have the proper background—these currents of modern life and modern types, passing him and leaving him untouched. There is no illusion, and no dreaming, in modern life. Look at this street. La, la!”
In the darkened Strand, hundreds of khaki-clad figures and girls were streaming by, and all their voices had a hard, half-jovial vulgarity. The motor-cabs and buses pushed along remorselessly; newspaper-sellers muttered their ceaseless invitations. Again the painter made his gesture of despair: “How am I to get into my picture this modern life, which washes round him as round that church, there, standing in the middle of the street? See how the currents sweep round it, as if to wash it away; yet it stands, seeming not to see them. If I were a phantasist, it would be easy enough: but to be a phantasist is too simple for me—those romantic gentlemen bring what they like from anywhere, to serve their ends. Moi, je suis realiste. And so, monsieur, I have invented an idea. I am painting over his head while he sits there at the piano a picture hanging on the wall—of one of these young town girls who have no mysteriousness at all, no youth; nothing but a cheap knowledge and defiance, and good humour. He is looking up at it, but he does not see it. I will make the face of that girl the face of modern life, and he shall sit staring at it, seeing nothing. What do you think of my idea?”
But Fort had begun to feel something of the revolt which the man of action so soon experiences when he listens to an artist talking.
“It sounds all right,” he said abruptly; “all the same, monsieur, all my sympathy is with modern life. Take these young girls, and these Tommies. For all their feather-pated vulgarity and they are damned vulgar, I must say—they’re marvellous people; they do take the rough with the smooth; they’re all ‘doing their bit,’ you know, and facing this particularly beastly world. Aesthetically, I daresay, they’re deplorable, but can you say that on the whole their philosophy isn’t an advance on anything we’ve had up till now? They worship nothing, it’s true; but they keep their ends up marvellously.”