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Monday, 2 June 2014

Out of sorts

Thursday, June 2nd., Rue de Calais, Paris.

Neither yesterday nor today have I been quite sufficiently bursting with health to think seriously of the plot of the second part of "Hugo". However I have got the plan and the 'feel' of it, and also one or two detached episodic notions. The weather has been thoroughly wet and rotten.

I walked down to the Louvre in it yesterday, and had a desire to commission copies of the Botticelli frescoes on the Daru staircase - in watercolours. It was a great day for copyists. I saw scores. One old man, who was copying a Raphael head, struck me particularly. He had leaned back against the rail to rest for a few minutes. He was old and poor, shabby, rather dirty, with shaggy thin grey hair. And he seemed absolutely disgusted, hopeless, and feebly bitter. I could not help feeling shocked by the sight, for of course this man had started out in life with the idea that he was going to succeed as a painter. Was I perhaps so shocked because I could see an alternative reality for myself in his experience?

Art students and copyists in the Louvre -
Winslow Homer
Ever since the Louvre museum opened its treasures to public view in November 1793 (one of the indisputable benefits of the French Revolution), it has allowed, even encouraged, artists to hone their skills by copying the masterpieces in its collections. Thousands have done so, including great classical painters from Turner to Ingres, Impressionists from Manet to Degas, and modernists like Chagall and Giacometti. “You have to copy and recopy the masters,” Degas insisted, “and it’s only after having proved oneself as a good copyist that you can reasonably try to do a still life of a radish.” The Louvre’s attraction is profound. When 23-year-old Marc Chagall arrived in Paris in 1910 from Russia, he went there directly from the train station, suitcase in hand. “Going to the Louvre is like reading the Bible or Shakespeare,” he later said. Paul C├ęzanne regularly trekked there to copy Michelangelo, Rubens and classical Greek and Roman statues. “The Louvre is the book where we learn to read,” he declared.

Afterwards I went on to my 'Empire' shop and bought two occasional tables, a candlestick and a flower glass, all strictly Empire. I have now done buying furniture. I only want bibelots and things.

I bade goodbye to my stupid femme de menage this morning. She told me a few days ago that her husband had returned to her, and that they were both going to their native district of Auvergne. This origin I am told explains her singular and astonishing stupidity. On Tuesday she achieved a miracle of stupidity in the way of trying to keep milk cool under a jug of cold water - no doubt to crown her career. It would have been an excellent idea for milk-cooling if the water had not got into the milk. She has been here for eight months and we have never exchanged 'general' ideas - not once.

Additionally for June 2nd., see 'Feeling poorly'

Up till noon I still hoped, in spite of millions of experiences, that I might be able to work in the afternoon. I glanced through all the newspapers, and made my head worse just as it was easing. I took nothing but milkless tea until the evening, and then a morsel of arrowroot. To starve and to lie flat - this is my only treatment.

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