The Experiences of a Model: 1905

The Artist's Model

Bargue, Charles; The Artist’s Model; Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-artists-model-160095

No apology, we hope, is necessary for the publication of the following article. “The Experiences of a Model.” written for the Argonaut by Sarah Francis Montague, a California girl in New York. The few “damns” scattered through the story are, we think, more than excused by its absolute sincerity and its utter candor. Nothing could be left out without spoiling the fidelity of the portrait she draws of her unconscious, and therefore natural, portraitors.

Although there are models galore in New York (writes our correspondent) probably none have ever thought to relate their impressions of the famous men they have met. Probably they have been debarred by the thought that if anything uncomplimentary were to be said, a future means of livelihood might be affected. By merest chance I had the opportunity to serve in the capacity of a model for three of the best-known artists in New York. Knowing their drawings to be so popular with the general public, it occurred to me that a study of the men themselves, from the model’s point of view, should prove interesting. Early in the spring I had come East, never doubting that my theatrical experiences in California would procure me an immediate engagement with the managers of the great metropolis. Oh! the dauntless, sanguine Western girl! How many of them have left home with that same dream of fame and spirit of independence, only to spend months of waiting in the proverbial hall bedroom. disillusioned, but still undaunted. My experiences differed little from others’, though in some ways I was more fortunate. My finances were in such a condition that I could lodge nearer the parlor floor and afford to wait a few months. Still, il ennui à qui attend. In spite of my efforts to convince the managers that they could not get along without me. it was some time before I was placed. Being almost a stranger here, time began to hang heavily upon my hands, so when a friend suggested that I pose to while away the hours, I welcomed the suggestion gladly. Then the novelty of the idea impressed me, for I would see a phase of life of which I knew nothing. My friend volunteered to introduce me to the popular Life artist [Charles Dana Gibson?], whom she was sure would rave over my long lines and ask me to pose without any suggestion upon my part. Accordingly, one afternoon, as I returned from my managerial rounds, we called at the illustrator’s studio. He had just returned from luncheon, where he had evidently partaken freely of liquid refreshment. “Experience — that shroud of illusions!” In imagination. I had expected to see a living representation of those famous creations. What a disenchantment! Instead, here was a man. utterly blasé, carelessly groomed, and entirely lacking in dignity and spirituality — evidently a bohemian and man of the world.

We were greeted very jovially, and my “lines” did impress him, for I was asked to pose the following week. He examined the photographs I had with me, so as to select the costumes which he desired to sketch. This called forth the remark: “By Jove! you are tall, but you’ve got a damn fine shape. Where did you come from? Are there any more at home like you?” A little more good-natured chaff, and then we left.

The next Monday, when I entered the studio at the appointed time, his mood had changed. He gave me a grunt of recognition, and told me to sit down until he was ready. Evidently his affairs had gone wrong. Several men called upon business. He growled with them for a few minutes, and then slowly made preparations to work, giving me a curt. “Change your dress.” I retired to the dressing-room, which was just a corner curtained off. The studio itself was a large room, very restful to the eye. So extremely simple were its furnishings, containing only what was absolutely necessary for comfort. A fireplace, several large chairs and davenports, chests of drawers for his materials, an easel and drawing table, and a few tapestries on the walls were all. There were no pictures or drawings of any kind, except in one corner, near the door, where a few canvases were tucked away. A caller, picking up one of the latter—the study of a very beautiful woman—asked if it were finished. “No!” he answered, “she is too damned self conscious.”

As I fastened my gown, I glanced out at the artist himself. He sat before the easel, a picture of boredom: a tall and rather well built man, but not otherwise prepossessing. His head was nearly bald, and a protruding lower lip and heavy jaw gave him a rather sensuous countenance. As I came out. he glanced up critically from under his knitted brows. “Got good arms, haven’t you? There’s not one tall woman in a hundred who has.” Now that he had vouchsafed me at least one pleasant remark, I was a little more at ease.. After several attempts he finally settled upon a pose that suited him. I was astonished at the ease and rapidity with which he drew. Except for a nervous tattoo, which he constantly kept up with his shoes on the floor, he worked in. silence. Soon, however, he commenced to sigh and ejaculate: “God! God! but I’m tired! Work, work, from morning until night. I have so much to do. I don’t know where to commence!” I ventured to remind him that this was the penalty of fame. But even fame seems to have palled upon him. He has already exhausted life of all its treasures.

Not being accustomed to posing, in a few minutes I became so stiff I tried to shift my position a little. He at once exclaimed: “Don’t you move!” And I didn’t move again until the drawing was nearly completed, for he kept up a continual mumbling of “Don’t you move — don’t you move.” Finally I was relieved by a knock at the door. In response to his call. “Come in.” an old lady entered. The artist nodded to her, and told her to wait outside. Turning to me, he said: “Throw something about your shoulders. I have to talk to that old slob for a few minutes. Do you want a book to read?” He handed me one. Evidently he indulged in choice literature, for it was a collection of risque French cartoons and jokes. When the “old slob” had gone, and while he put the finishing touches on his sketch, he became garrulous, and began showering compliments upon me. Then he turned to the theme of love. His remarks becoming too broad, I changed the subject, and interested him in the details of my stage career. This brought to his mind how he had struggled to gain a foothold. With a few drawings under his arm, he had trudged from one newspaper office to another, only to meet rebuffs. Finally his opportunity came, and he seized it. It was all he needed. Then —”nothing succeeds like success.”

My second pose began. The instructions I was given were forcible if not elegant: “Sit behind that table over there. Put your hands in your lap. Turn your eyes this way, and look mad, as if the fellow opposite had said something improper. Now, scowl like hell!” I scowled in earnest. He gave a low chuckle, and. glancing at me, said: “That’s it. But do you mean that for me or the fellow?” I did not answer, but continued to scowl. As he worked, he gradually became good-humored, and joshed about gay and festive city life. I could not but help being amused by his remarks, and unconsciously my face relaxed its severe expression. I was soon recalled to my pose by an angry, “Now, you’re too damn pretty again.” As I left the studio, I could not help wondering how the wonderful drawings, so full of sentiment and beauty, could have originated in the brain of this seemingly common-place man. I say “seemingly,” for after all great men are but poseurs — and finally the pose becomes a habit.

In most decided contrast was my second experience with the celebrated poster-artist. [James Montgomery Flagg?] I looked forward to this appointment, for in a monthly magazine I had just read an interesting article by him on “The Poster.”

I expected to meet an interesting personality, and I was not disappointed. Entirely in accord with his personality was his appearance.

He was tall and muscular, with well-shaped hands and feet. The lofty brow, earnest, thoughtful eves, and sensitive mouth and chin denoted the artist and student. His manner was easy, well-bred, and courteous. When I arrived. I found him hard at work. He gave me a quiet “good-morning.” and showed me into the dressing-room. He called to me that he was going out for a hurried lunch, and would return shortly. This gave me the opportunity to inspect the studio. I knew that I could learn much of the man from his environment. The room was simply overflowing with curios of every description: armor, tapestries, costumes, and books galore.

The walls were thickly covered with pictures and posters — chiefly the results of his own efforts. In one corner was a large couch, littered with inviting cushions, and almost concealed by hanging draperies. Just opposite were a large easel and stool, standing in front of a broad mirror that extended from floor to ceiling. Nearby was the immense tray of pastels and crayons. I glanced at the books. They were typical of the man. All of the standard works were there, books of travel, essays, the higher class of fiction, and the best magazines. Indicative of a sentimental vein was a volume of love-letters, with the most beautiful passages heavily lined. Numerous art journals and studies in the nude were piled on a stand. I sat on the couch to await the artist’s return. As he he gave me an approving glance, and then went to work in a quiet, business-like way, making a rough sketch to show me the pose he desired. I took my position, and before I had time to get tired, he had suggested a rest. Between poses, he talked of his work, of his studies abroad, and the struggle necessary for success. To my surprise, he said he had as many as twenty applications in a morning from models to pose.

When I first saw him he had hardly given me a glance. I asked why I had been selected. He replied that one glance sufficed to show him what he wanted. I remained an hour or so longer, and then my pose for that day was ended.

Acting upon the suggestion of the poster-artist, the next day I called upon the illustrator of “The Castaway.” [Howard Chandler Christy] He was entertaining a couple of his bohemian friends, and I was somewhat disconcerted when I was forced to undergo a trying ordeal of inspection. First he commented upon my unusual height, and I had to stand to let him take a general survey of my figure. Then my hair and features were inspected, and finally I was asked to remove my waist so he could pass judgment on my neck and shoulders. I suggested that he take their merits for granted, as they had pleased other artists quite as critical as he. He did not insist, and told me to come the following Thursday to pose. On that day as I entered the studio, an old man, who looked as if he might belong to the G. A. R., was receiving his morning’s wages. They were evidently satisfactory, for as he left he called out a cheery good-by, and questioned. “To-morrow at the same time?” I was greeted with, “Well, you haven’t grown any shorter, have you?” He having forgotten to grow himself, my inches seemed to impress him. There was nothing bashful about him. While I was in the dressing-room he thrust his head between the curtains several times, proffering his services in helping me dress. After declining his offer once or twice, I managed to convince him that I needed no assistance. But just as the last hook was fastened, he called to me, “That is a stunning gown you have on.” I was surprised, and asked how he knew when he could not see it. He laughed, and then I saw that he had been watching my reflection in a mirror through the opening in the curtains. During the pose he kept up a constant chatter, in a good-humored way, about the books he had illustrated and the news of the day. I noticed he was left-handed, and enjoyed watching him work, he did it with such ease. His personal appearance was quite ordinary, but he was apparently an all-around good fellow, thoroughly alert, and lacking all conventional restraint. His studio was his work-shop. There were no attempts at decoration, but everywhere were evidences of his ingenuity and industry.

When an artist paints a portrait he paints two — himself and the poser. In all of this artist’s work there was that spirit of independence and energy which characterized his nature.

In a few days from this I joined a company, so my experiences as a model were ended. I often wondered how nearly correct were my impressions, and then I recalled the words of Balzac: “Before you judge a man. you must know the secret of his thoughts, of his sorrows, of his feelings; not to be willing to know more of his life than its material events is to make it a chronology — the history of fools.”

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 23 January 1905: p. 64

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really cannot approve of a fellow who peeps at a young lady when she believes herself unobserved in the dressing room. Or of one who hands his model a book of risqué French cartoons and jokes. Bounder. Cad.

One does wish that Miss Montague had been a bit more forthcoming while naming and shaming the swine. The poster-artist, on the other hand, seems to have comported himself like a gentleman. One out of three, one fears, knowing the artistic temperament, is not bad.

Mrs Daffodil once had a Ducal mistress who was enamoured of a caddish artist. When he came to an unfortunate end, helped, Mrs Daffodil freely admits, by a liberal application of gilt paint for a fancy-dress ball, there were so many floral offerings from titled ladies at the funeral (despite Her Grace having believed his protestations that he was hers alone) that one wonders where he found time to paint.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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