As I tiptoed down the unlit stairs, Estelle’s door opened a crack.
‘The little bird is flying!’
I was her petit oiseau, but I felt her own half-starved frame as I embraced her. She took in my dress, my shiny helmet of hair.
‘Perhaps you are right about your artist, dark-eyed Pierre. But such as tiny valise for a new life Maria.’
She raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow and I felt silly in my girlish eagerness.
‘I’m Marthe now, Marthe de Meligny.’
And the sound of it rolled from my lips, like the caress of a new lover.
M J Lewis ©2015
Anyone who knows the work of the post-impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard is also likely to recognise his companion Marthe de Meligny. A waif of a girl, barely five-foot tall, they are said to have met on the street in Paris in 1893, when she was only sixteen. Marthe was to share the next 49 years of her life with Bonnard, until her death in 1942.
Actually it later came to light (when they finally married) that she was a similar age to Bonnard, both being in their mid-twenties when they met. Also, her real name was Maria Boursin. How and why she turned up in Paris (and with a new name) and how much of Marthe’s story Bonnard knew is shrouded in mystery and clouded in misinformation, which of course makes it all very intriguing!