The Parisienne

kent

The Parisienne

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.’

‘Not Maria!’

She raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow and I felt silly in my girlish eagerness.

‘Well?’

‘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

This is my contribution to Friday Fiction, hosted expertly as ever by Rochelle. Thanks to Kent Bonham for the photo prompt.

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!

martheanddog

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24 thoughts on “The Parisienne

    • Thanks for your comments.
      Bonnard painted a huge number of paintings and was widely collected all over. I lived in Maryland for a while and the Phillips Collection nearby in DC has some lovely Bonnards. I think Bonnard visited the US, but I think without Marthe.

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    • Thanks! I appreciate your appreciation. Bonnard’s last house was at Le Cannet where there is also a Bonnard Museum – don’t know if you’ve been in that part of the world? It’s still on my list.

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  1. Nicely done as always MJ! I wasn’t familiar with bit of history, so I read up a little more. Would the POV be Marie’s/Marthe’s sister? And I’m trying to decide whether or not you’ve added a delightful fictional element that explains why she’s always painted young–so can you tell me what it was about the photo that inspired you?

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    • I imagined Estelle as Marthe’s friend rather than sister and that Marthe was already in Paris, having left her home in the country. Quite hard to put in the detail in 100 words. (I’d heard of the sister because there was a long battle over Marthe’s will when she died but I don’t know anything else about her.)
      Why I chose to write this is not even obvious to me. I have long been fascinated by the Bonnards. His paintings are like an instagram account before its time – lots of tantalising glimpses of their life together (what they had for lunch, what colour the walls are painted) only scattered around the world in various galleries. Not sure what they’d have made of some of the more private stuff collected in museums though – like the erotic but also sweetly silly nude photos they took of each other in the garden.
      I’m probably also interested because quite a lot seems to get into the art books that isn’t necessarily true – like Marthe pretending to be 16. How can we know Pierre was deceived – I seriously doubt he thought she was 16. But it’s too late to ask him!
      Glad you liked the trip to Paris!

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  2. Yes, history and fiction can be a potent mix.
    In that regard have just read and amazing first novel set before and after the fall of the Berlin wall (The Leipzig Affair by Fiona Rintoul). Would love to know what you think of it if you come across it.

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  3. I learned a considerable amount from your flash, “footnote,” and commentary here. Enjoyed all aspects. And will look for F. Rintoul’s The Leipzig Affair — as you suggested!

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  4. Thanks for your lovely comment!
    I would love to make this a longer piece but am somewhat daunted by all the research that would be required (I’m kind of winging it in this tiny piece). The fact that others find this mix of fact and fiction enjoyable is a really useful testing ground and is really encouraging. Thanks!

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