Eugène and Berthe walk along a row of Edouard Manet’s paintings, giving a short description of each while Theo asks questions, trying to get a sense of what the painting is about, and if there is anything about the creation of the painting that might add to its value. In the end, Theo gives them a couple of different values, what price his employer, Boussod, Valadon and Company, might put on them, and how much they might be worth in a few years. Vincent listens to the descriptions, spending a minute or two closely examining each work. Then, he walks a few steps away from the painting for another view until he hears something that catches his attention about the next one, at which point, he quickly catches up to see what the others are talking about.
After the third painting, Berthe notices Vincent’s keen interest, "What do you think, Vincent?"
Vincent clears his throat. "His brushstroke is the lightest I have ever seen!" Thinking a bit, "He was obviously a student of Delacroix, the way he paints the sea. He handles light extremely well, especially outdoors, something with which I am in a constant state of frustration."
Vincent continues. "Sometimes primitive. I can see how some would say unfinished, but at a distance I see he is conveying a sense of movement, forcing us to see exactly what he has chosen to present. And what he wants us to see gives us some remarkable things to think about! His compositions are much considered and designed to imbue the characters with thought. Although, the subtlety with which he poses them scarcely gives us more than a suggestion as to what their thoughts might be. Very thought-provoking to the viewer and fresh looking." Turning to Theo, Vincent exclaims, "Theo, we should buy them all, at once!"
Berthe, Eugène, and Theo laugh loudly, but Vincent is not smiling. "I am serious."
"Vincent, you are very generous with Boussod, Valadon and Company’s money! You know we only have a certain budget within certain styles. We have a large number of customers with many different tastes."
"You must educate the customer."
Theo takes his employer’s point of view. "Vincent, we have talked about this many times. Our job is to serve customers, not tell them what they should buy. The company knows what customers want."
"Those gentlemen don’t know…"
Vincent is stopped by Theo’s slightly raised hand and forceful words. "Those gentlemen have been quite liberal, the last few years, allowing us to be the only reputable art gallery to have a small section devoted to Impressionism. To invest in a representative cross-section of the new art. We will have ample opportunity to discuss this later." Getting back to the business at hand, "Now, about this one, do you know if it was painted before or after the one by Monet?"
Eugène and Berthe look at each other, not familiar with the Monet painting Theo is talking about.
Vincent's eyes fill with emotion, "This is one of the most powerful anti-war statements I have ever seen!" His soul is touched by the sight of a one-legged man with a crutch, headed away from the viewer with several French flags on display in honour of Bastille Day.
‘rue Mosnier with Flags’, Manet
‘rue Montorgueil’, Monet
“Yes, Edouard’s hatred of war came from the tremendous loss of life in ’70 and '71. First, the siege, then the blood bath in the streets. We were here the whole time, you know."
"No, I didn't know," Theo replies respectfully.
"I'm sure you've heard the stories. Starvation to the point of eating rats and zoo animals. Then, the mass executions." It’s still painful for Eugène to talk about.
"The painting by Monet has many more
flags, a cacophony of red, blue, and white, if you will. No crippled man. A
joyous painting, very patriotic."
"Interesting." Berthe reports matter-of-factly, "Monet’s whole family went away to London ahead of the Prussians. But we shouldn’t hold that against him. His father did not want him to be a painter, at all, and completely disinherited him afterwards. Then, his wife died. He has not had an easy life."
"This is something for a museum. On the open market, maybe 1500 francs? Its anti-war theme limits the number of people who would want to have it. As such, it’s very difficult to place a future value on it. It’s something more suitable for public display. At the right time. With the right government." Theo focuses on the next painting, "And this?"
Berthe responds, “A study for ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergere’.”
"Ah, yes, the famous ‘Bar at the Folies-Bergere’ from the Salon of '82. Interesting. How different it is from the final version! Obviously, a lot was added as the concept progressed. The final painting has a much more interesting, natural looking lady with a different pose. More things on the bar, trapeze in the upper left corner. The gentleman taller. And younger, also? Maybe? "
“Yes, the man at the bar was Edouard’s neighbour, Henri Dupray. It is very impressive, your eye for detail. And your familiarity with the final version.”
“Thank you. I can’t take too much credit, though. It’s my job.”
They round a corner. Eugène proudly announces, “And here is the final version, in all its glory!”
‘A Bar at the Folies Bergere’, Manet
Theo is shocked to see the painting he had just described, Manet's last masterpiece. "Oh, my! The final painting! The beautiful young woman whose mind is far, far away. On what, we do not know, but probably, has something to do with the reflection on the right side. Magnificent. Just magnificent. Totally in Edouard's style. It would be great to have these two together to demonstrate how the painting changed as he went along."
Vincent, who had been looking at the left side of the painting, looks over to the right side. As he sees the man in the reflection, Vincent interrupts the conversation by shouting, "Theo, it's you! You’re the man in the reflection! This is remarkable! Why didn't you tell me?"
Embarrassed over Vincent’s lack of decorum, Theo tries to dissuade him. "Vincent, it’s not me. Look at his eyes."
"Yes, but look at the rest. Look at the hat! It’s the very same hat you gave me today!”
"Vincent, these hats were very popular a few years ago. Probably 90% of men still wear them! How many did we see at the Louvre today? And besides, didn’t you hear Eugène say he was Edouard’s neighbour?”
"In the study, maybe, but look at this! It’s a different man. With a different hat. And this one is younger. It’s you, my brother! And your hat! As far as your eyes, maybe he didn’t want anyone to recognise you? Why would you be talking to this lady at the Folies-Bergere?"
"Vincent, it’s not me." Speaking to his hosts, "Do you know anything else about this painting?”
Eugène sighs, "Not much. There are more questions about this one than all the others combined. The lady’s name was Suzon, and she actually was a bartender at the Folies-Bergere. She would come to Edouard’s studio with a bodyguard or, maybe, her boyfriend? Maybe the gentleman at the bar is him? Neither of us were there when he painted it. You know, there is a resemblance. Vincent could be right, for all we know."
"Please don’t encourage him!" pleads Theo.
“Well, you know, Edouard would often blend different characteristics of different models into the final painting. There could be some of you in it.”
Berthe added, "The only thing Edouard would ever say about it was, ‘When one knows, all will know’.”
Theo is intrigued. "What could that mean? Does that mean one person will be able to tell everyone? Or somehow everyone will discover what it means at the same time? And if that is so, how could everyone know at the same time?" They consider the questions for a moment.
Vincent speaks first. "Come Theo. Tell us. You know you could never lie to me."
Theo grabs Vincent’s shoulders and looks him straight in the eyes, "Vincent, if it were me don’t you think I would know what it is all about and I would tell you? I am telling you, I don’t know what it’s about, and it’s not me."
Vincent doesn’t know whether to believe Theo or not, "That’s pretty good, Theo. Maybe it’s just your coat and hat."
"Now, that’s possible. I did go to Folies from time to time, and I did see Edouard there. Even spoke with him on occasion as I am an art dealer and he was an artist. That’s all. Now again, this should be on public display, if for no other reason than to see if the prophecy can be fulfilled. As far as its worth, it will be directly related to his reputation. If the Impressionists gain favour, it could become priceless, but until then, upper end maybe 25,000 francs due to it being Edouard’s last major work and the mirror theme. Be a shame to go to a private collector, though. Would you like me to talk to a museum curator?"
"We already have someone working on it to see how much interest there is. Good to see you agree."
Three more paintings are presented, all small works of flowers. Vincent continues studying ‘The Bar’.
"That’s it then? We must go. Another appointment. No rest for the weary, you know. Come, Vincent, we must move on."
They walk to the door as a houseboy brings Theo and Vincent their hats and coats. Vincent studies his hat so much that Theo has to guide him in the right direction through the door. Theo thanks Berthe and Eugène for their hospitality. They thank Theo for his professionalism and Vincent for his insightful comments.
As Vincent is about to step into the carriage, he turns back to Theo, "It is you, isn’t it?"
Theo responds with a heavy sigh and pushes him forward.
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