Profile of the Artist
There is a certain
"type". And although the necessity of frequently having
to attend the theatre and the illusion of imagining himself to be
seen there have given to the gentleman who cultivates it the
habits of elegance, in order to be facetious, he signs his
articles: "the Box-office man" or "a duty Fire
Officer", affecting to be the one who lights the gas lamps
or sells the programmes. Often he is a young man. Then, out of
preference, he writes profiles of actresses. He flatters the
pretty ones and tries to launch the ones with no talent in order
to endear himself to them, selling his impartiality to buy their
favours. With those making their first appearance he knows how to
adopt a paternal tone. As for the artists whom he admires he
enumerates, compares and exalts their different roles. "By
turns cruel in Néron, melancholy in Fantasio, impetuous in
Ruy-Blas, etc." borrowing from the other arts the terms of
his comparisons. Sometimes from music: "M. Worms could never
be good in this role. It was not written in his voice." Or
more often from sculpture, which provides him with his
"ancient bas-reliefs", "Florentine bronzes",
"exquisite Tanagras". He borrows from the world of
painting the "blended shades" of Sarah-Bernhardt's
diction, or to recognize in Mounet-Sully "a Titian stepped
down from the canvas" and "walking among us".
Great artists are never the same two days running. So much the better, because irregularity is one of the marks of genius. One day Sarah-Bernhardt "was visibly trying to surpass herself". The next she "was beneath herself" and "didn't give what she was capable of". Some are "in progress", others are "on the wrong track". They are never sparing with their advice. Occasionally an article is entitled: "A little integrity, gentlemen of the theatre".
If an expression such as "whereas M. Worms has decamped" escapes from the critic, he adds humorously "as the late Royer-Collard would say" or "if I may make so bold".
And if the name of M. Maubant "falls from his pen" he will add in parentheses: "You are all embittered, gentlemen."
Through him we are introduced to the intimate world of artists. We discover that Mlle. Z., the artist, is a thoroughly "sly old dog" or an "old busybody", that M. Truffier is an exquisite poet "in his spare time" and M. Duflos "one of our most intrepid cyclists".
And we also learn about his own private life, because in his need to display himself his own opinions seem too impersonal to him and he confides his habits to us. We learn that on the evening of a première when he was dining in town he left before the coffee so as to arrive in time and that the curtain was not raised until a long time afterwards. He takes the side of the public,
"of the ones who pay, the true ones"
(to parody a well know verse), he accuses the Vaudeville management, puts the director of the Beaux-Arts on trial. In ten years time he will collect together his "profiles", his "dry-points" and his "sanguine" pieces. On the first page a letter from M. Duquesnel will demonstrate that he is happy to accept the dedication. But for the present he is trying to get himself into the pages of the Revue d'Art dramatique.
Need I say that no similarity with any person is intended in this profile, and that all the characteristics in it are purely imaginary? If by chance a "Box-office man" or a "Fire Officer" actually writes in the press that he will excuse me for taking his name unknowingly, similarly I would forgive him for having whispered my "words" back to me; he has nothing to grudge this "opera glass seller". Which was initially how I was intending to sign this article. And I have far better reasons than any intention to occasionally frequent the same places myself, that is not to seriously slander a style recently displayed by M. Henry Gauthier-Villars.
Article appeared in the Revue
d'Art dramatique, January 1897 and reprinted in Chroniques
(Libraire Gallimard, 1927).
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