William Bouguereau is renown today for his works of idealized beauty and technical virtuosity. Once one of the most popular artists of the 19th century, he became a victim of the Modern Art movement as it bulldozed its past, and the light that Bouguereau brought into the world was almost extinguished. What was the origin of that light, that mastery of beauty?
How does a dreamer reconcile his adoration of the human body and his devout suspicion of the sins of the flesh? How does a romantic who seeks perfection endure the imperfections of everyday life? The solution for William Bouguereau is quite unconventional – he travels to the enigmatic Nymph Land.
In this fairy tale of an artist facing the challenges of a fledgling career, Bouguereau is entinced by a fellow artist to go to Nymph Land – an erotic Arcadia spoken of in whispers by artists and poets. There, William is bent on learning the secrets of passion, but the price may be too great – to be forever trapped in the dream world of Nymph Land, where he will lose his art and perhaps his very soul.
Targeted Age Group:: Adults only
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love fine art, especially the great Romantics like Bouguereau and William Waterhouse, the Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists. It saddens me that modern art scholars tried to wipe out all the beauty of the past to justify its own cynical philosophies. This book is a denial of modernist cynicism and embraces the beauty of past art.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main character is based on the artist William Bouguereau. The plot is a flight of fancy based on his works.
The Studio Angel
Ivette’s nipples blossomed like pink tea roses. She was the perfect subject, and I was ruining her. I was a stubborn young artist back then – hell-bent on perfection. For the third time that morning, I blotted out and repainted her nipples. The mixture of pink with a dab of burnt sienna did not satisfy me.
I once believed that my constant struggles, even over minor undertakings such as the color study I was attempting that day, were the consequence of my striving for genius. I had yet to learn that it was actually a symptom of self-doubt crushing my imagination. I lowered my brush, leaned back in my stool, and tried to absorb Ivette’s form.
Light and shadow grappled over the beautiful young model as the morning sun filtered in through a patina of dirt on the glass of the studio window. My dear friend Paul had suggested I use Ivette for a saucy subject, such as Salomé or Cleopatra. I must note that M. Baudry was a lascivious bastard. Yes, Ivette was a prostitute of course, but in her naked splendor I envisioned an angel. It was rather foolish, transforming a perfectly accessible prostitute into an untouchable heavenly spirit, but I was suffering from a malaise so deeply rooted in my soul it threatened to undo me entirely.
Paul had claimed that Ivette’s skin was flawless. I too noticed its sublime texture as soon as she disrobed – a creamy smoothness, highlighted with alabaster overtones. Unfortunately, she was not without flaw. My heart sunk when I first glimpsed the birthmark – a small, brown dot, on the lower curve of her left breast. And now, it would not stop glaring at me.
I picked up the brush again and dabbed it in what I thought was the fleshy splotch of paint on my palette, then stopped my hand just before the canvas when I realized what I was doing. Dark, burnt sienna glistened off the tip of the brush hovering over her left breast. That birthmark hung there like a cockroach caught in the light. It was the Devil’s mark, I had told myself, for the Devil despises perfection. Such theological conflicts used to ravish my youthful mind.
Again I put down the brush. Was I intentionally finding fault with the beautiful woman before me? She was not the first prostitute to grace my studio; and yes, I admit that I had used their full services on occasion. Yet, when the consideration of Ivette’s profession crept into my thoughts that day, it froze me. I forced myself to focus on the model as an object, something to be rendered in oil.
Ivette held her arms clasped above her head with the perfect symmetry of a gothic arch. She could hold a difficult pose for a long time. Blonde hair framed her pale blue eyes and pirouetted in curly strands down her bare shoulders. Her legs, held tightly together and twisted to one side of the stool, provided a hint of modesty despite the girl’s stark nudity. I wanted to believe that she was made by the hand of God himself.
One of Uncle Eugene’s sermons flared up inside me. This always happened the moment I found pleasure in a woman. That inner voice reminded me of the sins of the flesh. Paul blamed my curate uncle for my struggles in rendering flesh on canvas.
“Let us take a break,” I finally announced.
“Are ya sure love? I can holds this position for longer if ya need me ta. Especially for a fine, handsome man as yourself.”
I was reminded that Ivette was far from perfect. There was the birthmark, yes, and then there was her voice. When she spoke it scraped over my nerves like a cheese grater. “What I need is a quiet moment.” I peeled myself off my stool and stretched my legs. I preferred standing while painting, but that morning I woke up fatigued and irritable and I was unable to shake the mood. I stepped over to the long table behind me and poured myself a glass of sweet Muscatel sherry.
Ivette slipped beside me, pushed aside the mess of paints, brushes, and bottles of linseed oil, and hopped onto the table. “Well love, ya let me know when ya’re ready ta start agin.” She snatched the sherry from my hand and swallowed it down in one swig.
My skin prickled at the feel of her bare thigh against my leg. An artist learns to objectify his model – study its shape, texture, the light and shadow around it. But Ivette was not modeling at the moment. I rummaged through tubes of paint, unwilling to make eye contact with the lustful thing beside me.
My first studio was a humble little room, the space burdened with furniture, props, and unfinished or unsold paintings. Behind the table stood a cabinet overstuffed with precious art supplies and the ephemera collected by a mind that too often wandered in dreams.
I was finally starting to make a name for myself and hoped to find a larger studio soon. I swore that my next workshop would be clean and organized. Clutter was a distraction.
Ivette offered me a warm and inviting smile. “After you’re done with the painting I’ll take care of ya. Give ya the painter’s discount.” She perched on the edge of the table, swinging her legs like a happy, little girl. Her untamed pubic hair entangled me and I found my eyes latching onto her womanhood like a shipwreck spotting land.
Uncle Eugene’s stern face flashed into my mind. I owed the man my life. Without his support I would never have become an artist, but my uncle did not help me so that I could live a debauched life. He had hoped his nephew would contribute to the sacred images decorating the churches of France. My uncle had a very medieval approach to art – it should serve the didactic purpose of the Church to help convey its ineffable message to a largely illiterate population. It is a noble, if limited, purpose.
But there was Ivette, naked before me. “Why don’t you trim that thing?” I said a little too abruptly. “Your beauty is spoiled by that ridiculous mop you cart around.”
“Hey now, that’s not a nice thing ta say.” Ivette spoke calmly, without the sharpness of someone offended. She was used to artists and their adolescent tantrums.
“Forgive me my dear. I . . . I don’t know what is troubling me today.” I pulled a handkerchief out of my pocket and wiped my brow.
“I haves more customers prefer bush over them that don’t. Reminds ’em they’se with a woman, not an inexperienced little girl.” Ivette opened her legs wider.
I grew dizzy, as if I stood on the edge of a precipice, in danger of falling into Ivette’s abyss. The intense emotion she so effortlessly evoked in me . . . If only I could capture that intensity in oil. But no, I had utterly failed in my attempts.
“Please get dressed.”
Her neatly trimmed eyebrows arched. “Why do ya want me ta do that?”
“Because, when you are modeling you are nude, but now you are just naked.”
“Most men like having me traipse around in nothing but me skin.”
I felt a migraine coming on. Inspiration eluded me. “I think we are done for today.”
“Hey now wait a minute—” Ivette hopped off the table.
“I will pay you for the full two hours of course.” I reached for a small drawer in the cabinet where I kept my wallet.
Ivette glided over to the settee where she had dropped her pink robe and slipped it on; her every movement casually graceful, calculated to seduce. The robe hung open. That skin, illuminated in the sunlight, was meant to be caressed, and not just with the eyes. Shadows dappled below her knees, below the small curve of her belly, pooled underneath her full breasts. And above the shadow, the birthmark in plain sight. I shuddered at the idea of inviting this succubus in disguise into my studio.
“We are done my dear, you may get dressed.” I handed her a few francs and nodded toward the blind, behind which, her clothes laid in a crumbled mess on the floor.
Ivette counted the francs then stuffed them in her robe pocket. “Are we done?” She slid her arms around my waist and untied my smock. “How about a little love-making?” She nimbly grabbed the strap of my smock, swung it over my head and dropped it to the floor. “I guarantee it’ll sharpen your brush strokes.” Ivette seized my hand and slipped my index finger inside her, then gasped responsively.
I grew aroused. Until thoughts of cockroaches and succubi and Uncle Eugene flooded my mind. “We should not . . .”
“Why not? Is there a priest’s collar under that linen blouse of yours?” asked Ivette in a breathy voice as she continued to pleasure herself. I did not respond. The prostitute took my silence as an invitation and unfastened my pants.
Then it happened. Once exposed, my arousal instantly deflated.
“Don’t worry none love, we’ll get ya up agin.” Ivette reached for me. I tore myself away.
“I am sorry, but today I am incapable of . . . Perhaps another day.” Oh, but I knew another day would just prove to be the same.
Ivette’s inviting face twisted into an angry glare. “What the hell? I didn’t waste my morning to get half pay. I only bother with yous piss-poor artists cause I know I’ll get another fee out of it.”
At that moment, I heard the familiar sound of a bucket sliding along the wood planks of the hallway outside my door. The landlady was attending to her weekly mopping.
“I specifically hired you as a model, nothing more.”
“Oh, I gets it. Yous a fag!”
“That’s something ta share with yar chummies at the café. . . . And yar nice old landlady, eh?” The icy glint of Ivette’s eyes stabbed me. She stomped toward the front door.
“What are you doing?” I barely refrained from shouting the question.
Ivette slipped off her robe and swung open the door. “Morning madame.”
I heard my landlady’s choked gasp in the hall. “My goodness! Who are you?”
Ivette nodded over her shoulder at me fastening my pants. “Does this fellow always pay his rent on time, or does he try to stiff ya?”
I flew to the door. Mme. Renault stood in the hallway in wild-eyed confusion – her hair in a clumped disarray of a bun and her stretched stockings sagging down to her ankles. The mop hung limp in her hands.
“Forgive me, madame. My model is not herself today. Bad oysters for breakfast.” I gave the poor lady a little bow and pulled Ivette inside.
Mme. Renault shouted as I slammed the door, “Monsieur Bouguereau, I am not running a bordello!”
“I told ya I didn’t comes here for half pay,” snarled the prostitute.
I needed her to leave. I should never have invited this creature into my studio. “Very well, will you take half your fee even though I do not require your services?”
“It’ll do. I’m sure I can make up fer it before lunchtime.”
I shuffled back to the cabinet, my slippers scraping over the hardwood floor. I would work on the painting after Ivette left. It was better that way. I relied on my imagination after all; reality could not match the images I created in my fancy.
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