The artist Mihailov was, as always,
at work when the cards of Count Vronsky and Golenishtchev
were brought to him. In the morning he had been
working in his studio at his big picture. On
getting home he flew into a rage with his wife for
not having managed to put off the landlady, who had
been asking for money.
“I’ve said it to you twenty
times, don’t enter into details. You’re
fool enough at all times, and when you start explaining
things in Italian you’re a fool three times as
foolish,” he said after a long dispute.
“Don’t let it run so long;
it’s not my fault. If I had the money...”
“Leave me in peace, for God’s
sake!” Mihailov shrieked, with tears in his
voice, and, stopping his ears, he went off into his
working room, the other side of a partition wall, and
closed the door after him. “Idiotic woman!”
he said to himself, sat down to the table, and, opening
a portfolio, he set to work at once with peculiar
fervor at a sketch he had begun.
Never did he work with such fervor
and success as when things went ill with him, and
especially when he quarreled with his wife.
“Oh! damn them all!” he thought as he went
on working. He was making a sketch for the figure
of a man in a violent rage. A sketch had been
made before, but he was dissatisfied with it.
“No, that one was better...where is it?”
He went back to his wife, and scowling, and not looking
at her, asked his eldest little girl, where was that
piece of paper he had given them? The paper with
the discarded sketch on it was found, but it was dirty,
and spotted with candle-grease. Still, he took
the sketch, laid it on his table, and, moving a little
away, screwing up his eyes, he fell to gazing at it.
All at once he smiled and gesticulated gleefully.
“That’s it! that’s
it!” he said, and, at once picking up the pencil,
he began rapidly drawing. The spot of tallow
had given the man a new pose.
He had sketched this new pose, when
all at once he recalled the face of a shopkeeper of
whom he had bought cigars, a vigorous face with a
prominent chin, and he sketched this very face, this
chin on to the figure of the man. He laughed
aloud with delight. The figure from a lifeless
imagined thing had become living, and such that it
could never be changed. That figure lived, and
was clearly and unmistakably defined. The sketch
might be corrected in accordance with the requirements
of the figure, the legs, indeed, could and must be
put differently, and the position of the left hand
must be quite altered; the hair too might be thrown
back. But in making these corrections he was
not altering the figure but simply getting rid of
what concealed the figure. He was, as it were,
stripping off the wrappings which hindered it from
being distinctly seen. Each new feature only
brought out the whole figure in all its force and
vigor, as it had suddenly come to him from the spot
of tallow. He was carefully finishing the figure
when the cards were brought him.
He went in to his wife.
“Come, Sasha, don’t be
cross!” he said, smiling timidly and affectionately
at her. “You were to blame. I was
to blame. I’ll make it all right.”
And having made peace with his wife he put on an
olive-green overcoat with a velvet collar and a hat,
and went towards his studio. The successful figure
he had already forgotten. Now he was delighted
and excited at the visit of these people of consequence,
Russians, who had come in their carriage.
Of his picture, the one that stood
now on his easel, he had at the bottom of his heart
one conviction that no one had ever painted
a picture like it. He did not believe that his
picture was better than all the pictures of Raphael,
but he knew that what he tried to convey in that picture,
no one ever had conveyed. This he knew positively,
and had known a long while, ever since he had begun
to paint it. But other people’s criticisms,
whatever they might be, had yet immense consequence
in his eyes, and they agitated him to the depths of
his soul. Any remark, the most insignificant,
that showed that the critic saw even the tiniest part
of what he saw in the picture, agitated him to the
depths of his soul. He always attributed to his
critics a more profound comprehension than he had himself,
and always expected from them something he did not
himself see in the picture. And often in their
criticisms he fancied that he had found this.
He walked rapidly to the door of his
studio, and in spite of his excitement he was struck
by the soft light on Anna’s figure as she stood
in the shade of the entrance listening to Golenishtchev,
who was eagerly telling her something, while she evidently
wanted to look round at the artist. He was himself
unconscious how, as he approached them, he seized on
this impression and absorbed it, as he had the chin
of the shopkeeper who had sold him the cigars, and
put it away somewhere to be brought out when he wanted
it. The visitors, not agreeably impressed beforehand
by Golenishtchev’s account of the artist, were
still less so by his personal appearance. Thick-set
and of middle height, with nimble movements, with
his brown hat, olive-green coat and narrow trousers though
wide trousers had been a long while in fashion, most
of all, with the ordinariness of his broad face, and
the combined expression of timidity and anxiety to
keep up his dignity, Mihailov made an unpleasant impression.
“Please step in,” he said,
trying to look indifferent, and going into the passage
he took a key out of his pocket and opened the door.