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Chapter 11


On entering the studio, Mihailov once more scanned his visitors
and noted down in his imagination Vronsky's expression too, and
especially his jaws. Although his artistic sense was unceasingly
at work collecting materials, although he felt a continually
increasing excitement as the moment of criticizing his work drew
nearer, he rapidly and subtly formed, from imperceptible signs, a
mental image of these three persons.

That fellow (Golenishtchev) was a Russian living here. Mihailov
did not remember his surname nor where he had met him, nor what
he had said to him. He only remembered his face as he remembered
all the faces he had ever seen; but he remembered, too, that it
was one of the faces laid by in his memory in the immense class
of the falsely consequential and poor in expression. The
abundant hair and very open forehead gave an appearance of
consequence to the face, which had only one expression--a petty,
childish, peevish expression, concentrated just above the bridge
of the narrow nose. Vronsky and Madame Karenina must be,
Mihailov supposed, distinguished and wealthy Russians, knowing
nothing about art, like all those wealthy Russians, but posing as
amateurs and connoisseurs. "Most likely they've already looked
at all the antiques, and now they're making the round of the
studios of the new people, the German humbug, and the cracked
Pre-Raphaelite English fellow, and have only come to me to make
the point of view complete," he thought. He was well acquainted
with the way dilettanti have (the cleverer they were the worse he
found them) of looking at the works of contemporary artists with
the sole object of being in a position to say that art is a thing
of the past, and that the more one sees of the new men the more
one sees how inimitable the works of the great old masters have
remained. He expected all this; he saw it all in their faces, he
saw it in the careless indifference with which they talked among
themselves, stared at the lay figures and busts, and walked about
in leisurely fashion, waiting for him to uncover his picture.
But in spite of this, while he was turning over his studies,
pulling up the blinds and taking off the sheet, he was in intense
excitement, especially as, in spite of his conviction that all
distinguished and wealthy Russians were certain to be beasts and
fools, he liked Vronsky, and still more Anna.

"Here, if you please," he said, moving on one side with his
nimble gait and pointing to his picture, "it's the exhortation to
Pilate. Matthew, chapter xxvii," he said, feeling his lips were
beginning to tremble with emotion. He moved away and stood
behind them.

For the few seconds during which the visitors were gazing at the
picture in silence Mihailov too gazed at it with the indifferent
eye of an outsider. For those few seconds he was sure in
anticipation that a higher, juster criticism would be uttered by
them, by those very visitors whom he had been so despising a
moment before. He forgot all he had thought about his picture
before during the three years he had been painting it; he forgot
all its qualities which had been absolutely certain to him--he
saw the picture with their indifferent, new, outside eyes, and
saw nothing good in it. He saw in the foreground Pilate's
irritated face and the serene face of Christ, and in the
background the figures of Pilate's retinue and the face of John
watching what was happening. Every face that, with such agony,
such blunders and corrections had grown up within him with its
special character, every face that had given him such torments
and such raptures, and all these faces so many times transposed
for the sake of the harmony of the whole, all the shades of color
and tones that he had attained with such labor--all of this
together seemed to him now, looking at it with their eyes, the
merest vulgarity, something that had been done a thousand times
over. The face dearest to him, the face of Christ, the center of
the picture, which had given him such ecstasy as it unfolded
itself to him, was utterly lost to him when he glanced at the
picture with their eyes. He saw a well-painted (no, not even
that--he distinctly saw now a mass of defects) repetition of
those endless Christs of Titian, Raphael, Rubens, and the same
soldiers and Pilate. It was all common, poor, and stale, and
positively badly painted--weak and unequal. They would be
justified in repeating hypocritically civil speeches in the
presence of the painter, and pitying him and laughing at him when
they were alone again.

The silence (though it lasted no more than a minute) became too
intolerable to him. To break it, and to show he was not
agitated, he made an effort and addressed Golenishtchev.

"I think I've had the pleasure of meeting you," he said, looking
uneasily first at Anna, then at Vronsky, in fear of losing any
shade of their expression.

"To be sure! We met at Rossi's, do you remember, at that soiree
when that Italian lady recited--the new Rachel?" Golenishtchev
answered easily, removing his eyes without the slightest regret
from the picture and turning to the artist.

Noticing, however, that Mihailov was expecting a criticism of the
picture, he said:

"Your picture has got on a great deal since I saw it last time;
and what strikes me particularly now, as it did then, is the
figure of Pilate. One so knows the man: a good-natured, capital
fellow, but an official through and through, who does not know
what it is he's doing. But I fancy..."

All Mihailov's mobile face beamed at once; his eyes sparkled. He
tried to say something, but he could not speak for excitement,
and pretended to be coughing. Low as was his opinion of
Golenishtchev's capacity for understanding art, trifling as was
the true remark upon the fidelity of the expression of Pilate as
an official, and offensive as might have seemed the utterance of
so unimportant an observation while nothing was said of more
serious points, Mihailov was in an ecstasy of delight at this
observation. He had himself thought about Pilate's figure just
what Golenishtchev said. The fact that this reflection was but
one of millions of reflections, which as Mihailov knew for
certain would be true, did not diminish for him the significance
of Golenishtchev's remark. His heart warmed to Golenishtchev for
this remark, and from a state of depression he suddenly passed to
ecstasy. At once the whole of his picture lived before him in
all the indescribable complexity of everything living. Mihailov
again tried to say that that was how he understood Pilate, but
his lips quivered intractably, and he could not pronounce the
words. Vronsky and Anna too said something in that subdued voice
in which, partly to avoid hurting the artist's feelings and
partly to avoid saying out loud something silly--so easily said
when talking of art--people usually speak at exhibitions of
pictures. Mihailov fancied that the picture had made an
impression on them too. He went up to them.

"How marvelous Christ's expression is!" said Anna. Of all she
saw she liked that expression most of all, and she felt that it
was the center of the picture, and so praise of it would be
pleasant to the artist. "One can see that He is pitying Pilate."

This again was one of the million true reflections that could be
found in his picture and in the figure of Christ. She said that
He was pitying Pilate. In Christ's expression there ought to be
indeed an expression of pity, since there is an expression of
love, of heavenly peace, of readiness for death, and a sense of
the vanity of words. Of course there is the expression of an
official in Pilate and of pity in Christ, seeing that one is the
incarnation of the fleshly and the other of the spiritual life.
All this and much more flashed into Mihailov's thoughts.

"Yes, and how that figure is done--what atmosphere! One can walk
round it," said Golenishtchev, unmistakably betraying by this
remark that he did not approve of the meaning and idea of the
figure.

"Yes, there's a wonderful mastery!" said Vronsky. "How those
figures in the background stand out! There you have technique,"
he said, addressing Golenishtchev, alluding to a conversation
between them about Vronsky's despair of attaining this technique.

"Yes, yes, marvelous!" Golenishtchev and Anna assented. In spite
of the excited condition in which he was, the sentence about
technique had sent a pang to Mihailov's heart, and looking
angrily at Vronsky he suddenly scowled. He had often heard this
word technique, and was utterly unable to understand what was
understood by it. He knew that by this term was understood a
mechanical facility for painting or drawing, entirely apart from
its subject. He had noticed often that even in actual praise
technique was opposed to essential quality, as though one could
paint well something that was bad. He knew that a great deal of
attention and care was necessary in taking off the coverings, to
avoid injuring the creation itself, and to take off all the
coverings; but there was no art of painting--no technique of any
sort--about it. If to a little child or to his cook were
revealed what he saw, it or she would have been able to peel the
wrappings off what was seen. And the most experienced and adroit
painter could not by mere mechanical facility paint anything if
the lines of the subject were not revealed to him first.
Besides, he saw that if it came to talking about technique, it
was impossible to praise him for it. In all he had painted and
repainted he saw faults that hurt his eyes, coming from want of
care in taking off the wrappings--faults he could not correct now
without spoiling the whole. And in almost all the figures and
faces he saw, too, remnants of the wrappings not perfectly
removed that spoiled the picture.

"One thing might be said, if you will allow me to make the
remark..." observed Golenishtchev.

"Oh, I shall be delighted, I beg you," said Mihailov with a
forced smile.

"That is, that you make Him the man-god, and not the God-man.
But I know that was what you meant to do."

"I cannot paint a Christ that is not in my heart," said Mihailov
gloomily.

"Yes; but in that case, if you will allow me to say what I
think.... Your picture is so fine that my observation cannot
detract from it, and, besides, it is only my personal opinion.
With you it is different. Your very motive is different. But
let us take Ivanov. I imagine that if Christ is brought down to
the level of an historical character, it would have been better
for Ivanov to select some other historical subject, fresh,
untouched."

"But if this is the greatest subject presented to art?"

"If one looked one would find others. But the point is that art
cannot suffer doubt and discussion. And before the picture of
Ivanov the question arises for the believer and the unbeliever
alike, 'Is it God, or is it not God?' and the unity of the
impression is destroyed."

"Why so? I think that for educated people," said Mihailov, "the
question cannot exist."

Golenishtchev did not agree with this, and confounded Mihailov by
his support of his first idea of the unity of the impression
being essential to art.

Mihailov was greatly perturbed, but he could say nothing in
defense of his own idea.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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