The Passionate Rooms

All of her perfumed history was kept within the apartment.  Her pretty DNA of delicacy and shamelessness still drew breath in those rooms.  Her life lay fainting, irresistable, beautiful beneath a veneer of sweet dust – the dust of dead flowers, crumbled powder and dried tears.

Curling throughout the room, like a candle’s dying smoke, were words – whispers, entreaties, declarations and secrets.  Invisible filigrees of discussions hung in the air:  the wit, irony and metaphor of a brilliant, hidden society.  This was the world of Marthe de Florian:  the demimondaine who held court here – a beauty who trod the line between courtesan and hostess:  the consummate entertainer.

There were calling cards tucked into carved and rotted drawers – a miniature library of forgotten admirers, of passions kept at a distance.  Yet some were accepted, for there were love letters too: tied with ribbons the color of memory, they harbor rivers of dialogue whose currents have long been still.  

And there was also her portrait.  Familiar, yet reverent, it depicts her nacreous body emerging from a froth of pink taffeta and mousseline, twisted and pushed into the popular ‘S’ silhouette of the 1890’s.  Ruched and ruffled, her gown is a cyclone of color spinning around her figure, breathing light and dark, before it dissolves into a lavender twilight.   One shoulder is exposed – a milky precipice over which a man could look into his doom.

The artist was Giovanni Boldini, a painter whose subjects lived in the sun of the aristocracy as well as others who prowled like cats  in the velvety dark of the demimonde.  This was the ‘half-world’ of artists and actresses, of courtesans and professional beauties; a world dedicated to beauty and pleasure.  These were the languid ones who lived for grace and display, turning their carelessness into an intellectual exercise.

Boldini and de Florian were lovers – it was said that she was his muse.  Perhaps.  Surely Marthe realized that she was given her sculptural body and dramatic face to inspire art and destroy reason. Boldini chose to paint her in profile:  he might have gazed at her in a besotted reverie and saw in that profile the strong Gallic line of nose and chin…the beauty that made a mockery of mere prettiness.  Thus inspired, he rushed to the canvas to paint his love in a swirl of substance and cloud, creating an alchemy of flesh and fabric.

The apartment had been locked and shuttered for 70 years.  Safe with her memories of refined decadence, she has been kept from cynicism and pettiness, from cruelty, from war…from the malice of an ugly world.

But her passionate rooms have been discovered.  The key has been found; the door has been opened.  Her image has been dusted off and sold; her apartment cleaned – no part of her life that can be felt with the senses remains.  Her story has graduated into the imagination.

A Sensation And A Presentation


16 responses to “The Passionate Rooms

  1. Such whimsical words. A fantastic tale you’ve woven.

  2. Transporting!

    And what a painting! I love the fabrics contrasted with the perfect skin!

  3. Imagine a place locked away for seventy years! What a treasure trove of beautiful art and secrets.

  4. “…a milky precipice over which a man could look into his doom.”

    Oh, wow, Aubrey, I can’t tell you how envious phrases like this make me of your writing skill.

  5. Oh, I had read the article about this apartment and wondered about the painting mentioned! Thanks for sharing this.

  6. You have outdone yourself this time, Aubrey. And your words here are more beautiful than the painting.
    I think Marthe is a mermaid. It looks like Boldini used watercolors?

  7. The harsh reality behind such orchestrated glamour was mostly steel cold .
    It was about mutual exploitation of needs , class division arrivisme .
    Beware of roses frissons avoiding the dark shadows in the dust!

  8. What a gorgeous picture and your story is lovely!

  9. Kzinti – Thank you; I think that the painting, with its swirls and ephemera, inspired the whimsy.

    Lauri – I believe that’s what the artist loved too!

    Doug – I’ve always imagined places like that; and wished I could stumble on one, just once. When I would leave, I would leave it exactly as I found it, as splendid and dusty as it was.

    Laurie – Gad. Do you know what a marvelous compliment you paid me? Of course you caught on to one of my favorite lines.

    elizs – I thought it was such a marvelous story; I can’t imagine why it took me so long to get to writing it!

    pyrit – Boldini’s style was impressionistic and sketchy; that was his way; also, maybe this portrait was unfinished? And I suspect that this was a dressing gown rather than a dress, adding to the dreaminess of the look.

    antiphonsgarden – There were many people willing to pay with their hearts for a world of beauty and glamour. Coldness, cruelty was very often the common currency. But occasionally some people, muses, artists, divas, knew that glamour was far more than skin-deep.

    Freedom Smith – I find the portrait simply hypnotizing.

  10. Aubrey,
    Narscism is not selflove.

  11. Aubrey, somewhere on another thread, you lamented the small size of the window for composing new posts. Doesn’t seem to be diminishing your efforts any but, there is a toggle button that enlarges the window to full screen and back. On mine, it’s a blue square along the row at the top of the window.

  12. Marthe de Florian, really? Must go read more about her, if there’s anything. But you did quite a piece here – geez. Intriguing, poetic. And yeah, I want to know more.
    Like Laurie, I was rocked by the line about “milky precipice….look into his doom” – it is just plain excellent and the rest of the piece dances to its tune.

  13. I wonder sometimes about the postmodern confusion nice-ing salon prostitution up to “self chosen” glamour. I guess it has more to do with wishful day dreaming of an over comforted “secure” social class in need of slightly (but still safe as distant!) provocative thrill, then a real compassion for the actors involved. A bit like this girlie film telling us that Marie Antoinette s life was about parties and petits fours.

  14. Sometimes I wish I could listen to your posts while I paint. Aubrey’s blog on tape?

  15. Beautiful writing which reminds me of some Baudelaire’s poems. So glad you opened the door of those passionate rooms before they were discovered and dusted off.

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