This continues my historical-fiction story about Claude Monet in his later years. To read from the beginning:
Vétheuil, with familiar streets and buildings. Memories seemed to want to erupt from Claude’s head and replay before his eyes. The women prominent in his life, Camille and Alice, along with the children skipping about.
Before Auguste and Gabrielle left Giverny, they had persuaded Claude to visit them. Auguste had said, “The salt air will do you good.” Claude decided to leave after them, so waving good-bye wasn’t difficult while knowing he would see them soon.
A couple days were spent getting affairs straight, mainly sorting out instructions to the head gardener on what to do while Claude was away.
His luggage packed, Claude was driven by chauffeur to the cemetery in Vétheuil. Leaving the chauffeur in the car, Claude walked around the headstones until finding the particular one. He placed a bouquet of white gladiolus on the grave with the plaque marked Camille Doncieux,épouse du peintre Claude Monet. Seeing his own name was unnerving. His name wasn’t on Alice’s plaque.
The death year on the plaque—1879—caused Claude to envision the painting of his first wife on her deathbed, but he wished to banish that image while in the cemetery. Better to remember Camille resplendent in movement and emotion. Remember her guarded look when she had met Claude, as he had been introduced to the young woman as a model for artists. Claude had hired her but could pay hardly anything.
Claude remembered painting her and dancing with her. Remembered her face as they made love, her worry when she learned she was pregnant. Her anger when Claude told her he would depart Paris and live with his aunt. He did it to create the ruse to his family that he and Camille were no longer together. She had yelled, “How could you leave me when I am with your child? You have responsibilities here. What kind of man are you?” On the train heading away, Claude had heard those words echoing and he felt that he was a coward.
He had returned to Paris when Jean was born, but stayed only a handful of days before departing again. Camille’s anger was made worse by crying. Added to that, Jean’s crying seemed to communicate his disappointment in his father for not staying.
Claude’s next return was before Christmas, and the three finally became a family. Living in sad apartments and constantly concerned about money, but they were together. Claude and Camille were married a few months before Jean turned three.
Amid the struggles were times sparkling with happiness, in which their troubles were not entirely forgotten but temporarily dismissed. Times of baby Jean gazing at the world, Jean’s smiles and adorable laughs. Camille modeling for Claude, her in a silk dress striped in black and emerald green, flowing underneath a black velvet jacket trimmed in fur. Another time, she wore a brilliant red kimono with a samurai embroidered on the back, his hands gripping sheathed swords. Claude marveled over the samurai’s fierce expression, and laughed over the contrast of the warrior and Camille’s beauty. Under the spell of Japanese art, Claude had adored painting his wife wearing the garment. Then while Camille was immersed in nature. In gardens and meadows, on the banks of the Seine, on the beach at Trouville during their honeymoon. Camille wearing one of the few dresses and hats she owned and didn’t have to borrow for modeling. A parasol’s stem rested on her shoulder, the dome shading her back and head.
A man had asked Claude, “Why do you include so many parasols in your paintings?” Claude had said parasols were part of ladies enjoying a pleasurable afternoon, and that made for a lovely vision. Also, Claude thought people would like to have such artwork on their walls, so in humdrum or distressing times, people could look at the artwork and imagine themselves stepping into the scene. They could feel some of the pleasure of that afternoon, which could ease their minds. Even a little would be beneficial. The man had frowned doubtfully at Claude and carried on with his day. Claude had been glad he didn’t tell the man of his further thinking that parasols resembled huge flower blossoms.
“I’m sorry,” Claude now said to Camille’s grave. “I’m sorry for not treating you better. I should’ve been a better husband and father. I should’ve been better to you, after you gave me so much.” He kept his voice low, despite being the only one in the cemetery.
If heaven existed, Camille’s spirit might’ve heard Claude. Or perhaps her spirit was close, although he could not detect it. He had been doubtful whenever someone claimed to feel spirits of the deceased. Wherever Camille’s spirit resided, Claude hoped she understood his reasons for his actions, understood that he was as fragile and error-prone as everyone else. Perhaps more than other people. He prayed she forgave him.
copyright © 2020 Dave Williams. All images are from Wikimedia Commons