In this scene from Murder On The Rue Cassette, Tessa and Carmela enter a new world. Searching for information related to a murder, they attend the first Impressionist exhibit in Paris.
Carmela smelled varnish and oil as she entered the studio at 35 Boulevard des Capucines. She felt a hush in the space she couldn’t explain. Her skin prickled as she walked slowly around the room, surveying the paintings. There were so many. They made her smile and forget everything else. She thought of the courageous endurance of these artists. Rejected time and again by the Salon, Tessa told her, yet they continued with their work despite their poverty, often spending their money on paints and brushes rather than on nourishing food.
For Tessa, the experience was monumental, Carmela thought. She could feel the girl’s excitement. Even Gesuzza was interested, although she didn’t say much and stayed by Tessa’s side.
“The room explodes with color and line and movement,” Tessa said, not knowing where to look first. Her face was flushed. She ran to a painting on the far wall, then back to Carmela, grabbing her hand, the maid walking behind and trying to keep up, gesturing from one painting to another. The girl was swept up into their world, their impression of a moment, their intensity of color.
“Should we sit and catch our breath?”
Tessa nodded and they walked over to a bench in the middle of the room, the girl’s eyes moving slowly from one canvas to another.
“Look at that painting. All the people by the sea, dressed in formal clothes, the men in top hats and frock coats, the women in silk dresses,” Tessa said. “I like the stripes on the tent, the colors in the sky, the clouds. I am here, but I am there with them.”
Carmela smiled, letting Tessa have her moment.
“See that woman over there? She’s not a queen or a countess or a saint. She’s ordinary, like me and she breathes. Oh, I want a dress just that color, like a thousand cornflowers crushed into the paint and worked on the canvas until it becomes her dress. I can feel the silk, touch the organdy. She’s what, eighteen or nineteen?”
“I like her hat and parasol,” Carmela said. “And her gloves.”
“And the glow on her face. And she stares out at me with sudden recognition as if we were dear friends and she’s just noticed me coming toward her and is about to hold out her arms in greeting, I can see it in the gesture of her body,” Tessa said. “Oh, and on the other side of the room—did you see her?—the ballerina in blue, turning her head in our direction, half wondering what we’re doing in her dance studio.”
“A moment in time,” Carmela said. “That’s what these paintings show me. And such color. Their gestures are so natural, different from the stiffly posed works in museums.”
They were quiet for a time, taking in the paintings.
“Do you have a favorite?”
“Nor I. But I like the mother gazing down at her child in the cradle. Look at how the artist has made the netting.” There was another painting by its side, a mother and child reading by the sea, and another one, perhaps the same mother and child, walking in a field of poppies. Carmela thought she’d never seen red before she saw this painting. “By the same artist—see how they’re signed?”
Tessa nodded. “Morisot.”
“The T is silent. And Berthe is a woman’s name.”
“I’ll never be able to paint like that.” Tessa heard steps approaching, a voice, and she spun around. Carmela did as well, facing the figure, a woman. She spoke in rapid French and Carmela asked her please to slow down.
Photo: The Dancer, August Renoir. Exhibited at first impressionist exhibit in Paris, April 1874. 142.5 x 94.5 cm (56 1/8 x 37 1/8″) National Gallery of Art, Washington.