Pastels in Prose

camaieu cover

Translated by Stuart Merrill.
Illustrations by Henry W McVickar.
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1890.


’Camaïeu in Red’


THE room was hung with pink satin embossed with crimson sprays; the curtains fell amply from the windows, breaking their great folds of garnet velvet upon a purple-flowered carpet. On the walls were suspended sanguines by Boucher, and platters of brass gemmed and inlaid with niello by some artist of the Renaissance.

The divan, the arm-chairs, the chairs, were covered with stuffs similar to the hangings, with carnation fringes; and upon the mantle, surmounted by a glass that revealed an autumnal sky all empurpled by the setting sun and forests with leaves as red as wine, bloomed, in a vast stand, an enormous bouquet of carmine azaleas, of sage, of digitalis, and of amaranth.

The all-powerful goddess was buried in the cushions of the divan, rubbing her tawny tresses against the cherry-red satin, displaying her pink skirts, twirling her little morocco slipper at the end of her foot. She sighed affectedly, arose, stretched her arms, seized a large-bellied bottle, and poured out in a small glass, with slender stern and wrought in the shape of a vise, a thread of reddish-brown port.


At that moment the sun inundated the boudoir with its red gleams, struck scintillating flashes from the spirals of the glass. caused the ambrosial liquor to sparkle like molten topazes, and, shattering its rays against the brass of the platters, lighted in it fulgurating fires. It was a rutilant confusion of flames against which stood out the features of the drinker, like those of the virgins of Cimabue and Angelico, whose heads are encircled with a nimbus of gold.

That fanfare of red stunned me; that gamut of furious intensity, of impossible violence, blinded me. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them once more, the dazzling tint had vanished, the sun had set!

Since that time the red boudoir and the drinker have disappeared; the magic blaze is extinguished.

In summer, however, when the nostalgia of red weighs more heavily upon me, I raise my head to the sun, and there, under its hot stings, impassible, with eyes obstinately closed, I see under the veil of my lids a red vapor; I recall my thoughts, and I see once more, for a minute, for a second, the disquieting fascination, the unforgotten enchantment.