David Rose

Marmoreal (The Piazza at Noon) 
Summer Nights at Argenteuil
Marmoreal (The Piazza at Noon) 

Giorgio de Chirico, Greek-born, of Italian ancestry, French by adoption, Surrealist by fiat, sits in his studio, lost in time. He is trying to date a pre-War canvas, unsold because unfinished, he realizes now; blemished by indecision. 

   

He searches the texture of the canvas, the furrows of his memory, of the paint with first his eyes then fingers. 

   

He has located now, he thinks, the scene of indecision: the little girl with the bowling hoop, whose shadow distends toward the empty piazza but whose body once intruded and was overpainted, but, to his mind, unsuccessfully: her corporeality is still evident, to his eyes, through the paint. So he thinks. 

   

He remembers resurrecting her, transposing her to a later work – her shadow, that is, having learnt from the mistake. 

   

But otherwise, the painting, to him, seems flawless: the unpeopled piazza, the stark arcade; the chiselled light and confounding shadow; the marmoreal Ariadne under the mythic sky. And of course, in the far distance, the train, with mournful horn, with melancholy smoke and Thessalian driver, steaming – synecdoche synecdoche synecdoche (the absent engineer) – over infinite sleepers to the end of the tracks, over the Styx into the world beyond; of bustle, of the jostle, of the teeming dead. 

Summer Nights at Argenteuil

Fragrant August afternoons we would assemble, chattering and dignified, on the banks of the Seine. M. Monet had his paints, we had our pipes and wine. 

 

We would unpack the hamper: hare and pheasant, truffles, goat's-cheese and pears. Ah, those pears, with the Montrachet river-cooled! 

 

Yoles would be out on the Seine, scuttling on their oars like dragonflies. The trees would dip and wave. And M. Monet would turn his back, beavering away to capture it all. 

 

M. Verdun, always the tease, said ‘What, Monsieur – are you decomposing the world into the atoms of Democritus? And are they coloured?’ We all laughed, and so did he.  

 

We stretched out on the grass while the shadows advanced. M. Pinot would tell us one of his stories – M. Pinot could be relied on for one of his stories. We would all half-listen and gently applaud. 

 

Being excessively warm, Mme Mimoux hoisted her skirts and went for a paddle. We called, Be cautious, Madame, the current is treacherous, the shelving is steep. She waved and went in. 

 

Our fears were well founded; she slipped in and under. Splashing and cooing she floated away. We shouted and waved till she was quite out of sight. 

 

M. Monet had got on well; we crowded round to admire. The light was giving out then, and he joined us in finishing the Montrachet. 

The doves would be calling, we would refill our pipes and wait for the moon. The moment it appeared, we would gather our utensils and drink a last toast, then softly disperse with a 'Bonne nuit, Mesdames, Messieurs, until tomorrow.' 

 

Ah, those summer nights at Argenteuil. I remember still the doves.