Franz Kafka

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gogol: "The Mysterious Portrait" from "Taras Bulba and Other Tales" (1835/1842) by Nikolai Gogol, English Translation, Full Text. (Russian: Тара́с Бу́льба; Ukrainian: Тара́с Бу́льба, Tarás Búl'ba)

"Zaporozhian Cossacks write to the Sultan of Turkey" by Ilya Repin (1844–1930)

The Mysterious Portrait


Nowhere did so many people pause as before the little picture-shop
in the Shtchukinui Dvor. This little shop contained, indeed, the
most varied collection of curiosities. The pictures were chiefly
oil-paintings covered with dark varnish, in frames of dingy yellow.
Winter scenes with white trees; very red sunsets, like raging
conflagrations, a Flemish boor, more like a turkey-cock in cuffs than a
human being, were the prevailing subjects. To these must be added a few
engravings, such as a portrait of Khozreff-Mirza in a sheepskin cap, and
some generals with three-cornered hats and hooked noses. Moreover,
the doors of such shops are usually festooned with bundles of those
publications, printed on large sheets of bark, and then coloured by
hand, which bear witness to the native talent of the Russian.

On one was the Tzarevna Miliktrisa Kirbitievna; on another the city of
Jerusalem. There are usually but few purchasers of these productions,
but gazers are many. Some truant lackey probably yawns in front of them,
holding in his hand the dishes containing dinner from the cook-shop for
his master, who will not get his soup very hot. Before them, too, will
most likely be standing a soldier wrapped in his cloak, a dealer
from the old-clothes mart, with a couple of penknives for sale, and a
huckstress, with a basketful of shoes. Each expresses admiration in
his own way. The muzhiks generally touch them with their fingers; the
dealers gaze seriously at them; serving boys and apprentices laugh, and
tease each other with the coloured caricatures; old lackeys in frieze
cloaks look at them merely for the sake of yawning away their time
somewhere; and the hucksters, young Russian women, halt by instinct to
hear what people are gossiping about, and to see what they are looking

At the time our story opens, the young painter, Tchartkoff, paused
involuntarily as he passed the shop. His old cloak and plain attire
showed him to be a man who was devoted to his art with self-denying
zeal, and who had no time to trouble himself about his clothes. He
halted in front of the little shop, and at first enjoyed an inward laugh
over the monstrosities in the shape of pictures.

At length he sank unconsciously into a reverie, and began to ponder
as to what sort of people wanted these productions? It did not seem
remarkable to him that the Russian populace should gaze with rapture
upon “Eruslanoff Lazarevitch,” on “The Glutton” and “The Carouser,”
 on “Thoma and Erema.” The delineations of these subjects were easily
intelligible to the masses. But where were there purchases for those
streaky, dirty oil-paintings? Who needed those Flemish boors, those red
and blue landscapes, which put forth some claims to a higher stage of
art, but which really expressed the depths of its degradation? They did
not appear the works of a self-taught child. In that case, in spite of
the caricature of drawing, a sharp distinction would have manifested
itself. But here were visible only simple dullness, steady-going
incapacity, which stood, through self-will, in the ranks of art, while
its true place was among the lowest trades. The same colours, the same
manner, the same practised hand, belonging rather to a manufacturing
automaton than to a man!

He stood before the dirty pictures for some time, his thoughts at length
wandering to other matters. Meanwhile the proprietor of the shop, a
little grey man, in a frieze cloak, with a beard which had not been
shaved since Sunday, had been urging him to buy for some time, naming
prices, without even knowing what pleased him or what he wanted. “Here,
I’ll take a silver piece for these peasants and this little landscape.
What painting! it fairly dazzles one; only just received from the
factory; the varnish isn’t dry yet. Or here is a winter scene--take the
winter scene; fifteen rubles; the frame alone is worth it. What a winter
scene!” Here the merchant gave a slight fillip to the canvas, as if to
demonstrate all the merits of the winter scene. “Pray have them put
up and sent to your house. Where do you live? Here, boy, give me some

“Hold, not so fast!” said the painter, coming to himself, and perceiving
that the brisk dealer was beginning in earnest to pack some pictures
up. He was rather ashamed not to take anything after standing so long
in front of the shop; so saying, “Here, stop! I will see if there is
anything I want here!” he stooped and began to pick up from the floor,
where they were thrown in a heap, some worn, dusty old paintings. There
were old family portraits, whose descendants, probably could not be
found on earth; with torn canvas and frames minus their gilding; in
short, trash. But the painter began his search, thinking to himself,
“Perhaps I may come across something.” He had heard stories about
pictures of the great masters having been found among the rubbish in
cheap print-sellers’ shops.

The dealer, perceiving what he was about, ceased his importunities,
and took up his post again at the door, hailing the passers-by with,
“Hither, friends, here are pictures; step in, step in; just received
from the makers!” He shouted his fill, and generally in vain, had a long
talk with a rag-merchant, standing opposite, at the door of his shop;
and finally, recollecting that he had a customer in his shop, turned
his back on the public and went inside. “Well, friend, have you chosen
anything?” said he. But the painter had already been standing motionless
for some time before a portrait in a large and originally magnificent
frame, upon which, however, hardly a trace of gilding now remained.

It represented an old man, with a thin, bronzed face and high
cheek-bones; the features seemingly depicted in a moment of convulsive
agitation. He wore a flowing Asiatic costume. Dusty and defaced as the
portrait was, Tchartkoff saw, when he had succeeded in removing the
dirt from the face, traces of the work of a great artist. The portrait
appeared to be unfinished, but the power of the handling was striking.
The eyes were the most remarkable picture of all: it seemed as though
the full power of the artist’s brush had been lavished upon them. They
fairly gazed out of the portrait, destroying its harmony with their
strange liveliness. When he carried the portrait to the door, the
eyes gleamed even more penetratingly. They produced nearly the same
impression on the public. A woman standing behind him exclaimed, “He
is looking, he is looking!” and jumped back. Tchartkoff experienced
an unpleasant feeling, inexplicable even to himself, and placed the
portrait on the floor.

“Well, will you take the portrait?” said the dealer.

“How much is it?” said the painter.

“Why chaffer over it? give me seventy-five kopeks.”


“Well, how much will you give?”

“Twenty kopeks,” said the painter, preparing to go.

“What a price! Why, you couldn’t buy the frame for that! Perhaps you
will decide to purchase to-morrow. Sir, sir, turn back! Add ten kopeks.
Take it, take it! give me twenty kopeks. To tell the truth, you are my
only customer to-day, and that’s the only reason.”

Thus Tchartkoff quite unexpectedly became the purchaser of the old
portrait, and at the same time reflected, “Why have I bought it? What
is it to me?” But there was nothing to be done. He pulled a twenty-kopek
piece from his pocket, gave it to the merchant, took the portrait under
his arm, and carried it home. On the way thither, he remembered that
the twenty-kopek piece he had given for it was his last. His thoughts at
once became gloomy. Vexation and careless indifference took possession
of him at one and the same moment. The red light of sunset still
lingered in one half the sky; the houses facing that way still gleamed
with its warm light; and meanwhile the cold blue light of the moon grew
brighter. Light, half-transparent shadows fell in bands upon the ground.
The painter began by degrees to glance up at the sky, flushed with a
transparent light; and at the same moment from his mouth fell the words,
“What a delicate tone! What a nuisance! Deuce take it!” Re-adjusting the
portrait, which kept slipping from under his arm, he quickened his pace.

Weary and bathed in perspiration, he dragged himself to Vasilievsky
Ostroff. With difficulty and much panting he made his way up the stairs
flooded with soap-suds, and adorned with the tracks of dogs and cats.
To his knock there was no answer: there was no one at home. He leaned
against the window, and disposed himself to wait patiently, until at
last there resounded behind him the footsteps of a boy in a blue blouse,
his servant, model, and colour-grinder. This boy was called Nikita,
and spent all his time in the streets when his master was not at home.
Nikita tried for a long time to get the key into the lock, which was
quite invisible, by reason of the darkness.

Finally the door was opened. Tchartkoff entered his ante-room, which was
intolerably cold, as painters’ rooms always are, which fact, however,
they do not notice. Without giving Nikita his coat, he went on into
his studio, a large room, but low, fitted up with all sorts of artistic
rubbish--plaster hands, canvases, sketches begun and discarded, and
draperies thrown over chairs. Feeling very tired, he took off his cloak,
placed the portrait abstractedly between two small canvasses, and threw
himself on the narrow divan. Having stretched himself out, he finally
called for a light.

“There are no candles,” said Nikita.

“What, none?”

“And there were none last night,” said Nikita. The artist recollected
that, in fact, there had been no candles the previous evening, and
became silent. He let Nikita take his coat off, and put on his old worn

“There has been a gentleman here,” said Nikita.

“Yes, he came for money, I know,” said the painter, waving his hand.

“He was not alone,” said Nikita.

“Who else was with him?”

“I don’t know, some police officer or other.”

“But why a police officer?”

“I don’t know why, but he says because your rent is not paid.”

“Well, what will come of it?”

“I don’t know what will come of it: he said, ‘If he won’t pay, why, let
him leave the rooms.’ They are both coming again to-morrow.”

“Let them come,” said Tchartkoff, with indifference; and a gloomy mood
took full possession of him.

Young Tchartkoff was an artist of talent, which promised great things:
his work gave evidence of observation, thought, and a strong inclination
to approach nearer to nature.

“Look here, my friend,” his professor said to him more than once, “you
have talent; it will be a shame if you waste it: but you are impatient;
you have but to be attracted by anything, to fall in love with it, you
become engrossed with it, and all else goes for nothing, and you won’t
even look at it. See to it that you do not become a fashionable artist.
At present your colouring begins to assert itself too loudly; and your
drawing is at times quite weak; you are already striving after the
fashionable style, because it strikes the eye at once. Have a care!
society already begins to have its attraction for you: I have seen you
with a shiny hat, a foppish neckerchief.... It is seductive to paint
fashionable little pictures and portraits for money; but talent is
ruined, not developed, by that means. Be patient; think out every piece
of work, discard your foppishness; let others amass money, your own will
not fail you.”

The professor was partly right. Our artist sometimes wanted to enjoy
himself, to play the fop, in short, to give vent to his youthful
impulses in some way or other; but he could control himself withal. At
times he would forget everything, when he had once taken his brush in
his hand, and could not tear himself from it except as from a delightful
dream. His taste perceptibly developed. He did not as yet understand all
the depths of Raphael, but he was attracted by Guido’s broad and rapid
handling, he paused before Titian’s portraits, he delighted in the
Flemish masters. The dark veil enshrouding the ancient pictures had not
yet wholly passed away from before them; but he already saw something
in them, though in private he did not agree with the professor that the
secrets of the old masters are irremediably lost to us. It seemed to him
that the nineteenth century had improved upon them considerably, that
the delineation of nature was more clear, more vivid, more close. It
sometimes vexed him when he saw how a strange artist, French or German,
sometimes not even a painter by profession, but only a skilful dauber,
produced, by the celerity of his brush and the vividness of his
colouring, a universal commotion, and amassed in a twinkling a funded
capital. This did not occur to him when fully occupied with his own
work, for then he forgot food and drink and all the world. But when dire
want arrived, when he had no money wherewith to buy brushes and colours,
when his implacable landlord came ten times a day to demand the rent for
his rooms, then did the luck of the wealthy artists recur to his hungry
imagination; then did the thought which so often traverses Russian
minds, to give up altogether, and go down hill, utterly to the bad,
traverse his. And now he was almost in this frame of mind.

“Yes, it is all very well, to be patient, be patient!” he exclaimed,
with vexation; “but there is an end to patience at last. Be patient! but
what money have I to buy a dinner with to-morrow? No one will lend me
any. If I did bring myself to sell all my pictures and sketches, they
would not give me twenty kopeks for the whole of them. They are useful;
I feel that not one of them has been undertaken in vain; I have learned
something from each one. Yes, but of what use is it? Studies, sketches,
all will be studies, trial-sketches to the end. And who will buy, not
even knowing me by name? Who wants drawings from the antique, or the
life class, or my unfinished love of a Psyche, or the interior of my
room, or the portrait of Nikita, though it is better, to tell the truth,
than the portraits by any of the fashionable artists? Why do I worry,
and toil like a learner over the alphabet, when I might shine as
brightly as the rest, and have money, too, like them?”

Thus speaking, the artist suddenly shuddered, and turned pale. A
convulsively distorted face gazed at him, peeping forth from the
surrounding canvas; two terrible eyes were fixed straight upon him; on
the mouth was written a menacing command of silence. Alarmed, he tried
to scream and summon Nikita, who already was snoring in the ante-room;
but he suddenly paused and laughed. The sensation of fear died away in
a moment; it was the portrait he had bought, and which he had quite
forgotten. The light of the moon illuminating the chamber had fallen
upon it, and lent it a strange likeness to life.

He began to examine it. He moistened a sponge with water, passed it over
the picture several times, washed off nearly all the accumulated and
incrusted dust and dirt, hung it on the wall before him, wondering yet
more at the remarkable workmanship. The whole face had gained new life,
and the eyes gazed at him so that he shuddered; and, springing back,
he exclaimed in a voice of surprise: “It looks with human eyes!” Then
suddenly there occurred to him a story he had heard long before from his
professor, of a certain portrait by the renowned Leonardo da Vinci, upon
which the great master laboured several years, and still regarded as
incomplete, but which, according to Vasari, was nevertheless deemed by
all the most complete and finished product of his art. The most finished
thing about it was the eyes, which amazed his contemporaries; the very
smallest, barely visible veins in them being reproduced on the canvas.

But in the portrait now before him there was something singular. It was
no longer art; it even destroyed the harmony of the portrait; they were
living, human eyes! It seemed as though they had been cut from a living
man and inserted. Here was none of that high enjoyment which takes
possession of the soul at the sight of an artist’s production, no matter
how terrible the subject he may have chosen.

Again he approached the portrait, in order to observe those wondrous
eyes, and perceived, with terror, that they were gazing at him. This
was no copy from Nature; it was life, the strange life which might have
lighted up the face of a dead man, risen from the grave. Whether it was
the effect of the moonlight, which brought with it fantastic thoughts,
and transformed things into strange likenesses, opposed to those of
matter-of-fact day, or from some other cause, but it suddenly became
terrible to him, he knew not why, to sit alone in the room. He draw back
from the portrait, turned aside, and tried not to look at it; but his
eye involuntarily, of its own accord, kept glancing sideways towards it.
Finally, he became afraid to walk about the room. It seemed as though
some one were on the point of stepping up behind him; and every time
he turned, he glanced timidly back. He had never been a coward; but his
imagination and nerves were sensitive, and that evening he could not
explain his involuntary fear. He seated himself in one corner, but even
then it seemed to him that some one was peeping over his shoulder into
his face. Even Nikita’s snores, resounding from the ante-room, did not
chase away his fear. At length he rose from the seat, without raising
his eyes, went behind a screen, and lay down on his bed. Through
the cracks of the screen he saw his room lit up by the moon, and the
portrait hanging stiffly on the wall. The eyes were fixed upon him in a
yet more terrible and significant manner, and it seemed as if they
would not look at anything but himself. Overpowered with a feeling
of oppression, he decided to rise from his bed, seized a sheet, and,
approaching the portrait, covered it up completely.

Having done this, he lay done more at ease on his bed, and began to
meditate upon the poverty and pitiful lot of the artist, and the thorny
path lying before him in the world. But meanwhile his eye glanced
involuntarily through the joint of the screen at the portrait muffled in
the sheet. The light of the moon heightened the whiteness of the sheet,
and it seemed to him as though those terrible eyes shone through the
cloth. With terror he fixed his eyes more steadfastly on the spot, as if
wishing to convince himself that it was all nonsense. But at length he
saw--saw clearly; there was no longer a sheet--the portrait was quite
uncovered, and was gazing beyond everything around it, straight at
him; gazing as it seemed fairly into his heart. His heart grew cold. He
watched anxiously; the old man moved, and suddenly, supporting himself
on the frame with both arms, raised himself by his hands, and, putting
forth both feet, leapt out of the frame. Through the crack of the
screen, the empty frame alone was now visible. Footsteps resounded
through the room, and approached nearer and nearer to the screen. The
poor artist’s heart began beating fast. He expected every moment, his
breath failing for fear, that the old man would look round the screen
at him. And lo! he did look from behind the screen, with the very same
bronzed face, and with his big eyes roving about.

Tchartkoff tried to scream, and felt that his voice was gone; he tried
to move; his limbs refused their office. With open mouth, and failing
breath, he gazed at the tall phantom, draped in some kind of a flowing
Asiatic robe, and waited for what it would do. The old man sat down
almost on his very feet, and then pulled out something from among the
folds of his wide garment. It was a purse. The old man untied it, took
it by the end, and shook it. Heavy rolls of coin fell out with a dull
thud upon the floor. Each was wrapped in blue paper, and on each was
marked, “1000 ducats.” The old man protruded his long, bony hand from
his wide sleeves, and began to undo the rolls. The gold glittered. Great
as was the artist’s unreasoning fear, he concentrated all his attention
upon the gold, gazing motionless, as it made its appearance in the bony
hands, gleamed, rang lightly or dully, and was wrapped up again. Then he
perceived one packet which had rolled farther than the rest, to the very
leg of his bedstead, near his pillow. He grasped it almost convulsively,
and glanced in fear at the old man to see whether he noticed it.

But the old man appeared very much occupied: he collected all his rolls,
replaced them in the purse, and went outside the screen without looking
at him. Tchartkoff’s heart beat wildly as he heard the rustle of the
retreating footsteps sounding through the room. He clasped the roll
of coin more closely in his hand, quivering in every limb. Suddenly he
heard the footsteps approaching the screen again. Apparently the old man
had recollected that one roll was missing. Lo! again he looked round
the screen at him. The artist in despair grasped the roll with all his
strength, tried with all his power to make a movement, shrieked--and

He was bathed in a cold perspiration; his heart beat as hard as it was
possible for it to beat; his chest was oppressed, as though his last
breath was about to issue from it. “Was it a dream?” he said, seizing
his head with both hands. But the terrible reality of the apparition
did not resemble a dream. As he woke, he saw the old man step into the
frame: the skirts of the flowing garment even fluttered, and his hand
felt plainly that a moment before it had held something heavy. The
moonlight lit up the room, bringing out from the dark corners here
a canvas, there the model of a hand: a drapery thrown over a chair;
trousers and dirty boots. Then he perceived that he was not lying in
his bed, but standing upright in front of the portrait. How he had come
there, he could not in the least comprehend. Still more surprised was
he to find the portrait uncovered, and with actually no sheet over it.
Motionless with terror, he gazed at it, and perceived that the living,
human eyes were fastened upon him. A cold perspiration broke out upon
his forehead. He wanted to move away, but felt that his feet had in some
way become rooted to the earth. And he felt that this was not a dream.
The old man’s features moved, and his lips began to project towards him,
as though he wanted to suck him in. With a yell of despair he jumped
back--and awoke.

“Was it a dream?” With his heart throbbing to bursting, he felt about
him with both hands. Yes, he was lying in bed, and in precisely the
position in which he had fallen asleep. Before him stood the screen.
The moonlight flooded the room. Through the crack of the screen, the
portrait was visible, covered with the sheet, as it should be, just as
he had covered it. And so that, too, was a dream? But his clenched fist
still felt as though something had been held in it. The throbbing of
his heart was violent, almost terrible; the weight upon his breast
intolerable. He fixed his eyes upon the crack, and stared steadfastly
at the sheet. And lo! he saw plainly the sheet begin to open, as though
hands were pushing from underneath, and trying to throw it off. “Lord
God, what is it!” he shrieked, crossing himself in despair--and awoke.

And was this, too, a dream? He sprang from his bed, half-mad, and could
not comprehend what had happened to him. Was it the oppression of a
nightmare, the raving of fever, or an actual apparition? Striving to
calm, as far as possible, his mental tumult, and stay the wildly rushing
blood, which beat with straining pulses in every vein, he went to the
window and opened it. The cool breeze revived him. The moonlight lay on
the roofs and the white walls of the houses, though small clouds passed
frequently across the sky. All was still: from time to time there struck
the ear the distant rumble of a carriage. He put his head out of the
window, and gazed for some time. Already the signs of approaching dawn
were spreading over the sky. At last he felt drowsy, shut to the window,
stepped back, lay down in bed, and quickly fell, like one exhausted,
into a deep sleep.

He awoke late, and with the disagreeable feeling of a man who has been
half-suffocated with coal-gas: his head ached painfully. The room was
dim: an unpleasant moisture pervaded the air, and penetrated the cracks
of his windows. Dissatisfied and depressed as a wet cock, he seated
himself on his dilapidated divan, not knowing what to do, what to set
about, and at length remembered the whole of his dream. As he recalled
it, the dream presented itself to his mind as so oppressively real that
he even began to wonder whether it were a dream, whether there were not
something more here, whether it were not really an apparition. Removing
the sheet, he looked at the terrible portrait by the light of day. The
eyes were really striking in their liveliness, but he found nothing
particularly terrible about them, though an indescribably unpleasant
feeling lingered in his mind. Nevertheless, he could not quite convince
himself that it was a dream. It struck him that there must have been
some terrible fragment of reality in the vision. It seemed as though
there were something in the old man’s very glance and expression which
said that he had been with him that night: his hand still felt the
weight which had so recently lain in it as if some one had but just
snatched it from him. It seemed to him that, if he had only grasped the
roll more firmly, it would have remained in his hand, even after his

“My God, if I only had a portion of that money!” he said, breathing
heavily; and in his fancy, all the rolls of coin, with their fascinating
inscription, “1000 ducats,” began to pour out of the purse. The rolls
opened, the gold glittered, and was wrapped up again; and he sat
motionless, with his eyes fixed on the empty air, as if he were
incapable of tearing himself from such a sight, like a child who sits
before a plate of sweets, and beholds, with watering mouth, other people
devouring them.

At last there came a knock on the door, which recalled him unpleasantly
to himself. The landlord entered with the constable of the district,
whose presence is even more disagreeable to poor people than is the
presence of a beggar to the rich. The landlord of the little house in
which Tchartkoff lived resembled the other individuals who own houses
anywhere in the Vasilievsky Ostroff, on the St. Petersburg side, or
in the distant regions of Kolomna--individuals whose character is as
difficult to define as the colour of a threadbare surtout. In his youth
he had been a captain and a braggart, a master in the art of flogging,
skilful, foppish, and stupid; but in his old age he combined all these
various qualities into a kind of dim indefiniteness. He was a widower,
already on the retired list, no longer boasted, nor was dandified, nor
quarrelled, but only cared to drink tea and talk all sorts of nonsense
over it. He walked about his room, and arranged the ends of the tallow
candles; called punctually at the end of each month upon his lodgers for
money; went out into the street, with the key in his hand, to look at
the roof of his house, and sometimes chased the porter out of his den,
where he had hidden himself to sleep. In short, he was a man on the
retired list, who, after the turmoils and wildness of his life, had only
his old-fashioned habits left.

“Please to see for yourself, Varukh Kusmitch,” said the landlord,
turning to the officer, and throwing out his hands, “this man does not
pay his rent, he does not pay.”

“How can I when I have no money? Wait, and I will pay.”

“I can’t wait, my good fellow,” said the landlord angrily, making a
gesture with the key which he held in his hand. “Lieutenant-Colonel
Potogonkin has lived with me seven years, seven years already; Anna
Petrovna Buchmisteroff rents the coach-house and stable, with the
exception of two stalls, and has three household servants: that is
the kind of lodgers I have. I say to you frankly, that this is not an
establishment where people do not pay their rent. Pay your money at
once, please, or else clear out.”

“Yes, if you rented the rooms, please to pay,” said the constable, with
a slight shake of the head, as he laid his finger on one of the buttons
of his uniform.

“Well, what am I to pay with? that’s the question. I haven’t a groschen
just at present.”

“In that case, satisfy the claims of Ivan Ivanovitch with the fruits
of your profession,” said the officer: “perhaps he will consent to take

“No, thank you, my good fellow, no pictures. Pictures of holy subjects,
such as one could hang upon the walls, would be well enough; or some
general with a star, or Prince Kutusoff’s portrait. But this fellow has
painted that muzhik, that muzhik in his blouse, his servant who grinds
his colours! The idea of painting his portrait, the hog! I’ll thrash
him well: he took all the nails out of my bolts, the scoundrel! Just
see what subjects! Here he has drawn his room. It would have been well
enough had he taken a clean, well-furnished room; but he has gone and
drawn this one, with all the dirt and rubbish he has collected. Just see
how he has defaced my room! Look for yourself. Yes, and my lodgers
have been with me seven years, the lieutenant-colonel, Anna Petrovna
Buchmisteroff. No, I tell you, there is no worse lodger than a painter:
he lives like a pig--God have mercy!”

The poor artist had to listen patiently to all this. Meanwhile the
officer had occupied himself with examining the pictures and studies,
and showed that his mind was more advanced than the landlord’s, and that
he was not insensible to artistic impressions.

“Heh!” said he, tapping one canvas, on which was depicted a naked woman,
“this subject is--lively. But why so much black under her nose? did she
take snuff?”

“Shadow,” answered Tchartkoff gruffly, without looking at him.

“But it might have been put in some other place: it is too conspicuous
under the nose,” observed the officer. “And whose likeness is this?” he
continued, approaching the old man’s portrait. “It is too terrible.
Was he really so dreadful? Ah! why, he actually looks at one! What a
thunder-cloud! From whom did you paint it?”

“Ah! it is from a--” said Tchartkoff, but did not finish his sentence:
he heard a crack. It seems that the officer had pressed too hard on the
frame of the portrait, thanks to the weight of his constable’s hands.
The small boards at the side caved in, one fell on the floor, and with
it fell, with a heavy crash, a roll of blue paper. The inscription
caught Tchartkoff’s eye--“1000 ducats.” Like a madman, he sprang to pick
it up, grasped the roll, and gripped it convulsively in his hand, which
sank with the weight.

“Wasn’t there a sound of money?” inquired the officer, hearing the noise
of something falling on the floor, and not catching sight of it, owing
to the rapidity with which Tchartkoff had hastened to pick it up.

“What business is it of yours what is in my room?”

“It’s my business because you ought to pay your rent to the landlord
at once; because you have money, and won’t pay, that’s why it’s my

“Well, I will pay him to-day.”

“Well, and why wouldn’t you pay before, instead of giving trouble to
your landlord, and bothering the police to boot?”

“Because I did not want to touch this money. I will pay him in full
this evening, and leave the rooms to-morrow. I will not stay with such a

“Well, Ivan Ivanovitch, he will pay you,” said the constable, turning to
the landlord. “But in case you are not satisfied in every respect this
evening, then you must excuse me, Mr. Painter.” So saying, he put on
his three-cornered hat, and went into the ante-room, followed by the
landlord hanging his head, and apparently engaged in meditation.

“Thank God, Satan has carried them off!” said Tchartkoff, as he heard
the outer door of the ante-room close. He looked out into the ante-room,
sent Nikita off on some errand, in order to be quite alone, fastened the
door behind him, and, returning to his room, began with wildly beating
heart to undo the roll.

In it were ducats, all new, and bright as fire. Almost beside himself,
he sat down beside the pile of gold, still asking himself, “Is not this
all a dream?” There were just a thousand in the roll, the exterior of
which was precisely like what he had seen in his dream. He turned them
over, and looked at them for some minutes. His imagination recalled
up all the tales he had heard of hidden hoards, cabinets with secret
drawers, left by ancestors for their spendthrift descendants, with firm
belief in the extravagance of their life. He pondered this: “Did
not some grandfather, in the present instance, leave a gift for his
grandchild, shut up in the frame of a family portrait?” Filled with
romantic fancies, he began to think whether this had not some secret
connection with his fate? whether the existence of the portrait was not
bound up with his own, and whether his acquisition of it was not due to
a kind of predestination?

He began to examine the frame with curiosity. On one side a cavity was
hollowed out, but concealed so skilfully and neatly by a little board,
that, if the massive hand of the constable had not effected a breach,
the ducats might have remained hidden to the end of time. On examining
the portrait, he marvelled again at the exquisite workmanship, the
extraordinary treatment of the eyes. They no longer appeared terrible
to him; but, nevertheless, each time he looked at them a disagreeable
feeling involuntarily lingered in his mind.

“No,” he said to himself, “no matter whose grandfather you were, I’ll
put a glass over you, and get you a gilt frame.” Then he laid his hand
on the golden pile before him, and his heart beat faster at the touch.
“What shall I do with them?” he said, fixing his eyes on them. “Now I
am independent for at least three years: I can shut myself up in my room
and work. I have money for colours now; for food and lodging--no one
will annoy and disturb me now. I will buy myself a first-class lay
figure, I will order a plaster torso, and some model feet, I will have
a Venus. I will buy engravings of the best pictures. And if I work three
years to satisfy myself, without haste or with the idea of selling, I
shall surpass all, and may become a distinguished artist.”

Thus he spoke in solitude, with his good judgment prompting him; but
louder and more distinct sounded another voice within him. As he glanced
once more at the gold, it was not thus that his twenty-two years and
fiery youth reasoned. Now everything was within his power on which he
had hitherto gazed with envious eyes, had viewed from afar with longing.
How his heart beat when he thought of it! To wear a fashionable coat, to
feast after long abstinence, to hire handsome apartments, to go at once
to the theatre, to the confectioner’s, to... other places; and seizing
his money, he was in the street in a moment.

First of all he went to the tailor, was clothed anew from head to foot,
and began to look at himself like a child. He purchased perfumes and
pomades; hired the first elegant suite of apartments with mirrors and
plateglass windows which he came across in the Nevsky Prospect, without
haggling about the price; bought, on the impulse of the moment, a costly
eye-glass; bought, also on the impulse, a number of neckties of every
description, many more than he needed; had his hair curled at the
hairdresser’s; rode through the city twice without any object whatever;
ate an immense quantity of sweetmeats at the confectioner’s; and went
to the French Restaurant, of which he had heard rumours as indistinct as
though they had concerned the Empire of China. There he dined, casting
proud glances at the other visitors, and continually arranging his curls
in the glass. There he drank a bottle of champagne, which had been known
to him hitherto only by hearsay. The wine rather affected his head; and
he emerged into the street, lively, pugnacious, and ready to raise
the Devil, according to the Russian expression. He strutted along the
pavement, levelling his eye-glass at everybody. On the bridge he caught
sight of his former professor, and slipped past him neatly, as if he did
not see him, so that the astounded professor stood stock-still on
the bridge for a long time, with a face suggestive of a note of

All his goods and chattels, everything he owned, easels, canvas,
pictures, were transported that same evening to his elegant quarters. He
arranged the best of them in conspicuous places, threw the worst into
a corner, and promenaded up and down the handsome rooms, glancing
constantly in the mirrors. An unconquerable desire to take the bull
by the horns, and show himself to the world at once, had arisen in his
mind. He already heard the shouts, “Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff
paints! What talent Tchartkoff has!” He paced the room in a state of

The next day he took ten ducats, and went to the editor of a popular
journal asking his charitable assistance. He was joyfully received
by the journalist, who called him on the spot, “Most respected sir,”
 squeezed both his hands, and made minute inquiries as to his name,
birthplace, residence. The next day there appeared in the journal, below
a notice of some newly invented tallow candles, an article with the
following heading:--


“We hasten to delight the cultivated inhabitants of the capital with a
discovery which we may call splendid in every respect. All are agreed
that there are among us many very handsome faces, but hitherto there
has been no means of committing them to canvas for transmission to
posterity. This want has now been supplied: an artist has been found
who unites in himself all desirable qualities. The beauty can now feel
assured that she will be depicted with all the grace of her charms,
airy, fascinating, butterfly-like, flitting among the flowers of spring.
The stately father of a family can see himself surrounded by his family.
Merchant, warrior, citizen, statesman--hasten one and all, wherever you
may be. The artist’s magnificent establishment (Nevsky Prospect, such
and such a number) is hung with portraits from his brush, worthy of Van
Dyck or Titian. We do not know which to admire most, their truth and
likeness to the originals, or the wonderful brilliancy and freshness of
the colouring. Hail to you, artist! you have drawn a lucky number in the
lottery. Long live Andrei Petrovitch!” (The journalist evidently liked
familiarity.) “Glorify yourself and us. We know how to prize you.
Universal popularity, and with it wealth, will be your meed, though some
of our brother journalists may rise against you.”

The artist read this article with secret satisfaction; his face beamed.
He was mentioned in print; it was a novelty to him: he read the lines
over several times. The comparison with Van Dyck and Titian flattered
him extremely. The praise, “Long live Andrei Petrovitch,” also pleased
him greatly: to be spoken of by his Christian name and patronymic in
print was an honour hitherto totally unknown to him. He began to pace
the chamber briskly, now he sat down in an armchair, now he sprang
up, and seated himself on the sofa, planning each moment how he would
receive visitors, male and female; he went to his canvas and made a
rapid sweep of the brush, endeavouring to impart a graceful movement to
his hand.

The next day, the bell at his door rang. He hastened to open it. A lady
entered, accompanied by a girl of eighteen, her daughter, and followed
by a lackey in a furred livery-coat.

“You are the painter Tchartkoff?”

The artist bowed.

“A great deal is written about you: your portraits, it is said, are the
height of perfection.” So saying, the lady raised her glass to her eyes
and glanced rapidly over the walls, upon which nothing was hanging. “But
where are your portraits?”

“They have been taken away” replied the artist, somewhat confusedly:
“I have but just moved into these apartments; so they are still on the
road, they have not arrived.”

“You have been in Italy?” asked the lady, levelling her glass at him, as
she found nothing else to point it at.

“No, I have not been there; but I wish to go, and I have deferred it for
a while. Here is an arm-chair, madame: you are fatigued?”

“Thank you: I have been sitting a long time in the carriage. Ah, at last
I behold your work!” said the lady, running to the opposite wall,
and bringing her glass to bear upon his studies, sketches, views and
portraits which were standing there on the floor. “It is charming. Lise!
Lise, come here. Rooms in the style of Teniers. Do you see? Disorder,
disorder, a table with a bust upon it, a hand, a palette; dust, see how
the dust is painted! It is charming. And here on this canvas is a woman
washing her face. What a pretty face! Ah! a little muzhik! So you do not
devote yourself exclusively to portraits?”

“Oh! that is mere rubbish. I was trying experiments, studies.”

“Tell me your opinion of the portrait painters of the present day. Is it
not true that there are none now like Titian? There is not that strength
of colour, that--that--What a pity that I cannot express myself in
Russian.” The lady was fond of paintings, and had gone through all the
galleries in Italy with her eye-glass. “But Monsieur Nohl--ah, how
well he paints! what remarkable work! I think his faces have been more
expression than Titian’s. You do not know Monsieur Nohl?”

“Who is Nohl?” inquired the artist.

“Monsieur Nohl. Ah, what talent! He painted her portrait when she was
only twelve years old. You must certainly come to see us. Lise, you
shall show him your album. You know, we came expressly that you might
begin her portrait immediately.”

“What? I am ready this very moment.” And in a trice he pulled forward an
easel with a canvas already prepared, grasped his palette, and fixed
his eyes on the daughter’s pretty little face. If he had been acquainted
with human nature, he might have read in it the dawning of a childish
passion for balls, the dawning of sorrow and misery at the length of
time before dinner and after dinner, the heavy traces of uninterested
application to various arts, insisted upon by her mother for the
elevation of her mind. But the artist saw only the tender little face,
a seductive subject for his brush, the body almost as transparent as
porcelain, the delicate white neck, and the aristocratically slender
form. And he prepared beforehand to triumph, to display the delicacy of
his brush, which had hitherto had to deal only with the harsh features
of coarse models, and severe antiques and copies of classic masters. He
already saw in fancy how this delicate little face would turn out.

“Do you know,” said the lady with a positively touching expression of
countenance, “I should like her to be painted simply attired, and
seated among green shadows, like meadows, with a flock or a grove in
the distance, so that it could not be seen that she goes to balls
or fashionable entertainments. Our balls, I must confess, murder the
intellect, deaden all remnants of feeling. Simplicity! would there
were more simplicity!” Alas, it was stamped on the faces of mother and
daughter that they had so overdanced themselves at balls that they had
become almost wax figures.

Tchartkoff set to work, posed his model, reflected a bit, fixed upon the
idea, waved his brush in the air, settling the points mentally, and then
began and finished the sketching in within an hour. Satisfied with it,
he began to paint. The task fascinated him; he forgot everything, forgot
the very existence of the aristocratic ladies, began even to display
some artistic tricks, uttering various odd sounds and humming to himself
now and then as artists do when immersed heart and soul in their work.
Without the slightest ceremony, he made the sitter lift her head, which
finally began to express utter weariness.

“Enough for the first time,” said the lady.

“A little more,” said the artist, forgetting himself.

“No, it is time to stop. Lise, three o’clock!” said the lady, taking out
a tiny watch which hung by a gold chain from her girdle. “How late it

“Only a minute,” said Tchartkoff innocently, with the pleading voice of
a child.

But the lady appeared to be not at all inclined to yield to his artistic
demands on this occasion; she promised, however, to sit longer the next

“It is vexatious, all the same,” thought Tchartkoff to himself: “I had
just got my hand in;” and he remembered no one had interrupted him or
stopped him when he was at work in his studio on Vasilievsky Ostroff.
Nikita sat motionless in one place. You might even paint him as long
as you pleased; he even went to sleep in the attitude prescribed him.
Feeling dissatisfied, he laid his brush and palette on a chair, and
paused in irritation before the picture.

The woman of the world’s compliments awoke him from his reverie. He flew
to the door to show them out: on the stairs he received an invitation to
dine with them the following week, and returned with a cheerful face to
his apartments. The aristocratic lady had completely charmed him. Up to
that time he had looked upon such beings as unapproachable, born solely
to ride in magnificent carriages, with liveried footmen and stylish
coachmen, and to cast indifferent glances on the poor man travelling
on foot in a cheap cloak. And now, all of a sudden, one of these very
beings had entered his room; he was painting her portrait, was invited
to dinner at an aristocratic house. An unusual feeling of pleasure took
possession of him: he was completely intoxicated, and rewarded himself
with a splendid dinner, an evening at the theatre, and a drive through
the city in a carriage, without any necessity whatever.

But meanwhile his ordinary work did not fall in with his mood at all. He
did nothing but wait for the moment when the bell should ring. At last
the aristocratic lady arrived with her pale daughter. He seated them,
drew forward the canvas with skill, and some efforts of fashionable
airs, and began to paint. The sunny day and bright light aided him not a
little: he saw in his dainty sitter much which, caught and committed
to canvas, would give great value to the portrait. He perceived that he
might accomplish something good if he could reproduce, with accuracy,
all that nature then offered to his eyes. His heart began to beat faster
as he felt that he was expressing something which others had not even
seen as yet. His work engrossed him completely: he was wholly taken up
with it, and again forgot the aristocratic origin of the sitter. With
heaving breast he saw the delicate features and the almost transparent
body of the fair maiden grow beneath his hand. He had caught every
shade, the slight sallowness, the almost imperceptible blue tinge under
the eyes--and was already preparing to put in the tiny mole on the brow,
when he suddenly heard the mother’s voice behind him.

“Ah! why do you paint that? it is not necessary: and you have made it
here, in several places, rather yellow; and here, quite so, like dark

The artist undertook to explain that the spots and yellow tinge would
turn out well, that they brought out the delicate and pleasing tones of
the face. He was informed that they did not bring out tones, and would
not turn out well at all. It was explained to him that just to-day Lise
did not feel quite well; that she never was sallow, and that her face
was distinguished for its fresh colouring.

Sadly he began to erase what his brush had put upon the canvas. Many
a nearly imperceptible feature disappeared, and with it vanished too
a portion of the resemblance. He began indifferently to impart to the
picture that commonplace colouring which can be painted mechanically,
and which lends to a face, even when taken from nature, the sort of cold
ideality observable on school programmes. But the lady was satisfied
when the objectionable tone was quite banished. She merely expressed
surprise that the work lasted so long, and added that she had heard that
he finished a portrait completely in two sittings. The artist could not
think of any answer to this. The ladies rose, and prepared to depart.
He laid aside his brush, escorted them to the door, and then stood
disconsolate for a long while in one spot before the portrait.

He gazed stupidly at it; and meanwhile there floated before his mind’s
eye those delicate features, those shades, and airy tints which he had
copied, and which his brush had annihilated. Engrossed with them, he
put the portrait on one side and hunted up a head of Psyche which he had
some time before thrown on canvas in a sketchy manner. It was a pretty
little face, well painted, but entirely ideal, and having cold, regular
features not lit up by life. For lack of occupation, he now began to
tone it up, imparting to it all he had taken note of in his aristocratic
sitter. Those features, shadows, tints, which he had noted, made their
appearance here in the purified form in which they appear when the
painter, after closely observing nature, subordinates himself to her,
and produces a creation equal to her own.

Psyche began to live: and the scarcely dawning thought began, little
by little, to clothe itself in a visible form. The type of face of the
fashionable young lady was unconsciously transferred to Psyche, yet
nevertheless she had an expression of her own which gave the picture
claims to be considered in truth an original creation. Tchartkoff gave
himself up entirely to his work. For several days he was engrossed by it
alone, and the ladies surprised him at it on their arrival. He had not
time to remove the picture from the easel. Both ladies uttered a cry of
amazement, and clasped their hands.

“Lise, Lise! Ah, how like! Superb, superb! What a happy thought, too, to
drape her in a Greek costume! Ah, what a surprise!”

The artist could not see his way to disabuse the ladies of their error.
Shamefacedly, with drooping head, he murmured, “This is Psyche.”

“In the character of Psyche? Charming!” said the mother, smiling, upon
which the daughter smiled too. “Confess, Lise, it pleases you to be
painted in the character of Psyche better than any other way? What a
sweet idea! But what treatment! It is Correggio himself. I must say
that, although I had read and heard about you, I did not know you had
so much talent. You positively must paint me too.” Evidently the lady
wanted to be portrayed as some kind of Psyche too.

“What am I to do with them?” thought the artist. “If they will have it
so, why, let Psyche pass for what they choose:” and added aloud, “Pray
sit a little: I will touch it up here and there.”

“Ah! I am afraid you will... it is such a capital likeness now!”

But the artist understood that the difficulty was with respect to the
sallowness, and so he reassured them by saying that he only wished
to give more brilliancy and expression to the eyes. In truth, he was
ashamed, and wanted to impart a little more likeness to the original,
lest any one should accuse him of actual barefaced flattery. And the
features of the pale young girl at length appeared more closely in
Psyche’s countenance.

“Enough,” said the mother, beginning to fear that the likeness might
become too decided. The artist was remunerated in every way, with
smiles, money, compliments, cordial pressures of the hand, invitations
to dinner: in short, he received a thousand flattering rewards.

The portrait created a furore in the city. The lady exhibited it to her
friends, and all admired the skill with which the artist had preserved
the likeness, and at the same time conferred more beauty on the
original. The last remark, of course, was prompted by a slight tinge of
envy. The artist was suddenly overwhelmed with work. It seemed as if the
whole city wanted to be painted by him. The door-bell rang incessantly.
From one point of view, this might be considered advantageous, as
presenting to him endless practice in variety and number of faces. But,
unfortunately, they were all people who were hard to get along with,
either busy, hurried people, or else belonging to the fashionable
world, and consequently more occupied than any one else, and therefore
impatient to the last degree. In all quarters, the demand was merely
that the likeness should be good and quickly executed. The artist
perceived that it was a simple impossibility to finish his work; that it
was necessary to exchange power of treatment for lightness and rapidity,
to catch only the general expression, and not waste labour on delicate

Moreover, nearly all of his sitters made stipulations on various points.
The ladies required that mind and character should be represented in
their portraits; that all angles should be rounded, all unevenness
smoothed away, and even removed entirely if possible; in short, that
their faces should be such as to cause every one to stare at them with
admiration, if not fall in love with them outright. When they sat to
him, they sometimes assumed expressions which greatly amazed the artist;
one tried to express melancholy; another, meditation; a third wanted to
make her mouth appear small on any terms, and puckered it up to such an
extent that it finally looked like a spot about as big as a pinhead.
And in spite of all this, they demanded of him good likenesses and
unconstrained naturalness. The men were no better: one insisted on being
painted with an energetic, muscular turn to his head; another, with
upturned, inspired eyes; a lieutenant of the guard demanded that Mars
should be visible in his eyes; an official in the civil service drew
himself up to his full height in order to have his uprightness expressed
in his face, and that his hand might rest on a book bearing the words in
plain characters, “He always stood up for the right.”

At first such demands threw the artist into a cold perspiration. Finally
he acquired the knack of it, and never troubled himself at all about
it. He understood at a word how each wanted himself portrayed. If a
man wanted Mars in his face, he put in Mars: he gave a Byronic turn
and attitude to those who aimed at Byron. If the ladies wanted to be
Corinne, Undine, or Aspasia, he agreed with great readiness, and threw
in a sufficient measure of good looks from his own imagination, which
does no harm, and for the sake of which an artist is even forgiven a
lack of resemblance. He soon began to wonder himself at the rapidity and
dash of his brush. And of course those who sat to him were in ecstasies,
and proclaimed him a genius.

Tchartkoff became a fashionable artist in every sense of the word.
He began to dine out, to escort ladies to picture galleries, to dress
foppishly, and to assert audibly that an artist should belong to
society, that he must uphold his profession, that artists mostly dress
like showmakers, do not know how to behave themselves, do not maintain
the highest tone, and are lacking in all polish. At home, in his studio,
he carried cleanliness and spotlessness to the last extreme, set up two
superb footmen, took fashionable pupils, dressed several times a day,
curled his hair, practised various manners of receiving his callers, and
busied himself in adorning his person in every conceivable way, in order
to produce a pleasing impression on the ladies. In short, it would soon
have been impossible for any one to have recognised in him the modest
artist who had formerly toiled unknown in his miserable quarters in the
Vasilievsky Ostroff.

He now expressed himself decidedly concerning artists and art; declared
that too much credit had been given to the old masters; that even
Raphael did not always paint well, and that fame attached to many of his
works simply by force of tradition: that Michael Angelo was a braggart
because he could boast only a knowledge of anatomy; that there was no
grace about him, and that real brilliancy and power of treatment and
colouring were to be looked for in the present century. And there,
naturally, the question touched him personally. “I do not understand,”
 said he, “how others toil and work with difficulty: a man who labours
for months over a picture is a dauber, and no artist in my opinion; I
don’t believe he has any talent: genius works boldly, rapidly. Here is
this portrait which I painted in two days, this head in one day, this
in a few hours, this in little more than an hour. No, I confess I do not
recognise as art that which adds line to line; that is a handicraft,
not art.” In this manner did he lecture his visitors; and the visitors
admired the strength and boldness of his works, uttered exclamations on
hearing how fast they had been produced, and said to each other, “This
is talent, real talent! see how he speaks, how his eyes gleam! There is
something really extraordinary in his face!”

It flattered the artist to hear such reports about himself. When printed
praise appeared in the papers, he rejoiced like a child, although this
praise was purchased with his money. He carried the printed slips about
with him everywhere, and showed them to friends and acquaintances as
if by accident. His fame increased, his works and orders multiplied.
Already the same portraits over and over again wearied him, by the same
attitudes and turns, which he had learned by heart. He painted them now
without any great interest in his work, brushing in some sort of a head,
and giving them to his pupil’s to finish. At first he had sought to
devise a new attitude each time. Now this had grown wearisome to him.
His brain was tired with planning and thinking. It was out of his power;
his fashionable life bore him far away from labour and thought. His work
grew cold and colourless; and he betook himself with indifference to
the reproduction of monotonous, well-worn forms. The eternally
spick-and-span uniforms, and the so-to-speak buttoned-up faces of the
government officials, soldiers, and statesmen, did not offer a wide
field for his brush: it forgot how to render superb draperies and
powerful emotion and passion. Of grouping, dramatic effect and its lofty
connections, there was nothing. In face of him was only a uniform, a
corsage, a dress-coat, and before which the artist feels cold and
all imagination vanishes. Even his own peculiar merits were no longer
visible in his works, yet they continued to enjoy renown; although
genuine connoisseurs and artists merely shrugged their shoulders when
they saw his latest productions. But some who had known Tchartkoff in
his earlier days could not understand how the talent of which he had
given such clear indications in the outset could so have vanished; and
strove in vain to divine by what means genius could be extinguished in a
man just when he had attained to the full development of his powers.

But the intoxicated artist did not hear these criticisms. He began to
attain to the age of dignity, both in mind and years: to grow stout, and
increase visibly in flesh. He often read in the papers such phrases as,
“Our most respected Andrei Petrovitch; our worthy Andrei Petrovitch.”
 He began to receive offers of distinguished posts in the service,
invitations to examinations and committees. He began, as is usually
the case in maturer years, to advocate Raphael and the old masters, not
because he had become thoroughly convinced of their transcendent
merits, but in order to snub the younger artists. His life was already
approaching the period when everything which suggests impulse contracts
within a man; when a powerful chord appeals more feebly to the spirit;
when the touch of beauty no longer converts virgin strength into fire
and flame, but when all the burnt-out sentiments become more vulnerable
to the sound of gold, hearken more attentively to its seductive music,
and little by little permit themselves to be completely lulled to sleep
by it. Fame can give no pleasure to him who has stolen it, not won it;
so all his feelings and impulses turned towards wealth. Gold was his
passion, his ideal, his fear, his delight, his aim. The bundles of
bank-notes increased in his coffers; and, like all to whose lot falls
this fearful gift, he began to grow inaccessible to every sentiment
except the love of gold. But something occurred which gave him a
powerful shock, and disturbed the whole tenor of his life.

One day he found upon his table a note, in which the Academy of Painting
begged him, as a worthy member of its body, to come and give his opinion
upon a new work which had been sent from Italy by a Russian artist
who was perfecting himself there. The painter was one of his former
comrades, who had been possessed with a passion for art from his
earliest years, had given himself up to it with his whole soul,
estranged himself from his friends and relatives, and had hastened to
that wonderful Rome, at whose very name the artist’s heart beats wildly
and hotly. There he buried himself in his work from which he permitted
nothing to entice him. He visited the galleries unweariedly, he stood
for hours at a time before the works of the great masters, seizing and
studying their marvellous methods. He never finished anything without
revising his impressions several times before these great teachers,
and reading in their works silent but eloquent counsels. He gave each
impartially his due, appropriating from all only that which was most
beautiful, and finally became the pupil of the divine Raphael alone, as
a great poet, after reading many works, at last made Homer’s “Iliad”
 his only breviary, having discovered that it contains all one wants, and
that there is nothing which is not expressed in it in perfection. And
so he brought away from his school the grand conception of creation, the
mighty beauty of thought, the high charm of that heavenly brush.

When Tchartkoff entered the room, he found a crowd of visitors already
collected before the picture. The most profound silence, such as rarely
settles upon a throng of critics, reigned over all. He hastened to
assume the significant expression of a connoisseur, and approached the
picture; but, O God! what did he behold!

Pure, faultless, beautiful as a bride, stood the picture before him.
The critics regarded this new hitherto unknown work with a feeling
of involuntary wonder. All seemed united in it: the art of Raphael,
reflected in the lofty grace of the grouping; the art of Correggio,
breathing from the finished perfection of the workmanship. But more
striking than all else was the evident creative power in the artist’s
mind. The very minutest object in the picture revealed it; he had caught
that melting roundness of outline which is visible in nature only to
the artist creator, and which comes out as angles with a copyist. It was
plainly visible how the artist, having imbibed it all from the external
world, had first stored it in his mind, and then drawn it thence, as
from a spiritual source, into one harmonious, triumphant song. And it
was evident, even to the uninitiated, how vast a gulf there was fixed
between creation and a mere copy from nature. Involuntary tears stood
ready to fall in the eyes of those who surrounded the picture. It seemed
as though all joined in a silent hymn to the divine work.

Motionless, with open mouth, Tchartkoff stood before the picture. At
length, when by degrees the visitors and critics began to murmur and
comment upon the merits of the work, and turning to him, begged him to
express an opinion, he came to himself once more. He tried to assume an
indifferent, everyday expression; strove to utter some such commonplace
remark as; “Yes, to tell the truth, it is impossible to deny the
artist’s talent; there is something in it;” but the speech died upon his
lips, tears and sobs burst forth uncontrollably, and he rushed from the
room like one beside himself.

In a moment he stood in his magnificent studio. All his being, all his
life, had been aroused in one instant, as if youth had returned to
him, as if the dying sparks of his talent had blazed forth afresh.
The bandage suddenly fell from his eyes. Heavens! to think of having
mercilessly wasted the best years of his youth, of having extinguished,
trodden out perhaps, that spark of fire which, cherished in his breast,
might perhaps have been developed into magnificence and beauty, and
have extorted too, its meed of tears and admiration! It seemed as though
those impulses which he had known in other days re-awoke suddenly in his

He seized a brush and approached his canvas. One thought possessed him
wholly, one desire consumed him; he strove to depict a fallen angel.
This idea was most in harmony with his frame of mind. The perspiration
started out upon his face with his efforts; but, alas! his
figures, attitudes, groups, thoughts, arranged themselves stiffly,
disconnectedly. His hand and his imagination had been too long confined
to one groove; and the fruitless effort to escape from the bonds
and fetters which he had imposed upon himself, showed itself in
irregularities and errors. He had despised the long, wearisome ladder to
knowledge, and the first fundamental law of the future great man, hard
work. He gave vent to his vexation. He ordered all his later productions
to be taken out of his studio, all the fashionable, lifeless pictures,
all the portraits of hussars, ladies, and councillors of state.

He shut himself up alone in his room, would order no food, and devoted
himself entirely to his work. He sat toiling like a scholar. But how
pitifully wretched was all which proceeded from his hand! He was stopped
at every step by his ignorance of the very first principles: simple
ignorance of the mechanical part of his art chilled all inspiration
and formed an impassable barrier to his imagination. His brush returned
involuntarily to hackneyed forms: hands folded themselves in a set
attitude; heads dared not make any unusual turn; the very garments
turned out commonplace, and would not drape themselves to any
unaccustomed posture of the body. And he felt and saw this all himself.

“But had I really any talent?” he said at length: “did not I deceive
myself?” Uttering these words, he turned to the early works which he had
painted so purely, so unselfishly, in former days, in his wretched cabin
yonder in lonely Vasilievsky Ostroff. He began attentively to examine
them all; and all the misery of his former life came back to him. “Yes,”
 he cried despairingly, “I had talent: the signs and traces of it are
everywhere visible--”

He paused suddenly, and shivered all over. His eyes encountered other
eyes fixed immovably upon him. It was that remarkable portrait which he
had bought in the Shtchukinui Dvor. All this time it had been covered
up, concealed by other pictures, and had utterly gone out of his mind.
Now, as if by design, when all the fashionable portraits and paintings
had been removed from the studio, it looked forth, together with the
productions of his early youth. As he recalled all the strange events
connected with it; as he remembered that this singular portrait had
been, in a manner, the cause of his errors; that the hoard of money
which he had obtained in such peculiar fashion had given birth in his
mind to all the wild caprices which had destroyed his talent--madness
was on the point of taking possession of him. At once he ordered the
hateful portrait to be removed.

But his mental excitement was not thereby diminished. His whole being
was shaken to its foundation; and he suffered that fearful torture which
is sometimes exhibited when a feeble talent strives to display itself
on a scale too great for it and cannot do so. A horrible envy took
possession of him--an envy which bordered on madness. The gall flew
to his heart when he beheld a work which bore the stamp of talent. He
gnashed his teeth, and devoured it with the glare of a basilisk. He
conceived the most devilish plan which ever entered into the mind of
man, and he hastened with the strength of madness to carry it into
execution. He began to purchase the best that art produced of every
kind. Having bought a picture at a great price, he transported it to his
room, flung himself upon it with the ferocity of a tiger, cut it, tore
it, chopped it into bits, and stamped upon it with a grin of delight.

The vast wealth he had amassed enabled him to gratify this devilish
desire. He opened his bags of gold and unlocked his coffers. No monster
of ignorance ever destroyed so many superb productions of art as did
this raging avenger. At any auction where he made his appearance, every
one despaired at once of obtaining any work of art. It seemed as if an
angry heaven had sent this fearful scourge into the world expressly
to destroy all harmony. Scorn of the world was expressed in his
countenance. His tongue uttered nothing save biting and censorious
words. He swooped down like a harpy into the street: and his
acquaintances, catching sight of him in the distance, sought to turn
aside and avoid a meeting with him, saying that it poisoned all the rest
of the day.

Fortunately for the world and art, such a life could not last long:
his passions were too overpowering for his feeble strength. Attacks of
madness began to recur more frequently, and ended at last in the most
frightful illness. A violent fever, combined with galloping consumption,
seized upon him with such violence, that in three days there remained
only a shadow of his former self. To this was added indications of
hopeless insanity. Sometimes several men were unable to hold him. The
long-forgotten, living eyes of the portrait began to torment him, and
then his madness became dreadful. All the people who surrounded his bed
seemed to him horrible portraits. The portrait doubled and quadrupled
itself; all the walls seemed hung with portraits, which fastened their
living eyes upon him; portraits glared at him from the ceiling, from the
floor; the room widened and lengthened endlessly, in order to make room
for more of the motionless eyes. The doctor who had undertaken to attend
him, having learned something of his strange history, strove with all
his might to fathom the secret connection between the visions of
his fancy and the occurrences of his life, but without the slightest
success. The sick man understood nothing, felt nothing, save his own
tortures, and gave utterance only to frightful yells and unintelligible
gibberish. At last his life ended in a final attack of unutterable
suffering. Nothing could be found of all his great wealth; but when they
beheld the mutilated fragments of grand works of art, the value of which
exceeded a million, they understood the terrible use which had been made
of it.


A THRONG of carriages and other vehicles stood at the entrance of a
house in which an auction was going on of the effects of one of those
wealthy art-lovers who have innocently passed for Maecenases, and in
a simple-minded fashion expended, to that end, the millions amassed by
their thrifty fathers, and frequently even by their own early labours.
The long saloon was filled with the most motley throng of visitors,
collected like birds of prey swooping down upon an unburied corpse.
There was a whole squadron of Russian shop-keepers from the Gostinnui
Dvor, and from the old-clothes mart, in blue coats of foreign make.
Their faces and expressions were a little more natural here, and did not
display that fictitious desire to be subservient which is so marked in
the Russian shop-keeper when he stands before a customer in his shop.
Here they stood upon no ceremony, although the saloons were full of
those very aristocrats before whom, in any other place, they would have
been ready to sweep, with reverence, the dust brought in by their feet.
They were quite at their ease, handling pictures and books without
ceremony, when desirous of ascertaining the value of the goods,
and boldly upsetting bargains mentally secured in advance by noble
connoisseurs. There were many of those infallible attendants of auctions
who make it a point to go to one every day as regularly as to take their
breakfast; aristocratic connoisseurs who look upon it as their duty not
to miss any opportunity of adding to their collections, and who have no
other occupation between twelve o’clock and one; and noble gentlemen,
with garments very threadbare, who make their daily appearance without
any selfish object in view, but merely to see how it all goes off.

A quantity of pictures were lying about in disorder: with them were
mingled furniture, and books with the cipher of the former owner, who
never was moved by any laudable desire to glance into them. Chinese
vases, marble slabs for tables, old and new furniture with curving
lines, with griffins, sphinxes, and lions’ paws, gilded and ungilded,
chandeliers, sconces, all were heaped together in a perfect chaos of

The auction appeared to be at its height.

The surging throng was competing for a portrait which could not but
arrest the attention of all who possessed any knowledge of art. The
skilled hand of an artist was plainly visible in it. The portrait, which
had apparently been several times restored and renovated, represented
the dark features of an Asiatic in flowing garments, and with a strange
and remarkable expression of countenance; but what struck the buyers
more than anything else was the peculiar liveliness of the eyes. The
more they were looked at, the more did they seem to penetrate into the
gazer’s heart. This peculiarity, this strange illusion achieved by the
artist, attracted the attention of nearly all. Many who had been bidding
gradually withdrew, for the price offered had risen to an incredible
sum. There remained only two well-known aristocrats, amateurs of
painting, who were unwilling to forego such an acquisition. They grew
warm, and would probably have run the bidding up to an impossible sum,
had not one of the onlookers suddenly exclaimed, “Permit me to interrupt
your competition for a while: I, perhaps, more than any other, have a
right to this portrait.”

These words at once drew the attention of all to him. He was a tall
man of thirty-five, with long black curls. His pleasant face, full of
a certain bright nonchalance, indicated a mind free from all wearisome,
worldly excitement; his garments had no pretence to fashion: all
about him indicated the artist. He was, in fact, B. the painter, a man
personally well known to many of those present.

“However strange my words may seem to you,” he continued, perceiving
that the general attention was directed to him, “if you will listen to
a short story, you may possibly see that I was right in uttering them.
Everything assures me that this is the portrait which I am looking for.”

A natural curiosity illuminated the faces of nearly all present; and
even the auctioneer paused as he was opening his mouth, and with hammer
uplifted in the air, prepared to listen. At the beginning of the story,
many glanced involuntarily towards the portrait; but later on, all bent
their attention solely on the narrator, as his tale grew gradually more

“You know that portion of the city which is called Kolomna,” he began.
“There everything is unlike anything else in St. Petersburg. Retired
officials remove thither to live; widows; people not very well off, who
have acquaintances in the senate, and therefore condemn themselves to
this for nearly the whole of their lives; and, in short, that whole list
of people who can be described by the words ash-coloured--people whose
garments, faces, hair, eyes, have a sort of ashy surface, like a day
when there is in the sky neither cloud nor sun. Among them may be
retired actors, retired titular councillors, retired sons of Mars, with
ruined eyes and swollen lips.

“Life in Kolomna is terribly dull: rarely does a carriage appear,
except, perhaps, one containing an actor, which disturbs the universal
stillness by its rumble, noise, and jingling. You can get lodgings
for five rubles a month, coffee in the morning included. Widows
with pensions are the most aristocratic families there; they conduct
themselves well, sweep their rooms often, chatter with their friends
about the dearness of beef and cabbage, and frequently have a young
daughter, a taciturn, quiet, sometimes pretty creature; an ugly dog, and
wall-clocks which strike in a melancholy fashion. Then come the actors
whose salaries do not permit them to desert Kolomna, an independent
folk, living, like all artists, for pleasure. They sit in their
dressing-gowns, cleaning their pistols, gluing together all sorts of
things out of cardboard, playing draughts and cards with any friend who
chances to drop in, and so pass away the morning, doing pretty nearly
the same in the evening, with the addition of punch now and then. After
these great people and aristocracy of Kolomna, come the rank and file.
It is as difficult to put a name to them as to remember the multitude of
insects which breed in stale vinegar. There are old women who get drunk,
who make a living by incomprehensible means, like ants, dragging old
clothes and rags from the Kalinkin Bridge to the old clothes-mart,
in order to sell them for fifteen kopeks--in short, the very dregs of
mankind, whose conditions no beneficent, political economist has devised
any means of ameliorating.

“I have mentioned them in order to point out how often such people find
themselves under the necessity of seeking immediate temporary assistance
and having recourse to borrowing. Hence there settles among them a
peculiar race of money-lenders who lend small sums on security at an
enormous percentage. Among these usurers was a certain... but I must not
omit to mention that the occurrence which I have undertaken to relate
occurred the last century, in the reign of our late Empress Catherine
the Second. So, among the usurers, at that epoch, was a certain
person--an extraordinary being in every respect, who had settled in that
quarter of the city long before. He went about in flowing Asiatic garb;
his dark complexion indicated a Southern origin, but to what particular
nation he belonged, India, Greece, or Persia, no one could say with
certainty. Of tall, almost colossal stature, with dark, thin, ardent
face, heavy overhanging brows, and an indescribably strange colour in
his large eyes of unwonted fire, he differed sharply and strongly from
all the ash-coloured denizens of the capital.

“His very dwelling was unlike the other little wooden houses. It was
of stone, in the style of those formerly much affected by Genoese
merchants, with irregular windows of various sizes, secured with iron
shutters and bars. This usurer differed from other usurers also in that
he could furnish any required sum, from that desired by the poor old
beggar-woman to that demanded by the extravagant grandee of the court.
The most gorgeous equipages often halted in front of his house, and from
their windows sometimes peeped forth the head of an elegant high-born
lady. Rumour, as usual, reported that his iron coffers were full of
untold gold, treasures, diamonds, and all sorts of pledges, but
that, nevertheless, he was not the slave of that avarice which is
characteristic of other usurers. He lent money willingly, and on very
favourable terms of payment apparently, but, by some curious method of
reckoning, made them mount to an incredible percentage. So said rumour,
at any rate. But what was strangest of all was the peculiar fate of
those who received money from him: they all ended their lives in some
unhappy way. Whether this was simply the popular superstition, or the
result of reports circulated with an object, is not known. But several
instances which happened within a brief space of time before the eyes of
every one were vivid and striking.

“Among the aristocracy of that day, one who speedily drew attention
to himself was a young man of one of the best families who had made a
figure in his early years in court circles, a warm admirer of everything
true and noble, zealous in his love for art, and giving promise of
becoming a Maecenas. He was soon deservedly distinguished by the
Empress, who conferred upon him an important post, fully proportioned
to his deserts--a post in which he could accomplish much for science
and the general welfare. The youthful dignitary surrounded himself
with artists, poets, and learned men. He wished to give work to all,
to encourage all. He undertook, at his own expense, a number of useful
publications; gave numerous orders to artists; offered prizes for
the encouragement of different arts; spent a great deal of money, and
finally ruined himself. But, full of noble impulses, he did not wish to
relinquish his work, sought to raise a loan, and finally betook himself
to the well-known usurer. Having borrowed a considerable sum from him,
the man in a short time changed completely. He became a persecutor
and oppressor of budding talent and intellect. He saw the bad side in
everything produced, and every word he uttered was false.

“Then, unfortunately, came the French Revolution. This furnished him
with an excuse for every kind of suspicion. He began to discover a
revolutionary tendency in everything; to concoct terrible and unjust
accusations, which made scores of people unhappy. Of course, such
conduct could not fail in time to reach the throne. The kind-hearted
Empress was shocked; and, full of the noble spirit which adorns crowned
heads, she uttered words still engraven on many hearts. The Empress
remarked that not under a monarchical government were high and noble
impulses persecuted; not there were the creations of intellect, poetry,
and art contemned and oppressed. On the other hand, monarchs alone
were their protectors. Shakespeare and Moliere flourished under their
magnanimous protection, while Dante could not find a corner in his
republican birthplace. She said that true geniuses arise at the epoch
of brilliancy and power in emperors and empires, but not in the time of
monstrous political apparitions and republican terrorism, which, up to
that time, had never given to the world a single poet; that poet-artists
should be marked out for favour, since peace and divine quiet alone
compose their minds, not excitement and tumult; that learned men, poets,
and all producers of art are the pearls and diamonds in the imperial
crown: by them is the epoch of the great ruler adorned, and from them it
receives yet greater brilliancy.

“As the Empress uttered these words she was divinely beautiful for the
moment, and I remember old men who could not speak of the occurrence
without tears. All were interested in the affair. It must be remarked,
to the honour of our national pride, that in the Russian’s heart
there always beats a fine feeling that he must adopt the part of the
persecuted. The dignitary who had betrayed his trust was punished in an
exemplary manner and degraded from his post. But he read a more dreadful
punishment in the faces of his fellow-countrymen: universal scorn. It
is impossible to describe what he suffered, and he died in a terrible
attack of raving madness.

“Another striking example also occurred. Among the beautiful women
in which our northern capital assuredly is not poor, one decidedly
surpassed the rest. Her loveliness was a combination of our Northern
charms with those of the South, a gem such as rarely makes its
appearance on earth. My father said that he had never beheld anything
like it in the whole course of his life. Everything seemed to be united
in her, wealth, intellect, and wit. She had throngs of admirers, the
most distinguished of them being Prince R., the most noble-minded of
all young men, the finest in face, and an ideal of romance in his
magnanimous and knightly sentiments. Prince R. was passionately in love,
and was requited by a like ardent passion.

“But the match seemed unequal to the parents. The prince’s family
estates had not been in his possession for a long time, his family was
out of favour, and the sad state of his affairs was well known to all.
Of a sudden the prince quitted the capital, as if for the purpose of
arranging his affairs, and after a short interval reappeared, surrounded
with luxury and splendour. Brilliant balls and parties made him known
at court. The lady’s father began to relent, and the wedding took place.
Whence this change in circumstances, this unheard-of-wealth, came, no
one could fully explain; but it was whispered that he had entered into
a compact with the mysterious usurer, and had borrowed money of him.
However that may have been, the wedding was a source of interest to the
whole city, and the bride and bridegroom were objects of general envy.
Every one knew of their warm and faithful love, the long persecution
they had had to endure from every quarter, the great personal worth of
both. Ardent women at once sketched out the heavenly bliss which the
young couple would enjoy. But it turned out very differently.

“In the course of a year a frightful change came over the husband.
His character, up to that time so noble, became poisoned with jealous
suspicions, irritability, and inexhaustible caprices. He became a tyrant
to his wife, a thing which no one could have foreseen, and indulged in
the most inhuman deeds, and even in blows. In a year’s time no one would
have recognised the woman who, such a little while before, had dazzled
and drawn about her throngs of submissive adorers. Finally, no longer
able to endure her lot, she proposed a divorce. Her husband flew into a
rage at the very suggestion. In the first outburst of passion, he chased
her about the room with a knife, and would doubtless have murdered her
then and there, if they had not seized him and prevented him. In a fit
of madness and despair he turned the knife against himself, and ended
his life amid the most horrible sufferings.

“Besides these two instances which occurred before the eyes of all the
world, stories circulated of many more among the lower classes, nearly
all of which had tragic endings. Here an honest sober man became a
drunkard; there a shopkeeper’s clerk robbed his master; again, a
driver who had conducted himself properly for a number of years cut
his passenger’s throat for a groschen. It was impossible that such
occurrences, related, not without embellishments, should not inspire a
sort of involuntary horror amongst the sedate inhabitants of Kolomna.
No one entertained any doubt as to the presence of an evil power in the
usurer. They said that he imposed conditions which made the hair rise on
one’s head, and which the miserable wretch never afterward dared
reveal to any other being; that his money possessed a strange power of
attraction; that it grew hot of itself, and that it bore strange marks.
And it is worthy of remark, that all the colony of Kolomna, all these
poor old women, small officials, petty artists, and insignificant people
whom we have just recapitulated, agreed that it was better to endure
anything, and to suffer the extreme of misery, rather than to have
recourse to the terrible usurer. Old women were even found dying of
hunger, who preferred to kill their bodies rather than lose their soul.
Those who met him in the street experienced an involuntary sense of
fear. Pedestrians took care to turn aside from his path, and gazed long
after his tall, receding figure. In his face alone there was sufficient
that was uncommon to cause any one to ascribe to him a supernatural
nature. The strong features, so deeply chiselled; the glowing bronze of
his complexion; the incredible thickness of his brows; the intolerable,
terrible eyes--everything seemed to indicate that the passions of other
men were pale compared to those raging within him. My father stopped
short every time he met him, and could not refrain each time from
saying, ‘A devil, a perfect devil!’ But I must introduce you as speedily
as possible to my father, the chief character of this story.

“My father was a remarkable man in many respects. He was an artist
of rare ability, a self-taught artist, without teachers or schools,
principles and rules, carried away only by the thirst for perfection,
and treading a path indicated by his own instincts, for reasons unknown,
perchance, even to himself. Through some lofty and secret instinct
he perceived the presence of a soul in every object. And this secret
instinct and personal conviction turned his brush to Christian subjects,
grand and lofty to the last degree. His was a strong character: he was
an honourable, upright, even rough man, covered with a sort of hard rind
without, not entirely lacking in pride, and given to expressing himself
both sharply and scornfully about people. He worked for very small
results; that is to say, for just enough to support his family and
obtain the materials he needed; he never, under any circumstances,
refused to aid any one, or to lend a helping hand to a poor artist; and
he believed with the simple, reverent faith of his ancestors. At length,
by his unintermitting labour and perseverance in the path he had marked
out for himself, he began to win the approbation of those who honoured
his self-taught talent. They gave him constant orders for churches, and
he never lacked employment.

“One of his paintings possessed a strong interest for him. I no longer
recollect the exact subject: I only know that he needed to represent
the Spirit of Darkness in it. He pondered long what form to give him: he
wished to concentrate in his face all that weighs down and oppresses a
man. In the midst of his meditations there suddenly occurred to his
mind the image of the mysterious usurer; and he thought involuntarily,
‘That’s how I ought to paint the Devil!’ Imagine his amazement when one
day, as he was at work in his studio, he heard a knock at the door, and
directly after there entered that same terrible usurer.

“‘You are an artist?’ he said to my father abruptly.

“‘I am,’ answered my father in surprise, waiting for what should come

“‘Good! Paint my portrait. I may possibly die soon. I have no children;
but I do not wish to die completely, I wish to live. Can you paint a
portrait that shall appear as though it were alive?’

“My father reflected, ‘What could be better! he offers himself for the
Devil in my picture.’ He promised. They agreed upon a time and price;
and the next day my father took palette and brushes and went to the
usurer’s house. The lofty court-yard, dogs, iron doors and locks, arched
windows, coffers, draped with strange covers, and, last of all, the
remarkable owner himself, seated motionless before him, all produced
a strange impression on him. The windows seemed intentionally so
encumbered below that they admitted the light only from the top. ‘Devil
take him, how well his face is lighted!’ he said to himself, and began
to paint assiduously, as though afraid that the favourable light would
disappear. ‘What power!’ he repeated to himself. ‘If I only accomplish
half a likeness of him, as he is now, it will surpass all my other
works: he will simply start from the canvas if I am only partly true to
nature. What remarkable features!’ He redoubled his energy; and began
himself to notice how some of his sitter’s traits were making their
appearance on the canvas.

“But the more closely he approached resemblance, the more conscious he
became of an aggressive, uneasy feeling which he could not explain
to himself. Notwithstanding this, he set himself to copy with literal
accuracy every trait and expression. First of all, however, he busied
himself with the eyes. There was so much force in those eyes, that it
seemed impossible to reproduce them exactly as they were in nature.
But he resolved, at any price, to seek in them the most minute
characteristics and shades, to penetrate their secret. As soon,
however, as he approached them in resemblance, and began to redouble
his exertions, there sprang up in his mind such a terrible feeling of
repulsion, of inexplicable expression, that he was forced to lay aside
his brush for a while and begin anew. At last he could bear it no
longer: he felt as if these eyes were piercing into his soul, and
causing intolerable emotion. On the second and third days this grew
still stronger. It became horrible to him. He threw down his brush, and
declared abruptly that he could paint the stranger no longer. You should
have seen how the terrible usurer changed countenance at these words.
He threw himself at his feet, and besought him to finish the portrait,
saying that his fate and his existence depended on it; that he had
already caught his prominent features; that if he could reproduce
them accurately, his life would be preserved in his portrait in a
supernatural manner; that by that means he would not die completely;
that it was necessary for him to continue to exist in the world.

“My father was frightened by these words: they seemed to him strange and
terrible to such a degree, that he threw down his brushes and palette
and rushed headlong from the room.

“The thought of it troubled him all day and all night; but the next
morning he received the portrait from the usurer, by a woman who was the
only creature in his service, and who announced that her master did not
want the portrait, and would pay nothing for it, and had sent it back.
On the evening of the same day he learned that the usurer was dead, and
that preparations were in progress to bury him according to the rites of
his religion. All this seemed to him inexplicably strange. But from that
day a marked change showed itself in his character. He was possessed by
a troubled, uneasy feeling, of which he was unable to explain the cause;
and he soon committed a deed which no one could have expected of him.
For some time the works of one of his pupils had been attracting the
attention of a small circle of connoisseurs and amateurs. My father
had perceived his talent, and manifested a particular liking for him
in consequence. Suddenly the general interest in him and talk about him
became unendurable to my father who grew envious of him. Finally, to
complete his vexation, he learned that his pupil had been asked to paint
a picture for a recently built and wealthy church. This enraged him.
‘No, I will not permit that fledgling to triumph!’ said he: ‘it is
early, friend, to think of consigning old men to the gutters. I still
have powers, God be praised! We’ll soon see which will put down the

“And this straightforward, honourable man employed intrigues which
he had hitherto abhorred. He finally contrived that there should be a
competition for the picture which other artists were permitted to enter
into. Then he shut himself up in his room, and grasped his brush with
zeal. It seemed as if he were striving to summon all his strength up for
this occasion. And, in fact, the result turned out to be one of his best
works. No one doubted that he would bear off the palm. The pictures were
placed on exhibition, and all the others seemed to his as night to day.
But of a sudden, one of the members present, an ecclesiastical personage
if I mistake not, made a remark which surprised every one. ‘There
is certainly much talent in this artist’s picture,’ said he, ‘but no
holiness in the faces: there is even, on the contrary, a demoniacal look
in the eyes, as though some evil feeling had guided the artist’s hand.’
All looked, and could not but acknowledge the truth of these words. My
father rushed forward to his picture, as though to verify for himself
this offensive remark, and perceived with horror that he had bestowed
the usurer’s eyes upon nearly all the figures. They had such a
diabolical gaze that he involuntarily shuddered. The picture was
rejected; and he was forced to hear, to his indescribable vexation, that
the palm was awarded to his pupil.

“It is impossible to describe the state of rage in which he returned
home. He almost killed my mother, he drove the children away, broke
his brushes and easels, tore down the usurer’s portrait from the
wall, demanded a knife, and ordered a fire to be built in the chimney,
intending to cut it in pieces and burn it. A friend, an artist, caught
him in the act as he entered the room--a jolly fellow, always satisfied
with himself, inflated by unattainable wishes, doing daily anything
that came to hand, and taking still more gaily to his dinner and little

“‘What are you doing? What are you preparing to burn?’ he asked, and
stepped up to the portrait. ‘Why, this is one of your very best works.
It is the usurer who died a short time ago: yes, it is a most perfect
likeness. You did not stop until you had got into his very eyes. Never
did eyes look as these do now.’

“‘Well, I’ll see how they look in the fire!’ said my father, making a
movement to fling the portrait into the grate.

“‘Stop, for Heaven’s sake!’ exclaimed his friend, restraining him: ‘give
it to me, rather, if it offends your eyes to such a degree.’ My father
resisted, but yielded at length; and the jolly fellow, well pleased with
his acquisition, carried the portrait home with him.

“When he was gone, my father felt more calm. The burden seemed to have
disappeared from his soul in company with the portrait. He was surprised
himself at his evil feelings, his envy, and the evident change in his
character. Reviewing his acts, he became sad at heart; and not without
inward sorrow did he exclaim, ‘No, it was God who punished me! my
picture, in fact, was meant to ruin my brother-man. A devilish feeling
of envy guided my brush, and that devilish feeling must have made itself
visible in it.’

“He set out at once to seek his former pupil, embraced him warmly,
begged his forgiveness, and endeavoured as far as possible to excuse
his own fault. His labours continued as before; but his face was more
frequently thoughtful. He prayed more, grew more taciturn, and expressed
himself less sharply about people: even the rough exterior of his
character was modified to some extent. But a certain occurrence soon
disturbed him more than ever. He had seen nothing for a long time of the
comrade who had begged the portrait of him. He had already decided to
hunt him up, when the latter suddenly made his appearance in his room.
After a few words and questions on both sides, he said, ‘Well, brother,
it was not without cause that you wished to burn that portrait. Devil
take it, there’s something horrible about it! I don’t believe in
sorcerers; but, begging your pardon, there’s an unclean spirit in it.’

“‘How so?’ asked my father.

“‘Well, from the very moment I hung it up in my room I felt such
depression--just as if I wanted to murder some one. I never knew in
my life what sleeplessness was; but I suffered not from sleeplessness
alone, but from such dreams!--I cannot tell whether they were dreams, or
what; it was as if a demon were strangling one: and the old man appeared
to me in my sleep. In short, I can’t describe my state of mind. I had a
sensation of fear, as if expecting something unpleasant. I felt as if I
could not speak a cheerful or sincere word to any one: it was just as
if a spy were sitting over me. But from the very hour that I gave that
portrait to my nephew, who asked for it, I felt as if a stone had been
rolled from my shoulders, and became cheerful, as you see me now. Well,
brother, you painted the very Devil!’

“During this recital my father listened with unswerving attention, and
finally inquired, ‘And your nephew now has the portrait?’

“‘My nephew, indeed! he could not stand it!’ said the jolly fellow: ‘do
you know, the soul of that usurer has migrated into it; he jumps out
of the frame, walks about the room; and what my nephew tells of him is
simply incomprehensible. I should take him for a lunatic, if I had not
undergone a part of it myself. He sold it to some collector of pictures;
and he could not stand it either, and got rid of it to some one else.’

“This story produced a deep impression on my father. He grew seriously
pensive, fell into hypochondria, and finally became fully convinced that
his brush had served as a tool of the Devil; and that a portion of the
usurer’s vitality had actually passed into the portrait, and was now
troubling people, inspiring diabolical excitement, beguiling painters
from the true path, producing the fearful torments of envy, and so
forth. Three catastrophes which occurred afterwards, three sudden deaths
of wife, daughter, and infant son, he regarded as a divine punishment on
him, and firmly resolved to withdraw from the world.

“As soon as I was nine years old, he placed me in an academy of
painting, and, paying all his debts, retired to a lonely cloister,
where he soon afterwards took the vows. There he amazed every one by the
strictness of his life, and his untiring observance of all the monastic
rules. The prior of the monastery, hearing of his skill in painting,
ordered him to paint the principal picture in the church. But the humble
brother said plainly that he was unworthy to touch a brush, that his was
contaminated, that with toil and great sacrifice must he first purify
his spirit in order to render himself fit to undertake such a task. He
increased the rigours of monastic life for himself as much as possible.
At last, even they became insufficient, and he retired, with the
approval of the prior, into the desert, in order to be quite alone.
There he constructed himself a cell from branches of trees, ate only
uncooked roots, dragged about a stone from place to place, stood in one
spot with his hands lifted to heaven, from the rising until the going
down of the sun, reciting prayers without cessation. In this manner
did he for several years exhaust his body, invigorating it, at the same
time, with the strength of fervent prayer.

“At length, one day he returned to the cloister, and said firmly to
the prior, ‘Now I am ready. If God wills, I will finish my task.’ The
subject he selected was the Birth of Christ. A whole year he sat over
it, without leaving his cell, barely sustaining himself with coarse
food, and praying incessantly. At the end of the year the picture was
ready. It was a really wonderful work. Neither prior nor brethren knew
much about painting; but all were struck with the marvellous holiness of
the figures. The expression of reverent humility and gentleness in
the face of the Holy Mother, as she bent over the Child; the deep
intelligence in the eyes of the Holy Child, as though he saw something
afar; the triumphant silence of the Magi, amazed by the Divine Miracle,
as they bowed at his feet: and finally, the indescribable peace which
emanated from the whole picture--all this was presented with such
strength and beauty, that the impression it made was magical. All the
brethren threw themselves on their knees before it; and the prior,
deeply affected, exclaimed, ‘No, it is impossible for any artist, with
the assistance only of earthly art, to produce such a picture: a holy,
divine power has guided thy brush, and the blessing of Heaven rested
upon thy labour!’

“By that time I had completed my education at the academy, received
the gold medal, and with it the joyful hope of a journey to Italy--the
fairest dream of a twenty-year-old artist. It only remained for me
to take leave of my father, from whom I had been separated for twelve
years. I confess that even his image had long faded from my memory. I
had heard somewhat of his grim saintliness, and rather expected to
meet a hermit of rough exterior, a stranger to everything in the world,
except his cell and his prayers, worn out, tried up, by eternal fasting
and penance. But how great was my surprise when a handsome old man stood
before me! No traces of exhaustion were visible on his countenance: it
beamed with the light of a heavenly joy. His beard, white as snow,
and his thin, almost transparent hair of the same silvery hue, fell
picturesquely upon his breast, and upon the folds of his black gown,
even to the rope with which his poor monastic garb was girded. But
most surprising to me of all was to hear from his mouth such words
and thoughts about art as, I confess, I long shall bear in mind, and I
sincerely wish that all my comrades would do the same.

“‘I expected you, my son,’ he said, when I approached for his blessing.
‘The path awaits you in which your life is henceforth to flow. Your path
is pure--desert it not. You have talent: talent is the most priceless
of God’s gifts--destroy it not. Search out, subject all things to your
brush; but in all see that you find the hidden soul, and most of all,
strive to attain to the grand secret of creation. Blessed is the elect
one who masters that! There is for him no mean object in nature. In
lowly themes the artist creator is as great as in great ones: in the
despicable there is nothing for him to despise, for it passes through
the purifying fire of his mind. An intimation of God’s heavenly paradise
is contained for the artist in art, and by that alone is it higher
than all else. But by as much as triumphant rest is grander than every
earthly emotion, by so much is the lofty creation of art higher than
everything else on earth. Sacrifice everything to it, and love it with
passion--not with the passion breathing with earthly desire, but a
peaceful, heavenly passion. It cannot plant discord in the spirit,
but ascends, like a resounding prayer, eternally to God. But there are
moments, dark moments--’ He paused, and I observed that his bright face
darkened, as though some cloud crossed it for a moment. ‘There is one
incident of my life,’ he said. ‘Up to this moment, I cannot understand
what that terrible being was of whom I painted a likeness. It was
certainly some diabolical apparition. I know that the world denies the
existence of the Devil, and therefore I will not speak of him. I will
only say that I painted him with repugnance: I felt no liking for my
work, even at the time. I tried to force myself, and, stifling every
emotion in a hard-hearted way, to be true to nature. I have been
informed that this portrait is passing from hand to hand, and sowing
unpleasant impressions, inspiring artists with feelings of envy, of dark
hatred towards their brethren, with malicious thirst for persecution and
oppression. May the Almighty preserve you from such passions! There is
nothing more terrible.’

“He blessed and embraced me. Never in my life was I so grandly moved.
Reverently, rather than with the feeling of a son, I leaned upon his
breast, and kissed his scattered silver locks.

“Tears shone in his eyes. ‘Fulfil my one request, my son,’ said he,
at the moment of parting. ‘You may chance to see the portrait I have
mentioned somewhere. You will know it at once by the strange eyes, and
their peculiar expression. Destroy it at any cost.’

“Judge for yourselves whether I could refuse to promise, with an oath,
to fulfil this request. In the space of fifteen years I had never
succeeded in meeting with anything which in any way corresponded to the
description given me by my father, until now, all of a sudden, at an

The artist did not finish his sentence, but turned his eyes to the
wall in order to glance once more at the portrait. The entire throng
of auditors made the same movement, seeking the wonderful portrait with
their eyes. But, to their extreme amazement, it was no longer on the
wall. An indistinct murmur and exclamation ran through the crowd, and
then was heard distinctly the word, “stolen.” Some one had succeeded in
carrying it off, taking advantage of the fact that the attention of the
spectators was distracted by the story. And those present long remained
in a state of surprise, not knowing whether they had really seen those
remarkable eyes, or whether it was simply a dream which had floated
for an instant before their eyesight, strained with long gazing at old

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