One cherished old chestnut says an artist only achieves true success after death.
As with most generalizations, this is not always so. While it is a recognized fact that a critical recognition of an artist’s work sometimes comes too late to help support that artist in life, there are numerous examples of famous virtuosos who did in fact achieve noteworthy recognition while they were still around to draw a breath. Both Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, were quite famous in their lifetimes. Rodin was a mere lad in his forties when his genius first began to be praised. Even Rembrandt achieved an early level of success, though he eventually lost that popularity before his death, gaining it back only posthumously.
Still, it wouldn’t be a cherished belief unless one could point out certain prominent examples. Though the public by and large is still ignorant of his name, critics universally praise the work of the Dutch sculptor Werdeth Holm. A recent auction of his life-size figure in bronze Dancing Lady brought in a price in excess of $5 million. Ironically, Holm himself went largely ignored during his life.
Born in The Hague in 1552, the artist studied under the great Giovanni da Bologna and was later highly praised by his peers for his skill with metals, especially bronze and silver. Holm could breathe a virtual life into the inanimate, it seemed. His sculptures, so realistic they seemed almost ready to step off their pedestals and join their crowd of admirers, went for high prices and were purchased almost exclusively by the elite of Dutch and Swedish societies. Unfortunately, this success all happened after the artist’s mysterious disappearance in 1585. Holm never actually sold a thing while he was alive. Worse yet, the products of his craft suffered from calamitous timing. Much of his work was looted and subsequently lost during the Thirty Years’ War. His sculptures were scattered and some even destroyed. As a result of this bad luck, no opportunities for Holm’s work to be appreciated by an adoring public were presented. A critical review of his art was almost entirely neglected until the mid 20th Century when a small collection of his sculptures was uncovered languishing in a Nazi war vault.
In Holm’s case at least, the old adage was proven demonstrably true. Success for the artist came only a mere four centuries after death.
Edgar, gazing reverently at Holm’s Twisting Soldier, was determined to follow in his inspiration’s footsteps, though not in career. His hands gripped tightly the cords of the rope barrier between him and the statue. Around him, the crowd in Amsterdam’s national museum nodded silently as their Dutch tour guide explained the significance of the artist’s work in her heavily-accented English. They were vapid fools, the lot of them, ignorant American or British tourists. None of them could see the sheer dynamics in Holm’s sculpture. The way the soldier’s right arm was curved and raised over his face, the manner in which the muscles flexed and bent so realistically, was so perfect, so idealized, that it achieved a new sense of hyper-reality. It was more real than real. The emotions, the passion, that could be read in the bronze warrior’s features, in his very stance, shouted to Edgar the pain and loneliness of war, the melancholy of victory, and the joys of defeat. They couldn’t appreciate Holm the way he did.
Edgar’s roommate had been the one to introduce him to the sculptor. Lionel had been an art history major. He was always coming to his friend and showing him the latest masterpiece he had discovered, expounding to Edgar on the techniques and forms he studied intellectually and his roommate worked with instinctively. Lionel’s skill had been in words and theories; Edgar was the one who worked with his hands, shaping the metal according to his inner drives. The more he thought about it, Edgar increasingly suspected his roommate had been jealous or envious of his talent. He wanted so badly to create art himself that he continually tried to remold his friend’s own capacity, to mirror himself in Edgar’s meager output through sheer inspirational rantings on the work of others. He really hadn’t minded, though. Lionel was nothing if not entertaining, and sometimes what he showed Edgar really did seem to improve his style.
One day his friend came into their pizza-encrusted dorm and told Edgar to come down to New York with him. I’ve got something to show you, he said. At first he thought his roommate had been kidding; it would mean a four-hour train ride into the city. But Lionel proved insistent that night, and Edgar hadn’t had any classes the next day. He went, complaining good-naturedly but genuinely looking forward to the excursion. It changed his life. The gallery had picked up a new piece, Holm’s Reclining Goddess, and from the first glance Edgar had known he had found his perfect muse.
The Reclining Goddess was Aphrodite, Lionel had explained, though Edgar wasn’t paying attention. The statue’s perfection of form had immediately dominated his artist’s attention. The figure lay back, the underside of her arm on the floor supporting her weight, shoulders tilted slightly but with breasts, navel, and crotch still along the center line of her torso. Her head faced upward, and her other hand passed seductively through her hair. Edgar couldn’t believe she was metal. She seemed alive in a way that many of the girls he shared classes with were not. The statue breathed life, dreaming passion, inspiring obsession, and that she was made of cold bronze only increased the overall effect. From that night on, Edgar devoted himself to emulating Holm.
He left school. They could no longer teach him what he wanted to know. Even Lionel was surprised at his decision. Edgar went to his parents, convincing them somehow to support his passion. They were well-off, and he was their only son; they supported his quest, paying for the new materials, the pilgrimages to other museums. They even paid at last for the trip to Holm’s country and a studio there where he could work, breathing the same air that Holm breathed, seeing many of the same sights in the ancient city. But it had proved fruitless, this divine madness. No matter how hard he tried, no matter the blood and sweat he poured into each new creation, the perfection of Holm’s art was beyond him. The metal remained lifeless, inert, mere sculpture. They were nothing to him. When not in the studio, he spent his days in museums looking at Holm’s work, trying to discover the master’s secrets.
He had lost weight. He was no longer eating the way he should. The guards in the museums looked at him out of the corners of their eyes, seeing his gaunt, unshaven face, his unwashed clothes, and his burning stare as a possible irritant to the tourists. Edgar had spent countless hours examining each of the Holm sculptures on display, the few that there were. The Dancing Lady. The March of the Legions. The Twisting Soldier. He knew their every detail by heart. He had memorized every line, every curving excellence, and he still had no idea how the artist had succeeded, bringing such life to the lifeless.
“The secret was in the clay.”
Edgar jumped at the voice, in English, standing so near. He looked over his shoulder and saw a well-dressed man beside him. “Excuse me?” he said. “Did you say something?”
The man had startled him out of his reverie. Edgar looked at the
time. He had been standing there almost two hours.
The stranger had the typical blonde hair and pale features of the Dutch, but something about him told Edgar he was not a native of the country. He couldn’t say what for sure; his bearing perhaps, or the way he calmly looked up at Twisting Soldier. Maybe it was just one foreigner recognizing another, though Edgar had never seen him before in his life. He turned his gaze upon Edgar. His eyes were a deep, penetrating green.
“I meant to say Holm’s secret was in the clay he used. He made it himself, and he modeled all his future creations employing it.” The man’s voice was melodious, the accent utterly unfamiliar. “He claimed it possessed special qualities that helped to inspire him.”
Edgar shook his head. “I’ve never heard that.” He had studied every aspect he could of Holm’s life. His poor childhood, his apprenticeship with da Bologna, the years and dates of his existing works, all of it. After he had arrived in Holland he combed every street the artist had called home. He had probed the mystery of his vanishing, and, like countless others had before him, wondered at its significance. He had read everything.
“I assure you. Holm’s credit was in the clay.” The stranger raised his hand finally. “My manners have left me. I apologize. My name is Dr. Carnelian.”
The young artist shook with him. “Nice to meet you, but I’m afraid you must be mistaken.” He returned his glance toward the statue. “I’ve studied Werdeth Holm for the last three years. He’s . . he’s the best sculptor in the world. He may have used clay, and he probably did for modeling purposes, but it had no special meaning.”
Likewise, the doctor turned to admire Twisting Soldier. “I assure you, I am seldom mistaken about anything concerning Art.” There was a sedate, confident tone in his voice, as if he had known exactly what Edgar had been going to say. “Holm’s diaries make that absolutely clear. He was quite insistent upon it, in fact.”
Edgar stared at the man again. “Diaries? I didn’t know about any diaries.”
“I consider myself an admirer of Holm’s craft,” the doctor replied. “I have spent long years acquiring certain pieces of his work lost over the years. While working in Amsterdam, he wrote many accounts of his days here, setting to record the means by which he created his sculptures. He wanted others to know.”
Edgar had never heard any of this before. “You . . you have these diaries?” If what the man was saying was true, he had to see them. He had to! It would be like talking to Werdeth Holm himself. Who knows what secrets they could reveal? “This isn’t a joke?”
“Oh, no,” Carnelian said, his piercing gaze returning to meet Edgar’s. “I have his diaries, as well as a few of his pieces not yet under public display. Would you care to examine them yourself?”
He hesitated. “This isn’t a pick-up or anything, is it? Because, you know . . . I don’t go into that. I’m, ah . . . I’m straight.”
“The furthest thing from my mind, young man. The furthest thing.” Carnelian gestured toward the museum’s exit. “Shall we go? I’ve rented a house not far from here.”
Against his better judgment, but drawn as much by the doctor’s words as by his own curiosity, Edgar went with him. The doctor was wealthy, that much was easily apparent. A very expensive car was waiting for them outside. Carnelian’s driver was a pale, almost albino-white large man. Edgar would have truly thought him an albino were it not for his porcelain black beard and hair. He silently opened the doors for them and drove to a grand building near the center of the city, in the oldest part of town.
Rich furnishings filled the house, all expressing a refined sense of taste. Perhaps sensing Edgar’s mistrust, the doctor wasted no time in leading his guest into an expansive room on the first floor. Once there, Edgar saw a sight that removed his doubts.
The floor and walls were neatly wood-paneled, the planks exquisitely polished, and the three Holm statues resting on marble pedestals in the room’s center were duskily reflected in raw earth tones. Edgar saw immediately they were Holm’s work. No one else could match the utter realism, the ultra-authentic qualities of that artist’s craft. They were arranged in a triangular formation on the floor, and the young sculptor walked slowly to a position between them, his eyes wide and full of tears. The first figure was that of a standing woman, nude and perfectly proportioned. From the shoulders to her wrist, the statue’s arm length curved gently, lovely. One hand rested on her hip; the other was balanced against her smooth, flawlessly-fine leg. She gazed forward casually, her eyes half-closed. Her hair rested in a small, tight bun, beautiful. Edgar’s glance turned sideways to her companion, another female nude, sitting with her feet flat to the smooth stone of her resting place. Her hands were coolly set to either side, and her head turned in Edgar’s direction. He gazed deeply into the blank, featureless orbs of her eyes and shuddered uncontrollably. Her breasts were tilted upright, the nipples excellently cast and reproduced. Whoever the model had been four hundred years ago, she had been a virtual goddess of loveliness. Her expression was one of aloof indifference.
The third figure was male, and Edgar drew in a deep breath as he recognized its face. All of the great artists at one time or other had tried their hand at self-representation. Few had ever succeeded as ideally as Holm had done here. Edgar recognized the artist’s face from a painting done by a fellow apprentice in the 1570’s; the countenance of the statue before him was slightly older but still recognizably the same. The Holm-in-bronze knelt upon his stand, his head turned skyward, his mouth open and pleading. Why the august sculptor had crafted such a look of despair and mortal fatigue on his face Edgar could not explain. He had speculated long and hard on the motive for his disappearance at the height of his career, and he thought depression might have been the key, depression over his inability to sell or at his own self-perceived lack of talent. Looking upon Holm’s self-depiction in metal, he believed those suspicions now confirmed.
It slowly dawned on Edgar that his host had three totally unknown works of one of the most sought-after artists in the world today. The public at large might have been ignorant of the name Werdeth Holm, but the critics weren’t, and neither were the great museums. Carnelian’s secret cache here was worth tens of millions of dollars. Edgar looked around for the doctor and saw him returning from a sideroom. He had left, and Edgar hadn’t noticed at all. He looked at his watch and saw to his surprise that it was much later in the afternoon. Then he noticed what Carnelian held in his hands.
“Just one of several,” the doctor said, handing over a thin, fragile-looking leather volume. “Werdeth was a comprehensive writer and note-taker. I collected them all.”
Edgar took the small diary and carefully opened it. In his years in The Netherlands, he had learned a little Dutch, enough to order food and supplies or to speak haltingly with the natives. He could read just a little, and so he could understand just a little of what he saw before him. Instinctively, he knew it Holm’s handwriting. He knew.
“If you require help in the translation,” Dr. Carnelian said, “I would consider it an honor to come to your assistance.” Edgar nodded and mouthed a voiceless yes. He was in a state akin to shock. He had never thought he could get so close to his dream, never in a million years. “If you will recall, I mentioned before that I am seldom mistaken about matters regarding Art,” the doctor added after a moment. “I see in you the makings of an Artist, yes? You have sought to emulate your idol?”
Again, Edgar nodded. He was speechless.
The doctor nodded, satisfied with his perception. “I am something of a Patron of the Arts, in my own small way. Perhaps we can work . . . together.”
And Edgar nodded.
The weeks that went by did so in a blur. Carnelian’s patronage was all-encompassing. Edgar moved out of his small, dusty studio and took up residence in the doctor’s large and extravagant house. The finest materials were made available to him, the best workshops in the city. Carnelian provided food, expensive clothing, the finest liquors, everything that money could buy. Curiously, though, the doctor himself shared none of these things with Edgar personally. He was, in his own way, a strangely puritanical figure; he neither ate nor drank in Edgar’s presence, and his speech was solely concerned with art, never varying. He never seemed to sleep, either. Edgar kept an artist’s schedule, working until he was exhausted, sleeping at odd intervals throughout the day and night. Whenever he was up, though, no matter the time, Carnelian always seemed the same, perfectly aware and energetic. He was continually aloof yet ever present. But the help he provided was invaluable. There were dozens of diaries, and with Carnelian’s translative aid Edgar went through them all. Time had erased many of the entries, obscured some of the finely written lines, but enough was left to provide Edgar the lessons he needed. Carnelian, too, helped in this regard. He truly was a patron of the arts; he could answer every question, and he showed Edgar techniques in sculpture never before even imagined. He was an excellent instructor.
The days passed quickly, and Edgar soon lost track of all time. His recurrent periods of wakefulness were spent in a mindful daze of education. He now considered his years at university to be a waste. He had learned more about art (“Art!”) in the last few months than he had in the last several years. And, as Edgar gradually learned, Carnelian was right. Holm’s secret had been in the clay he used. He had his own formula, his own techniques in mixing and firing the clay, and when Edgar worked with it, created it using the formulas the doctor provided, churned it with his hands, molding it, feeling its liquid embrace, he could feel the spirit of Werdeth Holm beside him, inside him.
And when he created . . . ah, when he created, the world seemed to swallow him up completely, and he was totally subsumed in his quest for perfection.
It was an odd experience, unlike anything he had experienced before. Edgar’s first subject was a young model. Carnelian escorted the lovely, dark-haired girl into the workroom and bade her to pose on the marble pedestal he had purchased a few days earlier. She did so, not speaking. Her eyes gazed far into the distance, and when she was requested to disrobe, she did so immediately, unashamedly. She was obviously an experienced model, in Edgar’s opinion. Her face was calm and unconcerned. Supremely calm. Edgar started working with her immediately, his eyes probing everywhere.
The girl was on the pedestal. She knelt on one knee, her hand on that side resting casually beside her thigh. The other hand sat on her folded knee. Her upper body was straight and narrow, the smooth contours of her chest interrupted by the sweet swelling of firm breasts. Her head was lowered and turned slightly to the side, eyes closed. She hardly seemed to breathe and never broke position once. She was so calm, so sedate. Edgar’s hands plunged into the mound of soft clay before him. His thumbs gently carved out the lines and proportions his trained eye observed. The contours of her soft face . . . the flowing smoothness of her slim thighs . . . the delicate precision of her small hands.
The clay felt alive; as Edgar shaped the pliable material, he seemed to draw an integral connection between it and his subject. As his hands molded the clay, shaped it, he seemed to feel his will leaving his body, flowing into the body of the model before him, shaping it with those same hands. A daydream, no doubt, but it felt very real. Sweat poured down his face, blurring his vision; the model seemed to grow even stiffer than she had posed before, as if a powerful force had gripped her and was now holding her in place against her will. This same power began to alter her appearance; Edgar’s eyesight was clearly playing tricks on him.
She began to harden even as he worked with the soft clay of her person. His thumbs and fingers shaped the fine profile of her stomach and thighs, and suddenly the model’s own features seemed to change color and texture in like correspondence . . . soft flesh becoming hard bronze. It was absurd, this daydream, this creative fantasy, but that was the feeling he had. Edgar’s artist hands molded the clay, formed out the model’s bustline, and across the room she seemed to shimmer and metamorphose, as if her own flesh were beneath Edgar’s talented digits. He imagined he could feel the sensations she felt, the cool, warming pleasur!e of being shaped by another’s will . . . the ecstasy of feeling her arms and legs stiffen and solidify . . . the bliss of being turned to liquid bronze, feeling the artist’s hands coaxing her body into position forever.
Edgar dipped his hands into the cool water beside him and applied the added wetness to his clay. As the piece of earth came to look more and more like the model it represented, the model so represented came more and more to look like the solid metal so drawn from the earth. The model spoke only a single syllable, the only sound she made during her entire visit -- a sigh of deepest, heartfelt pleasure, a syllable only hinting at the momentous sensations passing through her metallicizing body.
It was amazing how good the clay felt beneath Edgar’s hands. The
time spent with the model blurred. He didn’t even remember firing
the sculptured figure later in the oven so he could have a permanent form
to help in his eventual crafting of bronze.
In fact, he didn’t even remember seeing the young model leave. When he woke up the next morning, in fact, still slumped before his workplace, the hardened clay figure on the wet stand before him, he actually thought the young woman was still there. Only after a few moments did he recognize that it was not her at all but a beautiful bronze sculpture instead, perfectly accomplished, perfectly still and precise. Edgar got up slowly and staggered his way over to it, marveling at the smooth lines, the alloyed loveliness. He almost didn’t hear Carnelian entering the room behind him.
Edgar put forth a hand to cup the metal woman’s folded knee. She was deliciously cool and smooth. “I don’t remember seeing this one before. When did Holm craft it?” The sculptor heard the doctor politely laughing, and he turned to him. “What is it?”
Carnelian hid his smile behind a raised hand. “Holm had no part in the marvel before you, young man. He did not create it. You did.” He stepped forward and offered his hand. “My congratulations on a truly excellent beginning.”
Edgar’s eyes grew. He shook his head, denying what he had heard. “No . . no, that’s impossible. I couldn’t have made this . . . .” He lost track of what he had been trying to say. The beauty of the bronze had overwhelmed him. Surely it was another of Holm’s works? But . . but the metal looked so new, so brightly polished.
“Ah, my young Artist, but you did,” the doctor said. “She is totally your creation . . . a worthy successor to the work of the lamented Werdeth Holm. A true work of Art.”
“But I . . I don’t remember the casting, the modeling . . . I don’t remember anything!”
This was untrue - he remembered working with the clay, and he remembered the daydream he had had of the model turning to bronze - but the real work was a complete blank to him. And yet . . . yet, could he have created this statue? He could see now differences in style, subtle, similar to Holm’s but even more familiar. His own?
Carnelian put his hands on Edgar’s shoulders and turned him around to face him.
“You are a worthy Artist, Edgar. A brilliant Artist, if I may be so permitted. You have great things in store for you.” The doctor’s eyes blazed with an internal fire, and Edgar felt his doubts burning away in their brilliance. He had created this statue. He had! “All you have to do now is listen to my advice and continue on the road I have set. Can you?”
Edgar nodded eagerly. “Yes . . yes!”
Carnelian nodded. “Then go and rest. We have much work to do tomorrow.” He watched as the young artist staggered and stumbled his way out of the workroom.
“And more Art to create,” he added, unheard. “Always . . more Art.”
Edgar never learned the names of his models. The subject never came up. By the time they arrived, the sculptor was always just finishing mixing his modeling clay, and somehow this procedure brought out in him an impassioned need to get started at once. His patron would bring the models to his workshop, and they would never speak, never complain. The next sculpture Edgar did was of a sitting girl. The model posed with her back to the artist; he loved the flowing curve of her spine, the way it blended so gracefully with her raised knee and flexed hands. As before, the clay beneath his fingers seemed to take on a life of its own. Again, such was the intensity of his creative effort, Edgar hallucinated -- there was no other word for it -- and saw and felt the model’s clear, brown skin slowly darken, toughen, and take on the qualities of cool, eternal bronze. This time the transformation began at her head and worked its way down; first her black hair seemed to lighten, and then sweeping streams of dark bronze trickled down her turned face and slender curving neck. Wherever the metal took root, the model in his dreams shined brightly. The rippling copper-colored reformation swelled down her bare back, through her buttocks, and along her long, willowy legs.
A young man was Edgar’s third subject matter. He stood straight and tall on the cool marble platform, his head high, and one arm straight out and pointing, making of him a herald pointing the way to some glorious destination. The clay felt electric between Edgar’s fingers. As he molded it, he began to visualize himself as something akin to a god. He remembered the myth of Prometheus and how that titan had created man out of base clay, shaping it with his fingers, and breathing life into it. Edgar felt the same way. The clay was warm and cool at the same time; it seemed to struggle between his hands, as though some sense of urgency from his models were making itself known through the connection he felt. As the earth took shape on his stand, so he imagined this connection transforming his models into solid, eternal works of copper and tin.
Both statues were magnificent, he saw in retrospect. Fantastic. Equal to or even surpassing the great skill of the immortal Werdeth Holm . . . if only he could remember working on them! But he could not. Not a single one! The days and nights had lost all meaning to Edgar. He could no longer distinguish between the two. He never left Carnelian’s house; he almost never even left the workshop anymore. He ate, drank, and slept there, waking to work, working to exhaustion, and passing out again in numbed, creative aftershock, burnt out from his fantasies of alloyed transformations. He knew he had to be working in casting, expanding his molds, crafting plaster to exacting specifications. The evidence of his industry stood in a growing russet line in the main hall. But all he remembered, all he dreamt about, was working with the clay.
Only the clay.
It was frustrating, maddening. He tried to speak to Carnelian about it, explain to him his dreams, his worries, but all the doctor would do was praise him and urge him on. He would foist Holm’s diaries on him and compel him to read. Edgar came away from these sessions burning with creative energies, energies which he would then pour into mixing clay, molding clay, and drying clay . . . but where was all the bronze metal coming from? Edgar awoke one day - or night, he could no longer tell - and stumbled to the washroom. He looked at his gaunt, hollow-eyed image in the mirror.
Who am I? he asked himself. Where have I been? He knew the answers to these questions -- they were buried inside him -- but he suddenly felt the effort needed to uncover them was beyond his capability. He was exhausted, physically and mentally.
Edgar splashed cold water on his face. He felt numb. He closed his eyes and tried to think. Edgar Cummings. I’m Edgar Cummings. He raised a hand before his face; for the life of him, he could not get it to stop shaking. I’m being eaten alive.
He closed his eyes, squeezed them tight as hard as he could, and then slowly opened them, still staring into the mirror. Edgar looked at himself in growing horror.
He had always been on the thin side, but now he looked like he had spent his summer vacation at a concentration camp. His face was all lines and angles; the flesh was thin, and he could see the bones of his skull underneath clearly. His arms and legs were like a scarecrow’s. His hair was thin, and his eyes stared back at him from hollow pits.
I am being eaten alive, he realized. When had he last eaten? He couldn’t remember. Slowly, Edgar realized he couldn’t even remember how long he had been there, a guest in Dr. Carnelian’s house. It could have been weeks, months, or even years. He turned and staggered back out into the workroom, seeing it afresh with eyes unclouded since . . . since . . . well, since he had been there. It was a finely equipped workroom, he saw, full of all the classic tools of his profession. Casting tubs, molds, torches . . . everything that he would ever need to cast a statue in metal. But it was unused, he saw now clearly. None of it had been used. None. They were props, nothing more than stage dressing.
He left the studio and looked around. The house, which he had once thought so beautiful, so magnificent, he saw now as a prison. The walls seemed to have shifted position in his sleep; he couldn’t remember the way out. Edgar stumbled out into the closest hall. The place was oppressively silent, like a giant mausoleum. Art covered the walls - paintings, small sculptures, tapestries - but Edgar saw nothing in them now. They were lifeless, meaningless. Something had burned away in his mind, his ability to recognize beauty, creativity . . . art. He passed an open gallery and saw the three Holm statues he had admired on his first night there. Edgar walked in and saw them as nothing more than metal figures, blank and uninviting.
Unnoticed, he moaned in growing despair. He left the gallery and walked deeper into the house, finally hearing voices in the distance. He drew himself in their direction, and shortly he found himself in Carnelian’s study. He saw the doctor -- tall, handsome, young and old at the same time -- and saw him seated in conversation with another man, a young person with dark hair and mad eyes, paint splotches covering his hands and clothes. Carnelian, as always, was dressed in the most splendid finery possible.
“Ah, Edgar,” he said, seeing the newcomer and rising to his feet. “How excellent of you to join us. You haven’t met my other houseguest yet, have you?” He reached down and helped the other man to rise. He obviously could not do it on his own. “Martin Farnstein, allow me to present the great sculptor Edgar Cummings. Edgar, this is the truly superb painter Martin Farnstein, a student of the Gallerié in France.”
The other man waved his hand.
“What have you done to me?” Edgar demanded, lurching into the room. The deep, intrinsic enervation he had felt earlier crashed in upon him again, and he fell into the closest seat to him. The yellow, quilted cloth felt dull beneath his skin. “I’m so tired.”
The doctor tsked-tsked softly. “You’ve been working too hard, my boy. Just like dear Martin, here.” The painter collapsed into the sofa. He was smiling gently. “You both need to take care of yourselves more. You’ll never be able to work in this condition.”
“I’m dying,” Edgar whispered. “You’re killing me . . draining me.” Even the effort needed to speak was exhausting. He lay there helplessly as Carnelian walked forward.
“Nonsense,” the doctor said, sitting next to him. He had a cup of tea in one hand, a small saucer in the other, and he took a tiny sip before continuing. “I have never killed anyone, ever, in a very, very long life. And, as for draining you, that is hardly the case, is it?”
Edgar looked deep into Carnelian’s eyes, green whirlpools of an abyss they were. He began to feel a stirring inside him, a tiny but growing need . . . a need to create, to build, to . . to make Art! Part of him fought the feeling, but mostly it was welcomed.
“To put a blunt face to it, my young friend, if anything, I am giving you life . . . my Life, or select portions thereof . . . to Make, to Create . . . to Sponsor Living Art!” He sighed. “If your mind and body cannot cope with such a gift, well, that is the price we all have to pay to create Beauty, is it not?” Edgar found himself nodding, nodding eagerly.
All doubt vanished from his mind. He was an Artist . . . he created Beauty!
“Well, then.” Carnelian clapped his hands once and rubbed them together zealously. “I’ll have my servants prepare you both a large dinner . . . and then you can each rest and go back to work later. Martin, you need to finish your latest canvas, and Edgar, I will have a new model brought to you this evening sometime. I will find someone truly lovely for you to eternalize.” He stood up. The two artists tried to join him but failed.
He sighed again. So few Artists anymore had true stamina.
Three statues. Then four, and then a fifth. Others after that.
The sculptor and his model toiled together in the workroom. She was a charming, breathtakingly beautiful subject, and the artist had helped pose her himself. She stood straight and tall on her marble platform, arms level and angled away from her face toward the sky. Her smooth, shimmering legs were seated flatly to the cool stone.
It was her face the artist loved most of all. Her cheekbones were perfect, clear and aristocratic in their elegant simplicity. Getting just the right sense of her beauty in the clay was proving difficult. The vital earth was moist and pliable beneath his fingers, but his vision was beginning to blur a little. He was working too hard. More and more he felt no hunger, no thirst . . . only a driving need to create, to sculpt, to get as much out of himself as possible before . . . before something happened.
He dug into the clay fiercely, passionately. Eventually, the sculptor felt the connection forming. He could hardly wait to get started on the metal casting. He frowned slightly. He could never remember getting to that part. Ah, well. Nevermind. The clay flexed and shaped, melted and transformed, and in his mind the model did likewise . . . flex and shape, melt and transform into solid, stable bronze. Eternal bronze. He felt the transformation start at the small of her back, flowing upward along her back and stomach, curving downward upon fine thigh and long leg. Her body chilled and became perpetual, reddish-brown, and hard . . . very hard.
Edgar turned and fell onto his bunk, his hands still covered in the wet earth. He knew he should clean-up, eat, get some sleep . . . but he had so much work to get done yet.
So much art yet to make.
After a few minutes, the sculptor got up, looked around, and saw his new subject, waiting patiently, seemingly mindlessly. They always waited so patiently, so mindlessly.
He dug into the clay and began again.
Over time, other artists joined their small community.
Another painter. A poet. A young woman who worked with small, intricate machines.
They sometimes all had dinner together. They ate while Carnelian watched paternally.
Not Martin, though. He had been . . . released. Someone said they had seen him wandering the streets of Amsterdam, his eyes dull, his mouth agape, muttering.
It wasn’t important.
Fingers dug into clay. Visions poured into the sculptor’s mind . . . row upon row of living art. The diaries had been a sham, he knew now. Holm had written them, but they had never been lost. They had remained with their owner the whole time.
There was such beauty in polished bronze. The curling elegance of the metal, the fiery colors, the utter durability . . . all so beautiful. Carnelian’s models waited in line so patiently, so mindlessly. It was odd how Edgar met each of them only once.
Fingers dug into clay.
Finally, finally, Edgar lay back exhausted, truly exhausted, feeling the power drain out of him one last time and into his last creation. He stared up at the ceiling and willed himself to stay awake this time. He didn’t know why, but it was something he had to do, something he had promised himself. He stayed awake, somehow. The energy was there, if he searched for it.
Feeling brittle, hollowed out, the emaciated sculptor finally put one hand beneath him and hoisted himself upward. The room spun at first but finally slowed down. He looked around and focused his attention to the marble stand. The bronze statue was still glowing hot from the metamorphosis wrought. The woman’s fine, glossy face stared out blankly into the distance, with just a hint of the pleasure she had felt buried beneath those magnificent features. Remnants of his link with her were only now dissolving.
It wasn’t a dream at all, he thought, unsurprised. He was unemotional, dead inside. I really was turning them into statues. I did, with his help. I wonder how many I did?
Edgar heard a noise behind him. Painstakingly, he turned. Again, he was unsurprised.
It was Carnelian. It had to be Carnelian, of course.
“Excellent work, my friend. Truly excellent work.” The doctor approached the glowing nude and appeared to warm himself in her low heat. “You have a magnificent gift.”
Edgar shook his head. “Not anymore. You’ve burned it out.” He felt no anger, no fear. He was totally empty inside. “Why? Why did you do this to me?”
“’The artist is the creator of beautiful things,’” the doctor quoted. “’To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.’” He took a small gold-plated case from his jacket and tapped out a cigarette. “Only nine. A shame. Werdeth produced over twenty statues, but, then, he was a true Genius.” A thin stream of smoke floated to the ceiling.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Edgar softly accused. He thought for a little bit. It was becoming more and more difficult. “What’ll happen to me now?”
“I thought I had. Pardon me.” Carnelian bent down close to the young sculptor and met him face-to-face. “My final lesson, then: Art is All-Important. The Artist . . . well, the Artist is secondary at best.” He paused. “Werdeth used the last portion of my Gift to mold a self-representation of himself. He still had a capacity to feel guilt, I believe.”
Edgar nodded. “He turned himself to bronze. I understand.” He thought about it a little more. “I don’t know if I can do that. I’m . . done. Completely done.” He thought about striking the doctor, but he felt no drive to do so. He didn’t feel like doing anything really.
“As I said, Werdeth was a true Genius.” Carnelian stood up again. “I leave the choice up to you, Edgar. You may leave. You may stay and enjoy the comforts of my residence, if you are still capable. Or you may go Werdeth’s route. Who knows? You may have depths of creativity still untapped within you to make the attempt.”
The doctor’s eyes fairly glowed with the idea’s prospect.
Edgar looked within himself, his breathing shallow, wondering without much curiosity if there was one last core of identity still there. He thought about his life . . . his art, his parents, college days, Lionel, Amsterdam . . . and slowly rose to his feet.
Perhaps . . . perhaps there was just enough.
The exhibition was a private affair. Each of the guests was delivered a handwritten invitation. The works of several artists were presented. The guests strolled about in small groups, drinking wine and enjoying themselves immensely.
Salon society never ended. It merely adapted to the modern age.
Among the artist’s highlighted was a young American. Ten glorious works in eternal bronze. Each was majestically realistic, their technique comparable to the works of the great Werdeth Holm. Of particular note was the last piece, a self-portrait in metal showing the artist at work, his hands buried deep into a similarly bronze-cast mound of earth. The calm expression on his face was truly serene.
Offers were made on all of the pieces, but their patron refused to sell. They would be shown to the public in time . . . in time. A great artist’s reputation, after all, survived his or her lifetime, and true success was its own reward.
Edgar’s immortality was assured, in more ways than one.