It was 1880s Paris, and all was not well…
Seated at a table at an avant-garde Left Bank pavement café, a group of Impressionist artists were seeking comfort in bottles of Absinthe, the “green fairy” which reputedly producd hallucinations. They also prized this powerful green liquor as a love potion, since “Absinthe made the heart grow fonder.” They only needed one sip—unlike other Frenchmen who needed apair-itif, or their German counterparts who needed Tue-tonics.
They realized the whole story of art was one of change; from primitive cave-paintings and carved stones right through Græco-Roman relics and the Renaissance—with Leonardo and Michelangelo still being household names. And these Impressionsist had also played their part in the changes.
Purists had accused Impressionists of unleashing an untameable monster, for debunking traditional styles to paint scenes from ordinary life—outdoors, indoors, anywhere. Their raw colours were applied in small dabs or jagged brushstrokes, ignoring realism to produce impressions of their subjects, which were best appreciated from a few paces back.
The critics were as dismissive as the purists, removing all trace of facial expressions when the topic arose—and becoming so wooden in their responses that they were ironically dubbed “Post-impressionists.”
Yet art lovers were so distressed that they were throwing themselves into the river. Why they’d gone in Seine, no-one knew. Gendarmes kept following promising leads—only Toulouse-Lautrec of where to go next.
It wasn’t simply the variety of exhibits at the Louvre, though one artist had depicted plates of Italian food piled high at a precarious angle, a work which had been dubbed the “Leaning Tower of Pizza…”
Curating staff at the Louvre, deeply concerned about a recent spate of earth tremors, had mounted all the paintings on elastic instead of wire to absorb vibrations without damage being done.
But a major shock had suddenly erupted, triggering such serious vibrations that paintings had suffered a continuing slingshot effect which had kept them crashing them into each other—smashing priceless frames and canvases in a literal collide-oscope of colour!
Members of staff were devastated to see their efforts at protection having the opposite effect. Yet one small room was intact; and all it contained was the amateur dabbling of a complete unknown a part-time artiste named Amelie Dupuis, who was seeking to leave the drudgery of being a seamstress. She had personally hung each piece, for no-one had offered to help, and they were too embarrassed to learn her secret.
Inspector Clouseau, famous for returning the Pink Panther diamond to its rightful home, was called in to investigate. Wearing a lapel badge of the Venus de Milo, he quickly tracked Amelie down and brought her to the ruins of the Louvre to face their questions.
Not one to be shy of publicity, the inspector delayed their inquisition by explained his hunch. “Madames et monsieurs,” he began, “I was inspired by this small but beautiful lady on my lapel, the Venus de Milo. Well might you ask why a world-famous police inspecteur such as myself might wear such an item. But this figurine not only represents Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty. She was actually commissioned by an ancient Greek legal academy as their symbol – for she depicts the short arm of the law – as a statue of limitations.
“It was this shortness that led me to suspect the woman I bring to you today. Mlle Dupuis, it is now your turn to speak.”
Amelie Dupuis stepped forward, and she was immediately engulfed in a flurry of frantic, babbling cross-examination. Unruffled, she held up her hands for a silence that took some time to replace the furore.
Her statement was, ironically, earth-shattering in its simplicity.
“You wish to know how my work has been untouched by this disaster? Like you, I knew that an earthquake might happen, and I noted your method of securing other works. But you used far too much.
“Instead, I chose to ‘Shorten de l’astique!’”
Author’s note. Apart from paragraphs three and four, this work plummets deeply and rapidly into fiction territory. And an aid to understanding the whole concoction might be to read the last line aloud.
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