Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In a short story that is about art, it is appropriate that Balzac pictures reality as artists would perceive it. For example, young Poussin first sees Frenhofer in the light peculiar to dawn and thinks of his figure in terms of Rembrandt. In Porbus’s studio, he again notes the light, as it touches objects in the clutter. Returning to Gillette, he thinks of her love in terms of light, her smile as a sun that shines in darkness. Finally, looking at Frenhofer’s “masterpiece,” they think that the studio light may be hiding the form that Frenhofer insists lives on his canvas, and they peer at the chaos of color in search of some form before they perceive that all that remains of reality in Frenhofer’s painting is the foot of Catherine Lescault.

A consistent metaphor in the story is that of the mistress. Gillette, the living mistress, is justifiably jealous of Poussin’s art, whose claim on him is made clear in the first sentences of the story, when he waits at Porbus’s door like a lover attending a new mistress. Clearly, when Gillette models for him, he thinks about his vision, not his model, and she senses his infidelity. When he wishes her to model for Frenhofer, she sees this activity as a kind of prostitution, and Poussin admits that the idea makes him feel dirty.

To Frenhofer, all living mistresses are unfaithful eventually, but his ideal—ironically, a courtesan—will always be faithful to him. However, he senses the existence...

(The entire section is 413 words.)