Consumption

2 Oct

100 words for Friday Fictioneers based on the photo prompt below (courtesy of and copyright by E.A. Wicklund). Thanks as ever to Captain Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for keeping us off the Arguin Bank. Other stories from the prompt can be found here on the off chance you’ve got broadband on your life raft.

I had the good fortune to come face to face with Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa in the Louvre and stood mesmerized in front of it for twenty minutes. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend you linger there for a while. You will not be unmoved.

 

The Raft of the Medusa

“Théodore, you must leave this place. The stench alone is enough to kill a man.”

Eugène Delacroix held a perfumed handkerchief to his nose to ward off the fetid odor of decaying body parts stolen from the Beaujon Hospital across the street. On a stand nearby a decapitated head looked on impassively.

“I can no more leave than they could.” Géricault motioned to the figures on the huge canvas that dominated the cavernous studio. “It consumes me, Eugène.”

“Certainement, dear friend. Cease this madness.”

Géricault pointed with his brush to the empty horizon on his painting. “When the Argus comes.”

 

Gericault's death mask

Theodore Géricault’s death mask

 

57 Responses to “Consumption”

  1. Sandra October 2, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    What an incredible painting – I could understand how you could stand there for hours looking at it. Is that land or a rescue vessel right on the horizon, beneath the outstretched arm? I enjoyed the references and learned some things I hadn’t realised before. Always something new from you.

    • dmmacilroy October 2, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Dear Sandra,

      The tiny ship on the horizon is the Argus, a member of the three ship flotilla that started out together for Senegal. They were separated when the Medusa sped ahead in a vain attempt to arrive first. The Argus only happened across the raft while searching for the seventeen members of the crew that elected to remain on the wreck of the Medusa on the Arguin Bank.

      In my story Gericault has yet to paint the Argus, but it is coming.

      Thanks for your fine comments on my effort this week and for your delicious twisted story. I do so love to read your work.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  2. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) October 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    I saw that painting when I was 11 years old.. and it has stayed in my head ever since. Didn’t know about the history behind it, but you brought it to life. Thank you…

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Dear Bjorn,

      I love hearing from those writers that have, as I once did, stood before The Raft of the Medusa and stared back in time…..

      You are welcome. But I immediately return the thanks for your kind comment. I appreciate connecting with good writers more you you know. Nice to be able to speak with you every Friday.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  3. sustainabilitea October 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    Love the double meanings in your title and I always enjoy learning a few new things in the morning. Excellent story, Doug, per usual. Although there were people who exhumed bodies for money, the artists and physicians who learned from them had a grisly and unlawful task in those days. But both art and science profited from their law-breaking.

    janet

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:20 am #

      Dear Janet,

      Thank you for catching the double meaning of the title. Your comment is spot on and nice to read. I found myself wondering whether Gericault first contracted his tuberculosis while researching and painting The Raft of the Medusa. You are right when you say that we are all the beneficiaries of his actions. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  4. claireful October 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    So much here to learn, and yet your writing never seems like a lesson. And thank you for introducing me to such an amazing painting.
    A minor piece of constructive criticism: If the reader doesn’t know that Géricault’s first name is Théodore (as I didn’t), it is easy to read it as if there are three (live) people in the room, which confused me for a moment. It would be easily solved by giving Géricault’s first name when you mention his surname for the first time.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Dear Claire,

      Thank you for the ‘minor criticism’ re the use of names in the order I chose. You are correct. I’m not editing only because I’m lazy right now.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. i am glad you enjoyed the piece. Lot of territory to try to cover on this one. Thank goodness for Wikipedia.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  5. lingeringvisions by Dawn October 2, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    I vaguely remember this story but never heard it told like this! Bravo.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Dear Dawn,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  6. Ye Pirate October 2, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Ye gods! You told that beautifully Monsieur! “On a stand nearby a decapitated head looked on impassively”.- you do NOT get lines like that in your every day run-of -the-mill stories!

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:29 am #

      Dear Managua,

      Now that you mention it….

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  7. Helena Hann-Basquiat October 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    Thank you for teaching me something today, darling. I have seen this painting before, but never knew really what it was depicting, or the story behind it.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:31 am #

      Dear Helena,

      Forever changed you are now. Happy to have been the instrument of change.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  8. kz October 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    wow, beautifully told.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:31 am #

      Dear Kz,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  9. waitingforaname October 2, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Arg. Wish I had more time to follow your links. I only had enough time this afternoon to glance at them, but wow… Well told, rich story!

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Dear Lisa,

      Thanks for checking it out. I appreciate you using a bit of your time to peruse my story.

      Aloha,

      Doug

      • waitingforaname October 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

        I caught your story in the middle of the day, when four children needed to be educated and wanted to be fed. (Funny how they’re always hungry…) I hope to check out your links later today, when the kids are off galavanting with the hubs.

  10. pattisj October 2, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Thanks for the art/history lesson, Doug. That must be quite moving to view in person.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Dear Patti,

      It is and you’re welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  11. The Bumble Files October 3, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    Fascinating, Doug. I can see how you might be mesmerized by the painting. I’m sure it’s really something to see up close. I loved your story.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      Dear Amy,

      I hope you get to see it some day. It will knock your socks off. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  12. valeriedavies October 3, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    This is brilliant Doug… it stands on its own as an extraordinary and enigmatic fragment of life…. but of course, you inspired me to actually learn more, and what a gift -… how sad that such a beautiful young man should have become at 33, the pain-wracked consumptive wreck depicted by his death mask.
    And what a fascinating story behind your fascinating story… like a set of Chinese boxes.- even the name ‘ Argus’ resonates with history….You opened a slice of life and history I knew nothing of…merci

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:42 am #

      Dearest Valerie,

      I am often amazed by the things that genius accomplishes in the prime of life only to be struck down by capricious fate. That I have arrived at such a remove from my youth still amazes me…reminds me how fortunate I have been….and makes me want to write something worth remembering.

      The stories of Gericault and the Medusa are entwined, aren’t they. Amazing what a little digging uncovers. Your kind and eloquent comments inspire me and buoy me and I cannot thank you enough.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  13. zookyworld October 3, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    Wonderful that the painting had such power to mesmerize you — and then inspire you to write a story about it. So Géricault was captivated as well, and needed the Argus to save him, too. I’m a big fan of paintings, so thank you for sharing your love of this one. It was certainly worth checking out your link to the painting on Wikipedia. And yours is a great story to show the painting’s effect on its creator.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Dear ZW,

      Some moments in history become forever etched in our minds because of the work of great artists (in pigment or words). The story of the Medusa and the fate of all her crew might have been forgotten had it not been for Gericault using it to inform his painting which launched his short but brilliant career.

      Thank you for reading, checking out the links and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  14. Linda Vernon October 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    Wow. This was a memorable story! That death mask reminds me of Bruce Dern.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:50 am #

      Dear Linda,

      You’re right about Bruce Dern. (I met him once on a flight to Kona. Small world.) I won’t tell him of your observation if you won’t.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

      • Linda Vernon October 7, 2013 at 3:45 am #

        Really! Was a nice guy? I have a feeling he was.

  15. talesfromthemotherland October 3, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Precise, sharp writing, that chills and takes me into that room… really well done! Haunting.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2013 at 11:50 am #

      Dear Dawn,

      I appreciate your telling me that. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  16. erinleary October 3, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Hi Doug,
    Your story (and your description of your visit to the Louvre) reminded me of something I read in Barbara Ueland’s Book “If you want to write”. She put it better than I can, so I am simply going to quote her here:

    ” ‘Art is infection. The artist has a feeling and he expresses it and at once this feeling infects other people and they have it too,’ said Tolstoy…if you want to write, for example, about a man who is suffering from boredom, just quietly describe what your own feelings are when you have been bored. Don’t say the boredom was ‘agonizing, excruciating,’ unless your own boredom was, which is doubtful….I saw in their (her students) writing how whenever a sentence came from the true self and was felt, it was good, alive, it infected one no matter what the words were, no matter how ungrammatical or badly arranged they were. But when the sentence was not felt by the writer, it was dead. No infection.”

    It sounds like you were ‘infected’ at the Louvre and your words, week after week, infect your readers. Well done.

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      Dear Erin,

      Yours has got to be one of the nicest comments I’ve ever received. The ‘Art is Infection’ passage was beautiful, informative and a joy to read, especially as you were directing it my way. Thank you.

      I’d seen copies of the painting in textbooks and knew the story but seeing it in person just floored me. Yes, I was infected. And there is no cure.

      I appreciate your taking the time to share such a thoughtful and personal note with me. I cannot thank you enough. (I’ll will try, through.)

      Many Mahalos winging their way to you.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  17. Lindaura Glamoura October 3, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Thank you for reminding us of that painting. It is one of my favourites, a stop and gasp painting at the Louvre, and I have to say that the artists influenced by Géricault are four of my favourite painters, Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner, Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. Each one brought something stirring and humanist to their work,and enlightening to their work – and all of them make me linger, while I try to understand exactly what they are trying to make me see.

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Dear Lindaura,

      Suffice to say that I know what you mean. I’m not familiar with Courbet and Turner but will go look and become so. I spent an entire afternoon in a museum wing dedicated to Manet and saw beauty there in many guises.

      Thank you for such a nice comment. I hope Greece and all things Greek are treating you fine as Fall starts rolling toward Winter.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  18. JackieP October 3, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    I love learning new things. Quite intriguing painting. I can see the controversy surrounding it. Great story you wrote in so little words. thank you.

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      Dear Jackie,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  19. Perry Block (@PerryBlock) October 4, 2013 at 4:54 am #

    That’s a story indeed, Doug! Was Delacroix a supportive friend of Gericault? I guess if models were needed, Delacroix might have had more fun with the model for “Liberty Leading the People” than the severed head Gericault needed. Interesting affecting piece.

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      Dear Perry,

      Delacroix served as a model for two of the figures. No doubt about it, he would have had a better, more fragrant time with that robust young woman.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  20. rgayer55 October 4, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    I read the story, looked at the painting, then read the story again. That brought it all together for me. Well done, Douglas. And I can see how a person could stand mesmerized by the painting. Your story has the same effect.

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:21 am #

      Dear Russell,

      You are kind to comment so nicely on my story. I tried to put myself in Gericault’s shoes, if only for a little bit. You’ve let me know I succeeded.

      Thanks for reading.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  21. unspywriter October 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    As always, a wonderful history lesson along with a visually (and olfactory) vivid story. Loved the details–the perfumed handkerchief, the establishment of time and place. Oh, and shivery, too.

    Here’s mine: http://unexpectedpaths.com/friday-fictioneers/white-noise/

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      Dear Maggie,

      Thanks for reading, shivering and commenting. No way I could have painted under those circumstances.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  22. Honie Briggs October 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    Dear Doug,

    You delivered a dynamic sensory experience right off the screen.

    Not Unmoved,

    Honie

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Dear Honie,

      Thank you. I am glad that you were.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment so nicely.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  23. annisik51 October 5, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    I’ve stood in front of that painting, Doug. It was before the days of the pyramid (Louvre, not Egyptian – I’m not THAT old) and when I was on a trip with the university as part of my fine art degree. Of course, I lived in France for 11 years. You did a great job of imaging the work in progress. It could have been extracted from a movie. Ann

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:28 am #

      Dear Ann,

      I love knowing that you, too, have stood in front of the painting and stared into the distance and back into time. Good art will do that.

      Are you fluent in French?

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

      • annisik51 October 6, 2013 at 10:52 am #

        Yes, I speak French. You’d not last long living in France if you didn’t learn the language! Fate had decreed that I learnt Spanish as school and to this day I’ve not set foot on Spanish soil, unless you count a trip to Miami! Ann

  24. David Stewart October 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Doug,
    your dialogue is spot-on. What a great, polished piece, as always. I would love to go see that painting sometime in person. With the huge dimensions, it must be truly impressive.

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      Dear David,

      It takes you by the scruff of the neck and makes you look until you see. I hope one day you happen across it as I did, by accident, and realize what you are looking at.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  25. sandraconner October 6, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    Would that this story would do for your career what the original painting did for Theo’s.

    Your word choices and phrasing are their own art. Certainement! (And I love how when Theo says this project “consumes” him, Eugene says “Certainement.” I can just hear it translated into 21st-century lingo: “Yeah, Duh! My point exactly!”)

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Dear Sandra,

      One day I hope that that will be the case. I think I have to graduate from flash fiction to slightly longer pieces though. When I was in the long middle slog of this story I realized I had Delacroix saying, ‘exactly!’, and knew I had to change it. Certainement came to mind right away. I’m happy that it worked for you.

      Thanks for reading. Your comments are always so uplifting that I want to fish for more.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  26. draliman October 6, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    Very well told. I love the way the pair are acting so casually about the grisly remains around them – even the smell appears to be just an annoyance.

    • dmmacilroy October 6, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      Dear Draliman,

      They both must have become inured to the smell.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

  27. elmowrites October 9, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    How did I miss commenting on this last week? I did read it – promise!
    I wonder if sometimes the madness in an artist’s work is similar to the fever of writing. Or am I just a little crazy myself? Either way, that’s a vivid image you have here, and along with this week’s (next week’s… ooh, I’m like a timetraveller…) story, I think you need to see someone about your body-parts obsession!

    • Douglas Macilroy October 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

      Dear Jennifer,

      If you’re crazy, i wants to be crazy too. Body parts obsession? Busted.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Aloha,

      Doug

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