Berthe Morisot With a Bouquet of Violets, Edouard Manet, 1872,
inspiration for the story.
A short story by Tom Weshler
Sept. 19, 1994
Attn.: Admissions Director, Cranbrook Academy of Art Graduate School Program
My name is Carrie Foran-Kelly I am a fourth year student at The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. I live next to my school in The Park Shelton Apartments. I also have a part time job at the Detroit Institute of Arts bookstore just across the street.
My interest in painting began early. I was a child when my mother told me stories about our French ancestors. Beautiful stories filled with inspiration and love, my favorite by far was about how my grandmother discovered the now famous miniature paintings. She told it to me many times always beginning the same way.
She would say: “Carrie, are you ready for art?” My reply: “Yes I am”.
I wish I could tell that story here but we are busy are we not?
Each time I heard the story it confirmed my desire to follow an artistic path through my life. The paintings I imagined I would paint were all in my head. I reviewed them each day in my mind and drew them in my school notebooks.
Now, as a student at one of the finest art schools in the United States, I’m still searching for those paintings that were so clear to me in my youth. Perhaps the feeling I got imagining them so long ago is really what I want to find. That’s what some of my friends tell me.
Anyway, in closing, I hope you will consider my work so far (slides provided herein) and allow me to continue to search for those images and feelings I seek, as a graduate student at Cranbrook next fall.
By the way: This fall October 21 – December 18, 1994 The Detroit Institute of Arts will present a show called: Impressionist Miniatures Lost … Now Found. I couldn’t be happier! I mean how would you feel if a major museum was featuring your own grandmother’s discovery for the first time in the United States? It’s going to be so fun.
Berthe Morrisot (1841-1895) French painter, inspired the story.
It was Paris at the beginning of an era that came to be known as the Belle Epoch, a period of new artistic endeavor, enlightenment and peace that would last until 1914 and the start of World War One.
On a grey April afternoon Lili Bergnon entered her greenhouse/studio in the courtyard of her family’s home to begin a painting lesson with her tutor Edouard Manet. Lili loved to have her lessons ‘en plein air’ (out doors). When it rained the greenhouse served as her studio.
In France at that time, women were discouraged from attending the traditional schools for art training, often relying on a professional tutor instead. Lili’s father, a close friend of Mr. Manet asked him to help her with her painting. They had the lessons on Tuesday afternoons.
A spring rain began to fall. The sky grew darker depriving the studio of its light. Mr. Manet suggested instead of a painting lesson they go visit a florist friend of his. He wanted the two of them to indulge in painting even if it wasn’t with a brush.
They ran through the downpour to Mr. Manet’s carriage and rode off through the rain soaked streets. Arriving at a place called Duran’s Florist, they stepped out of the carriage and into a world of color, fragrance and beauty creating an ambiance Lili had never experienced.
The man behind the counter was Manet’s friend, Andre Duran. After a hearty greeting the two men talked for a moment while Lili looked around this fantastic place. Two male assistants behind a half-wall covered in white tile were working at a very large sink preparing flowers. Customers were admiring the floral displays while children played in the aisles. There were many art books and magazines on the counters and table tops. Portfolios full of colorful prints, small miniature paintings and etchings were scattered haphazardly everywhere.
Though Lili didn’t know it yet, this shop was frequented by working artists, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and others visited Duran’s often. Manet introduced Lili to Andre Duran, the shop’s owner. She remarked on the combination of art, books and flowers in his shop, saying it was like a friendly library that smelled so good she wanted to move in and be quiet! Her comment drew a smile and a laugh from the two men. Mr. Duran took a small wrapped package from Manet. In turn, Andre handed a parcel full of different colored roses to him.
Manet said: “You see Lili, these are for you to paint before your next lesson.”
As the two of them were leaving the shop Manet turned back to Andre, “Good day Andre.”
“Good day Edouard, I hope to see you again soon.”
“Yes, within a few weeks no doubt.”
Lili turned to Andre and with a smile said: “I will see you much sooner Mr. Duran.”
The door shut behind them as they ran to the waiting carriage. Andre Duran was quite taken with Lili, he hoped she would be back soon. On the way home, holding the beautiful bouquet close Lili talked with Manet about her painting. She told him she felt happy when she painted as if the world was hers to portray.
He told Lili, “If one can learn to paint flowers, the rest of the world’s subject matter flows from the canvas like a waterfall.” She said she would re-double her efforts and learn to paint flowers.
Julie by Berthe Morisot who was Julie’s mother
The rain kept falling as they rode toward Lili’s home. Manet did not, as a rule, teach. This favor he was doing for Lili’s father was most unusual for him and with Lili as a student, most rewarding. The carriage arrived at Lili’s home. Thanking Manet she quickly ran to the front door, turned, waved and went inside.
She walked through the house and outside to the greenhouse, put the flowers in a vase and then back inside to see her seven year old daughter who was with her governess in the middle of a lesson.
Not wanting to disturb them, Lili looked in and whispered “I love you Denise.”
She went on to the kitchen for something to eat then to her room to begin writing in her new diary. She had never kept a diary until now. This was the first entry:
7 April 1874 (on events from the summer of 1866):
With each breath my strength waned, I could not sustain this position much longer. My hands clasped a metal rod meant to be a decoration on the front porch of our cottage in Alsace Lorraine. I was trying to pull myself up high enough to see over the shrubs in front of the cottage. I wanted another look at a handsome blonde boy I had made special eye contact with earlier that day at the military camp across the path out front. The strain on my thirteen-year-old arms was getting to be too much. I thought “This boy had better be worth it”. Then I saw him. He was so handsome and strong looking. He did seem worth all of this fuss. Letting go, I fell back to the floor with a thump. I had to devise a scheme to get closer to him.
I was sure my beauty and style would lure him to me once I got close enough. I had developed in mind and body much faster than other girls my age. I felt like I could enchant any boy … or man for that matter. I was so silly back then. I am glad I did not try to write a diary at age 13.
The next morning after breakfast my parents went for a stroll in the woods. I quickly ran to my room and changed clothes. I stood in the sunlight at the gate in front of our cottage in a beautiful red dress I wore for nights out with my parents in Paris. I was in view of some of the soldiers across the way. Now all I had to do was make this boy see me again and go on from there. I did attract attention from many of the soldiers. Some whistled. Others waved. I liked being the center of attention but I wanted to have a closer look at this special boy. Most of all, I wanted him to have a closer look at me!
The trees next to the path up to the front of our cottage were very close together. They could hide someone from view because they lined both sides of the pathway. My blonde soldier ran up the embankment. No one noticed him slip away. He made his way across the field and on to the pathway. He stood just within earshot of me and gave a loud whisper as I ran out in between the trees.
His shirt was still off like the rest of the soldiers during exercise drills. I felt a strange, new, wonderful sensation overtake me. Without conversation and out of anyone’s view, we embraced and kissed as if the rest of the world was non-existent. A far too brief encounter ended with a second kiss.
As he left to re-enter the field where his company was still training, he said he would be back just after nine that night and hoped to see me then.
After dinner with my parents I said I would go for a walk. My father cautioned me about the men camped across the pathway which happened to be the border with Prussia. My mother said the soldiers would have to be in their tents at this hour and given Prussian military code, none of them would dare to go out.
I was confident he would come back. He did.
Berthe Morisot, by Edourd Manet
A warm breeze and a bright moon enhanced our amorous intentions as we took pleasure in each other’s company. I had never made love and was not sure just what to do. He had and helped me kindly and firmly as I gave myself to this beautiful stranger.
I returned home with delightful unfamiliar feelings rushing through my head and body. I was made happy by this young man! Hoping to dream about our encounter, helped me to get to sleep.
When I awoke I leapt out of bed and ran to my window. To my surprise and dismay the camp was no more, the tents all gone. No men or horses to be seen! I thought out loud. “Was last night a dream?”
I did not know I was pregnant. That knowledge came later.
By Claude Monet
Lili had been alarmingly attractive since she was very young. Her brilliant wavy auburn hair, bright green eyes and perfect facial features attracted attention wherever she went. Although Lili had grown up in luxury she was a levelheaded girl, not one to flaunt her position in Parisian society or belittle others for theirs. She was different than many other women of her age and social status. Having a daughter to look after guided Lili’s progress through life. She loved her daughter and raising her was, to Lili, a labor of love in the highest sense.
Two days later Lili paid a visit to Andre Duran the florist. She walked to the counter to find Andre in the back near the huge sink drying his hands.
“Hello Lili,” he said as he approached the counter, “How are you today?”
“I am well, thank you for asking.”
Andre inquired about her lessons with the renowned Edouard Manet. She told him she felt special that Manet would do such a favor for her father. Lili said she was elated each time Manet came to her studio and thrilled at the progress she was making with him as an instructor. Andre told her he had two weddings and a few customers to get flowers ready for. Lili asked where his assistants were. He said they had quit the day before to go to London and join the circus.
Instinctively she offered to help, saying she loved flowers and had her own garden and greenhouse. Andre asked if she had ever worked in public before. She had not and said so, then added that she felt confident she could do the work well.
Wecshler photo inspiration for Lili Bergnon
“Will I get paid?” She asked.
“If you do a good job you will.”
Lili asked if she could start right away. Andre said yes. She excused herself for a moment and ran out the door to the corner where her carriage was waiting. She asked Thomas, the driver, to meet her there at five o’clock on that same corner.
“I’ve just been hired to work for the florist!”
“Be careful.” Thomas replied. She said she would as he drove off.
Thomas had been the Bergnon’s driver for many years. He was used to Lili’s impulsive behavior and as protective of her as his station would allow.
Andre had gone to the window to see where Lili had run off to. As she re-entered the shop he asked, “Whose carriage was that? Your family’s?” implying her ‘much above average’ social status.
“Yes,” she replied, “I am willing to work even though I don’t need to. I want to and I want to work here.”
Andre said: “That’s good enough for me, shall we begin?”
At home that night, she told her parents about her employment. To Lili’s surprise her parents were more than supportive. Once again she felt blessed to be their daughter. Lili needed their support many times in the past and always received it, even though she was uncertain of it until the moment arrived to tell what she had done or needed or lost. Each time she issued a confession or earnest request, her parents gave their support. With each answered need, a familiar warm feeling enveloped her. Lili’s parents loved their only child above all else, knowing that was very important to her.
The home where they lived was in one of the wealthy sections of Paris. It was a very elegant, large mansion. The domestics who worked for her family, the maid, the cook, and the driver were all exceptionally loyal to the Bergnons.
Her Father, Paul Bergnon was a very wealthy, generous man with the best interests of his family first in mind. Her mother, Louise Bergnon was a practical woman with a keen artistic sensibility.
by Edourd Manet
Andre Duran, a married man with two small sons, inherited the flower shop in 1850, the year his father died. He was 21 years old at the time. Andre ran the business until his own death. While he was in charge the shop was reborn. It became an icon on the streets of Paris, attracting an affluent clientele, as well as many artist-customers in need of flora for their paintings.
The artists were Andre’s favorites, especially the younger ones. He liked to help them create by providing them with flowers to use in the paintings they made. Andre didn’t ask for money from them. He requested only a small ‘miniature’ painting or drawing in return. Often, they were no larger than a postcard. Most of these artists were happy to oblige such an ardent supporter. Andre called the miniatures his “little flowers”.
As word spread through the artist community about this helpful man and his excellent flowers, more artists began to visit the shop. This thrilled Lili, who hoped to join their ranks one day.
As time passed that spring and summer, Lili became more and more popular with the shop’s clientele. Her charm and demeanor brought people back to have her wait on them again and again. Mr. Duran was very happy with Lili as his assistant. Her presence in the shop with her knowledge of flowers and art made her nearly indispensable. Lili was quite happy to have a friendly place to work while learning more about life’s beautiful things. Duran’s Florist Shop was her home away from home.
One summer afternoon a young man entered the shop with a large camera on a tripod slung over his shoulder. Lili had never seen a camera up close. It looked difficult to manage.
The man asked for Mr. Duran. Lili had trouble taking her eyes off of this handsome stranger as she went to fetch Andre. The two men talked for a moment. When they were finished, Andre asked Lili to put together a bouquet of red roses for the photographer. As she returned with the roses Lili saw the two men had gone outside to the front of the shop. The photographer gestured for her to come out and stand next to Andre. An exchange took place – a photograph for some roses.
A few days later the photograph of the two of them was delivered already framed. Andre hung it on a wall in the shop’s back room.
The rest of that summer and into the fall Lili had been seeing the photographer at his studio and elsewhere. When she posed for photographs she was always happily obliging to Henri’s wishes as to her poses.
After one special photographic session she went to her diary to describe it in detail:
23 August, 1874 (on my first nude photographs):
I walked up the two flights of stairs to Henri’s studio, my shoes making such a loud noise on the wooden floorboards. I was sure he could hear me coming. When I arrived at his door I did not have to knock as he had indeed heard me coming … and said so as he opened the door.
I immediately got out what I had to say to him: “Henri, I want you to take my clothes off and pose me as you like.”
Paris flower shop
I think that shocked him but he did indulge me. I was so aroused and ready for anything. We worked on several poses for an hour or two. He was kind enough to let me stay as he developed the negatives and prints. The photographs were so very beautiful I had to make love with him right then and there! And I did.
Duran’s Florist had a small room behind its back wall with a narrow opening for an entrance. There was a beautiful green curtain in place of a door. With a small cabinet, a few pieces of furniture and no windows this room became Lili’s sanctuary. Each time she entered this room to write in her diary or read Andre’s art books and journals by lamplight she felt at home. Andre allowed her to stay after work. He told her if she promised not to have visitors and lock the door when she left, she could stay as long as she liked.
One evening, just before one of Lili’s extended stays as Andre was leaving she mentioned the many small paintings leaning against the walls and on counter tops in the way and vulnerable to damage. She asked him if she could display them in the room behind the curtain. He told her that would be fine, happily anticipating a small, candle lit gallery in his back room. Lili learned a lot from Andre. She had wanted to repay him somehow and now she had a ‘commission’ to decorate ‘their’ little room! This project would show appreciation to Andre in a way she was sure he would love.
She gathered the small pieces of art and brought them into the back room carefully arranging them against the walls so she could see them all. She would evaluate each one for a matte or frame and begin putting them on display the next day.
Lili reached up into the cabinet where her diary was hidden, pulled it out and began an entry:
3 December, 1874
Elation! I am to make a gallery for Andre to view his treasured miniature pieces of art! It will be in the back room at the shop. I have been hoping for this opportunity for months. I just wasn’t sure how to approach him. Now I can hardly wait to begin!
She put the diary back into its hiding place and made her way home for the night.
Through a very chilly December Lili worked on her project for Andre, putting all of those little paintings and drawings into proper view. She left the photograph of her and Andre just where he had put it as she constructed a gallery in his honor all around it.
Lili got many of the paintings framed at her own expense. She made Andre promise not to look until the gallery was finished. Although he knew something special was happening in his back room, with the smell of paint and the sound of nails being driven, Andre never looked, as promised, even though he was often tempted to. When she was satisfied, Lili asked Andre to come in and see what she had made.
As he entered the room, looking at Lili’s fine work his eyes welled with tears of joy. The ‘gallery’ was perfect. The miniature paintings, prints and drawings were arranged beautifully on small easels on the mantle and table tops and against walls painted with different colors to accentuate the art. Now Andre could view his ‘treasures’ properly thanks to this wonderfully creative young woman.
Lili was to leave the next morning so they decided to keep this room a secret until she came home from the Christmas holiday with her daughter and parents. Then they would show the ‘gallery’ to both families and anyone else they thought would be interested. Both of them agreed not to mention it to anyone until then.
Lili had gone with her family to their second home in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast for the holidays.
She never returned.
On January 4th, 1875 Andre saw a notice in the press regarding Lili Bergnon. She had come down with pneumonia and passed away. Just as he was about to go get another newspaper to confirm this tragedy a carriage stopped in front of his shop. Getting out of the carriage Edouard Manet walked toward the flower shop’s door where Andre was now standing in a daze. Manet confirmed this terrible news.
Young Girl Among the Flowers, Edouard Manet, 1879
Distraught, Andre closed the shop and went to buy bricks and mortar. He came back with it all in a wheel barrel, put a ‘closed’ sign on the front door, locked it then proceeded to brick-up the entrance to the room so lovingly put together by Lili. The art remained in place, now hidden from view.
To Andre this gallery was their secret. He planned to keep it that way as long as he could, fearing the sadness that would overtake him each time he entered that room. Eventually he thought he would make this great work public but not now, not so soon after his Lili had gone. Andre was never able to do that.
Two nights later, after paneling the entire back wall so no one could see the now bricked-up doorway then drawing a very large curtain across all of the paneling, Andre left for home. Stepping out into the street directly in the path of a speeding carriage, he was killed instantly.
For decades the handsome little flower shop thrived under various owners, none ever discovering the ‘secret’ room. When World War One ended in triumph for France, the building was sold. For over twenty years it was a bookstore.
In 1940 when France was defeated by Germany, the shop was made into a message center by army troops in charge of that part of Paris. The Nazis never knew what was just a wall away in the back of the building that they used until 1944.
Shortly after World War Two ended the property became an antique shop. The back room with its special contents remained undisturbed for decades.
View Part 2 HERE.