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Mathilde and Claude in winter

It was bitterly cold in the third classes. The train had stopped at Argenteuil, blocked by snowdrifts. The driver, the mechanician and a few railroad workers had left at the front of the smoking locomotive, armed with shovels.

The sky was a uniform blue-grey in which was diluted the steam blown by the steel monster, motionless on its frozen rails.

Claude Monet. Le train dans la neige. 1875. Musée Marmottan Monet
Claude Monet. Le train dans la neige. 1875. Musée Marmottan Monet

In the distance, as if responding to the distress of the convoy, the chimneys of the factories belched out a white smoke immediately absorbed by the winter mist. A few travelers had come out and were braving the cold, kicking their heels on the snow that covered the platform.

Désirée François Laugée. Jeune fille cousant. Museu de Bellas Artes Rio de Janeiro
Désirée François Laugée. Jeune fille cousant. Museu Nacional de Belas Artes Rio de Janeiro

Mathilde thought she would be late. Oh, it didn't matter, her parents would be waiting for her for the evening soup. And then she would come with good news! The Lalande company, place de l'Opéra, had hired her as a seamstress apprentice at 1 franc fifty a day to begin with.


It was a little after five o'clock in the evening. A dark veil was beginning to envelop the station, blurring the colors. The frosty white carpet took on dirty hues and congealed into a slippery crust.





Matilda smiles. Apprentice, for sure, but with work and application, she would climb the ladder, she would become an accomplished seamstress. Some were making up to 3 francs a day!


The locomotive's lanterns now pierced the half-light. One could hear the shovels and the breathlessness of the men in the distance.

Mathilde made bold to stick her head out the window. A little further on, on the embankment bordered by a hedge of worm-eaten wooden stakes, she observed a funny fellow who was standing next to an easel. She couldn't believe her eyes. He was painting, in the cold, his fingers protected by vague mittens, a soft hat on his head and a large woolen coat over his shoulders.

- What a fool ! she thought. Paint outside with this weather! And a train to crown it all ! Why not a factory ?

Auguste Renoir. Claude Monet. 1875. © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Auguste Renoir. Claude Monet. 1875. © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

It was almost dark now. The painter put away his brushes, his palette, his colors. He folded up his easel and headed for the train, walking carefully so as not to slip. He passed under Mathilde's window, who couldn't help speaking to him.

- Sir !

The man stopped and turned his head. He was young, rather well-built, with an even-featured face framed by long hair and a handsome black beard.

Mathilde resumed:

- You paint in the cold! For what ?

- It's the pattern that commands, mademoiselle. And it is not in my workshop. It is here, in front of me, offered to whoever deserves it as long as we know how to tame it.



Mathilde blushed.

- So good luck, sir, and good night!

- Have a nice night, miss!

Claude Monet resumed his walk and disappeared into the darkness.


© Fabrice Roy 2023


In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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