If disenchantment is possible, then so is re-enchantment. Any circumstance, Georgette has read in Proust, consists of one-tenth chance and nine-tenths the disposition to let oneself fall under it. “I am ready,” she says to Mag, “to be re-enchanted.” She utters this in 1945, at the close of the war, when two of them and Loulou the Pomeranian are emerging from the strain of the occupation. Happy to be alive, but tired. So tired.
When Mag was a child, his father, Léopold, ran a tailor’s shop, and his mother, Adeline, worked as a milliner. Always aspiring, they moved the family all over the pays noir in the south of Belgium, from Lessines to Gily to Châtelet to Charleroi to Châtelet again, and then to Brussels. Her husband and his brothers, Paul and Raymond, had hated it—nettled by impermanence. Is it any wonder he grew up to prefer being settled?
The war unsettled. Unsettled everything. And it’s taking a while to get back to the apprehension of spontaneous relationships between one thing and another that Mag had before.
“Sure,” he says. “I’m ready, too.” But does not move to his brush, his canvas. “Why paint a nature mort when everything is mort?” he says. Deliberately missing his meaning, she replies, “Yes, indeed, why? Why not just erect one?”
So she constructs an uncommon still life: an empty picture frame laid flat on their red-clothed table, then topped with all the fruit she is able to find: Cézanne-y apples and a hill of pears. The country’s under a scarcity that’s hard to bear, but they have a garden in the courtyard—a requirement for Loulou—and the trees provide.
Mag delights in this museumification of everyday objects, this elevated presentation of the fruited quotidian. She watches him reach for his painter’s stick to give himself the stability he needs to begin. Back in Paris, in the ’20s, Breton was always going on about violent beauty—beauty is convulsive something something. But Georgette is weary of violence and ready for a return to common sense, which is to say the sense of the common, where beauty can also be mysteriously quiet.
Image: Still Life with Apples and Pears, Paul Cézanne (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)