After his departure

le bain: artwork by alfred stevens

What is her name? What can she possibly be thinking about?

The first time I saw her, she was gracing the cover of an English translation of Zola’s Nana. She never seemed quite at home there. This was no courtesan, but a woman plunged deep in reminiscence after her lover has gone. Then I found out she really lived in the Musée d’Orsay. I always pay her a visit if I am in the surroundings. The last time I was there, I found a young man observing her. She seemed undisturbed by his presence, remaining as pensive as if she had been alone. I said “She is beautiful, isn’t she?” He answered “I only come here for her.” It is a quite lovely thing to share such a moment with a stranger. However briefly, beauty connected us in the world.

Notice the refinement of the details: the careless ease with which she holds the roses, the sumptuous patina of the copper tub, the watch resting negligently in the shell-like soap holder, the book left open on the pile of towels -I wonder at what page and what word left her so thoughtful- the gleam of her gold bangle…all conveying such an atmosphere of elegance and comfort, I can almost feel the warmth of the bath water!

michèle Voltaire Marcelin

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Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) was a Belgian painter who lived in Paris from 1852 on. He was a friend of Manet and was influenced by Japanese prints, as were so many French artists of the time. His chief subjects, painted with admirable technique and color, were society women in their fashionable Parisian interiors. “Alfred Stevens is one of the race of great painters,” wrote Camille Lemonnier, “and like them he takes immense pains with the execution of his work.” Musée d’Orsay is housed in a grand railway station built in 1900. Home to many sculptures and impressionist paintings, it has become one of Paris’s most popular museums.

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