It was impossible. No woman, much less a lady of nobility, should be exposed to such filth, though it masqueraded as art. Monsieur le Beau had already fought with the others to keep the painting out of the Salon, although really it was no contest. None of the other members of the Académie would have dared accept such a piece anyway.
But now this Salon de Refusés attracted so much attention, all because of Monsieur Manet’s painting!
Monsieur le Beau set down his fountain pen and sealed the envelope, hoping his influence and entreaties would prevent the Vicomte’s daughter from entrance to the exhibit. The Vicomte’s friendship and patronage over the years ensured Monsieur le Beau’s support, whether solicited or not.
A knock on the door coincided with his rise to send for the clerk.
His clerk opened the door and announced Lady de Sévigné herself.
“Lady de Sévigné,” he greeted, taken aback. “What an unexpected pleasure.”
She walked in with the assurance accustomed to ladies of privilege and offered her hand in greeting. “Monsieur le Beau, I apologize for arriving unannounced.”
After he invited her to sit, she forewent civility and stated, “I know my entry to the Salon de Refusés is being refused by someone in a position of power. I believe you can help me remedy this, Monsieur le Beau.”
Once again, she had surprised him with her forthrightness.
“What makes you think I can assist you?” he asked, feigning ignorance.
“Because I know it is you leading the opposition.”
He inhaled sharply. “Now, why would I do that, Lady de Sévigné?”
She looked directly at him. “Because you’re in love with me.”
Turning bright crimson, he said, “That is absurd. Your father is a valued patron of the Salon, nothing more.”
“Admit it, Henri,” she said, softening her tone. “It has been obvious for quite some time now.”
He sat silent a moment, then burst out in frustration, “Why would you want to see such rubbish, anyway? Filth like that is for the common laborer, the whore on the street corner. It is not for the likes of a lady!”
She leaned forward. “But don’t you see? This is the beginning of a revolution! How we see beauty, how we see the world, will forever change because of this painting. So many great works will proceed from it, the most lauded artists the world has ever known.”
“What are you talking about?” he protested. “The painting is rubbish.”
She brushed a stray curl from her forehead as she confided in a low voice, “I have seen it, Henri.”
He stared blankly. “What? What do you mean?”
“You love me, yes?”
She had forced his hand. “Yes,” he admitted.
“But you cannot ask Papa for my hand in marriage, no?”
“No.” Her rank prevented him from even considering it.
Leaning back in her chair, she stated, “Come have lunch with me. We obviously have much to discuss, and I have a plan…”