Daily Archives: April 1, 2011

Art Prankster Impressionists

Happy April fool’s day! Even the august art world is not immune to practical jokes. This is one of the best ever involving French impressionists and poets.

DELACROIX’S CRUSTACEAN SENSATION

Art historians have long been puzzled by the disappearance of “Still Life With Lobster,” a painting that, according to allusions in his letters and notebooks, Eugene Delacroix painted in or around 1845. It was only recently, when a batch of correspondence was unearthed from a dusty archive in the Paris’s Bibliotheque Nationale, that the full story of the missing painting came to light. At the time he created the picture, Delacroix was a member of the Paris-based Club des Hashischins, a small group of writers and artists, that, in accordance with its name, was devoted to experimentation with drugs, particularly hashish. Members of the group included the writers Theophile Gautier and Alexandre Dumas, as well as the poet Gerard de Nerval, who happened to have a pet lobster named Thibault that he had rescued from a net while on holiday in La Rochelle and that, to the consternation of some Parisians, he was given to taking on walks around the Palais Royal gardens at the end of a blue satin ribbon.

During one especially bleary meeting of the Club, Delacroix, in a fit of hash-fueled mischievousness, snatched Thibault from where the lobster was hiding (as was its wont at social gatherings) under a chaise longue, and absconded with the crustacean in full view of de Nerval, who immediately flew into pursuit. According to the recently rediscovered correspondence, however, the poet tripped over a coffee table and was temporarily incapacitated, allowing Delacroix to dash to his nearby studio with Thibault under his arm. Two hours later the painter returned, wearing a soiled bib, licking his fingers and brandishing a canvas on which he had painted a freshly boiled lobster garnished with sprigs of parsley and flanked by oysters and lemons, as was the style for still lifes in those days. De Nerval, who lay, nursing a sprained ankle, atop the chaise longue under which his cherished Thibault had so recently cowered, promptly fainted. As soon as he revived, he came at Delacroix with fists swinging, grabbed a letter opener off a nearby desk, and slashed the painting to bits. It was then that Delacroix opened the suitcase he’d held in his other hand to reveal a terror-stricken Thibault, which skittered across the room to its owner. “C’etait vraiment une reunion joyeuse!” declares the just-uncovered papers.

Supposedly, a shred of the painting still exists in the Louvre, but no one can find it….