ACCOMODATE THE SYSTEM
It was quite natural, with this going on, that there would be quite a few aspirants for Soulier's job of dealing for Maurice. Everybody in the art community knew things had soured between Soulier and my son, that a change was in the making.
|These hopefuls, out to stir up trouble to help their, own cause, played on the emotions of the two principals, hoping to enlarge their differences. The event they wanted, most of all, was to get Soulier blown away by me--not a bad idea. But at the moment, I wasn't prepared to make such a drastic move, because I had no one in mind to replace Soulier, someone, hopefully, who might improve the situation. Patience seemed the wise option, to make the next choice carefully, although finding an honest man--if you took a good look at what was available--seemed almost impossible.|
Some of the people following Maurice were do-gooders, religious fanatics, who were out to save his soul. They wanted, if possible, to eliminate his alcoholism, to save him from the inevitable consequences of uncontrolled drinking. Clovis Sagot, for example followed Maurice around on his intoxication route, sitting with him at cafe tables, and lecturing him on the virtues of sobriety. Sagot, besides being a Christian out to save a lost soul, had his eye on making a profit on Maurice's painting. He saw nothing sinful in doing this, mixing up his preaching with advice on how to make it big in the art market. Utter thought it was incongruous to hear Sagot quoting scriptures at the Cafe Belle Gabrielle, with Maurice sitting opposite him, sipping his wine, eyes glazed, cigarette dangling from his wet lips, obviously not getting the dialogue. When Maurice yawned, turned away, looking out of the entrance at the farm wagons passing on the Rue Leval, Sagot, exasperated, drank down his lemon juice, slammed his Bible down on the table, shouted like a deaf Calvinist preacher, raising his arms skyward, and sternly told Maurice he was going "Straight to hell," then emphasizing this dire prediction, he repeated, with more arm waving, "Straight to hell!" The target of this impassioned oratory, eyes mere slits, finished his wine, belching loudly as he did so, and after a disdainful look at Sagot, he arose, and walked out of the front door.
Sagot, along with a handful of other preachers, a type rather common around the Montmartre, were usually in the group following Maurice. They weren't particularly popular with the rest of the crowd because the others felt that the preaching and trying to con a sodden artist out of one of his canvasses didn't exactly fit the image being a disciple of Christ. Besides, even if the rest of them were good Christians, they didn't want to be sermonized when they were on the job, particularly by a character like Sagot.
Soulier, in contrast to Sagot, had no halo above his head, and he never said a word about the amount of booze that flowed down into Maurice's stomach; when the two of them were not fighting, they were out on the hill together, aiming for the same alcoholic oblivion. The difference between them was that Soulier never drank himself unconscious like the rest of the dimwits. This characteristic frustrated him, he wanted it as much as any of them, but it eluded him no matter how hard he tried. This gave each drunk an unsatisfactory ending, making him extremely irritable for a brief time while he recovered his composure. I made a point of avoiding Soulier when he was like this: only God knew what he might do, and I wasn't on the lookout for any more trouble than I had already.
So, being a born boozer himself, Soulier avoided any advice to Maurice which had to do with drinking; anyway, he knew the futility of doing so; he was no angel like Sagot, and except for a few bad periods he coasted along taking the good with the bad like everyone else had done before him. But the funny part of it was that Soulier didn't resent Sagot's efforts to redeem Maurice; if any good came out of it, it meant money in his pocket, there being no way that he would step aside and let Sagot get his hands on the buying and selling of Maurice's paintings. Soulier told me that if Sagot wanted to try his technique it was between him and God, and "Further," he had said, "I wish him good luck!"
Eventually, Soulier decided, reluctantly, that it was too painful to deal with Maurice; Sagot, waiting in the wings, took over, moving Maurice's paintings nearer the big-time, something Soulier had never been able to do. Sagot, though, if you look at the situation carefully, was still a small-time operator, selling canvasses for forty or fifty francs each, but the difference was that he was able to get the work in important exhibitions like the Munich Centenniale. In this show, Maurice's work was seen alongside that of Picasso, Cezanne, Braque, Delaunay, Van Dongen, Matisse, and Van Gogh, a pretty impressive list.
The real problem with Sagot as the dealer remained as it had been with Soulier--money: how it was to be divided equitably, how I could guard against Maurice being exploited as he had been by a whole string of representatives who had declared they were primarily interested in the promotion of the art and that the creator of the art got a fair shake. Each dealer wanted to get more than he was getting; it had boiled down into a daily struggle, a donnybrook which was time consuming and enervating for me. I found the interminable bickering a pain and I hated the extended haggling over small details. Sagot was one of those characters who knew at all times where every franc was, keeping meticulous books, very pretty and convincing, but I still didn't trust him even one little bit. Every time I disputed his accounting, he thrust these ledgers in front of me, swore they were correct to the centime, intimidating me when I was certain there was something that smelled about they way he did it.
Neither Utter nor I had the slightest capacity to deal with this sort of thing: we had never accumulated any money, spending day by day, every franc on hand, and if we had, I doubt that we could handle it with any degree of efficiency. The only thing we knew about our finances was that Maurice had become our only source of income, but that income, thanks to individuals like Soulier and Sagot, had leaks all over the place. The other difficulty, an old one, was that Maurice still dealt on his own; and God knows how many valuable Utrillos were siphoned off for quick cash in order to finance a decent binge, although it doesn't take much imagination to say that it involved a considerable amount of money.
The notoriety which had developed around Maurice continued to be helpful in showing and selling his paintings; and miraculously, the debauchery didn't affect the quality of the work. As things were working out, with the big if of Maurice maintaining a reasonable state physically, surviving somehow the horrors of binge after binge, there was a good possibility of maintaining an adequate income. Obviously, this was a very big if because improper diet, heavy drinking, and physical assaults, had eroded Maurice's health. He looked far older than his years, pallid, cadaverous, emaciated, a disjointed figure who walked with a hesitant shuffle, peering at the world with bloodshot sunken eyes.
When the opportunity presented itself, I tried to get some food in him, but if the amount of liquor on hand failed to fit his thirst, he disappeared down the stairs to the street. I'd watch him from the third-story window until he disappeared up the Rue Cortot, his uncertain movements taking him slowly in the direction of the Cafe Belle Gabrielle. I felt a terrible sense of inadequacy as his figure finally vanished into the darkness of the night. After such brief visits, I might not see Maurice for several days, or I'd get an emergency call from Sergeant Gay, the police, or the Charitee Hospital that he was a patient, that it was imperative for me to come immediately. My life, on the periphery of this chaos, was a total mess: very little painting, plenty of worrying not only about my son but on the economics of survival. Everyone, in the little group around Maurice, was unhappy, especially me, because I was caught between Sagot and a furious Utter, who wanted to ditch the dealer, while I was cautious, not knowing what the next step would be beyond that. Any rocking of the boat, with things hanging precariously together, could spell disaster; so with this in mind, I decided to tread water as the safest course to follow.
Maurice, when other people went out of their way to help him, never offered thanks or apologized for all the trouble he caused; nor did he show gratitude for anything; whatever he encountered, in his mind, was there to use, he used it, and never thought any more about it. Maurice was a will-of-the-wisp, appearing and disappearing, like an actor on the stage. Many people thought his lifestyle to be chaotic, the careening of an incorrigible drunk, but in reality, it wasn't this way at all. Within the context of his routines, there was a solid pattern that was seldom changed unless a superior force, something beyond his control, altered his plans.
Actually, as far as Maurice was concerned, his life was far more orderly than the so-called normal modes of existence, which he considered as spinning crazily out of control, authoritarian in substance, a danger to ordinary citizens like himself. He much preferred his alcoholic nirvana, a wonderfully secure place where he felt perfectly adjusted, a paradise that shut out the harsh realities of day to day living. He could never understand the nature of the law, why it was so important in a social sense, and why he should be picked on, in particular. But in time, after numerous confrontations with irate citizens and the police, he accepted the idea that this was the way things were done, and incorporated it into his thinking.
In one instance, when he was in the jailhouse, the Prefect Beraud, annoyed at his being arrested again, said: "Will you ever learn the difference between right and wrong?" Maurice, standing between two muscular officers, his clothing torn and dirty, bruises all over his face, and both eyes swollen to slits, raised his head momentarily, stared at Beraud, and then, lowered it again without answering. His total rejection of society's concept of good and bad would not change because he believed it was constituted on a false premise: a violation of his basic rights. Some Monmartrois, free spirits, republicans, communards, held similar opinions, letting everybody know how they felt, but in his case, being a drunk, he was considered to be a little on the crazy side.
Maurice brought his simple pragmatic attitude about dealing with the immediate problems of life into his philosophical beliefs. Ethics, morality, and, especially, religion, were given special consideration, and in the process, only in Maurice's mind, of course, radical changes were made. His interpretation of Church dogma was an example of this: revising the ritual; moving the priests, bishops, the clergy, in general, around like chess pieces to suit his own ideas. As for Maurice's fitting his rounds of intoxication, his background of crime, into the picture, he performed like a magician on stage, making established procedures vanish, at least in his head, into thin air, substituting his own, much to the dismay of those who couldn't accept that making your own rules was superior to that of the official mentality.
I suppose it would be an apt description of Maurice's ideas to say that he expected the civilized world as it existed to conform to him, and not the other way around. Naturally, as he soon found out, he couldn't get away with this stuff, and this, precisely, is where his quid pro quo diplomacy emerged, smoothing out the rough edges, and allowing him to make an accomodation. The simple efficiency of his thought was based on one idea, and one idea alone, and was whether something worked or not. I have tried, during many periods of crisis, to find some reason, back in those distant days of childhood, which might have influenced his thinking. There is no doubt that Maurice was exposed to certain abnormalities, but nothing, at least for me, really answers the question. In the final analysis, what he was, and what he did, as well as what he was going to do, were written before he was born. His view of the world began exactly at this stage, and what was outside his mental capacity, simply didn't exist for him ....