Anna and Vronsky had long been exchanging
glances, regretting their friend’s flow of cleverness.
At last Vronsky, without waiting for the artist,
walked away to another small picture.
“Oh, how exquisite! What
a lovely thing! A gem! How exquisite!”
they cried with one voice.
“What is it they’re so
pleased with?” thought Mihailov. He had
positively forgotten that picture he had painted three
years ago. He had forgotten all the agonies and
the ecstasies he had lived through with that picture
when for several months it had been the one thought
haunting him day and night. He had forgotten,
as he always forgot, the pictures he had finished.
He did not even like to look at it, and had only
brought it out because he was expecting an Englishman
who wanted to buy it.
“Oh, that’s only an old study,”
“How fine!” said Golenishtchev,
he too, with unmistakable sincerity, falling under
the spell of the picture.
Two boys were angling in the shade
of a willow-tree. The elder had just dropped
in the hook, and was carefully pulling the float from
behind a bush, entirely absorbed in what he was doing.
The other, a little younger, was lying in the grass
leaning on his elbows, with his tangled, flaxen head
in his hands, staring at the water with his dreamy
blue eyes. What was he thinking of?
The enthusiasm over this picture stirred
some of the old feeling for it in Mihailov, but he
feared and disliked this waste of feeling for things
past, and so, even though this praise was grateful
to him, he tried to draw his visitors away to a third
But Vronsky asked whether the picture
was for sale. To Mihailov at that moment, excited
by visitors, it was extremely distasteful to speak
of money matters.
“It is put up there to be sold,”
he answered, scowling gloomily.
When the visitors had gone, Mihailov
sat down opposite the picture of Pilate and Christ,
and in his mind went over what had been said, and
what, though not said, had been implied by those visitors.
And, strange to say, what had had such weight with
him, while they were there and while he mentally put
himself at their point of view, suddenly lost all
importance for him. He began to look at his
picture with all his own full artist vision, and was
soon in that mood of conviction of the perfectibility,
and so of the significance, of his picture a
conviction essential to the most intense fervor, excluding
all other interests in which alone he could
Christ’s foreshortened leg was
not right, though. He took his palette and began
to work. As he corrected the leg he looked continually
at the figure of John in the background, which his
visitors had not even noticed, but which he knew was
beyond perfection. When he had finished the
leg he wanted to touch that figure, but he felt too
much excited for it. He was equally unable to
work when he was cold and when he was too much affected
and saw everything too much. There was only one
stage in the transition from coldness to inspiration,
at which work was possible. Today he was too
much agitated. He would have covered the picture,
but he stopped, holding the cloth in his hand, and,
smiling blissfully, gazed a long while at the figure
of John. At last, as it were regretfully tearing
himself away, he dropped the cloth, and, exhausted
but happy, went home.
Vronsky, Anna, and Golenishtchev,
on their way home, were particularly lively and cheerful.
They talked of Mihailov and his pictures. The
word talent, by which they meant an inborn,
almost physical, aptitude apart from brain and heart,
and in which they tried to find an expression for
all the artist had gained from life, recurred particularly
often in their talk, as though it were necessary for
them to sum up what they had no conception of, though
they wanted to talk of it. They said that there
was no denying his talent, but that his talent could
not develop for want of education the common
defect of our Russian artists. But the picture
of the boys had imprinted itself on their memories,
and they were continually coming back to it.
“What an exquisite thing! How he has succeeded
in it, and how simply! He doesn’t even
comprehend how good it is. Yes, I mustn’t
let it slip; I must buy it,” said Vronsky.