BLACK AND WHITE
Auguste heard a noise, a frightful cacophony, outside his studio. He looked outside and saw his friends, Claude and Henri, climbing down from a shiny new horseless carriage.
“Mon Dieu,” muttered Auguste, “Quelle abomination.” He opened the door to let his friends in. Claude removed his goggles and both visitors greeted Auguste in the customary way.
“I assume you’ve sold a picture,” said Auguste to Claude. “How much did it cost you?”
Claude’s smile shone through his beard. “Three thousand francs. Isn’t she a beauty? She has four cylinders and purrs like a tiger.”
Henri lowered his tall, thin frame into the only chair in the room. He looked pale as a ghost. “It’ll never catch on,” he said.
Claude removed his gloves and protective headgear. “Pourquoi pas?”
Henri went on to explain his reasoning. Quite apart from the bone rattling, the contraption was inherently dangerous. The engine was driven by a series of rapid explosions inside four metal cylinders. It travelled at a breakneck speed of twenty imperial miles per hour. Also it relied on petroleum oil extracted from deep underground. “What happens when that runs out?” he said, shrugging his bony shoulders. “And then there’s the smoke. These horseless carriages produce gasses even more odieuse than the horse.”
Claude made a moue. “It has the power of fourteen horses. How much gas would fourteen horses produce, may I ask? And I’ll have you know it has a top speed of twenty-three miles per hour, not twenty.”
Auguste had returned to his easel. He was indifferent to the whole sujet and he wanted to catch the light. Also, his own sujet, Madeleine, was getting goosebumps all over and was threatening to put her clothes on and leave.
Auguste gave Madeleine a crème croissant to persuade her to sit until the end of the session. That lasted for no more than a few minutes; Madeleine couldn’t sit still. He told her to get dressed; the light was fading in any case.
Claude lit a fat cigar. “Tell us what you think of Auguste’s work,” he said to Henri.
Henri ran his eyes over the canvas. “The body contours are somewhat exaggerated, but I like the tenebrous use of shadow and the contrasting light.”
“And what of the colours?” said Claude. “Don’t you think they are a little too loud? They put me in mind of the Dutchman. You shouldn’t try to paint like Vincent, Auguste. Paint like Renoir.”
Henri left soon after that, saying he had an important meeting at the Prefecture. When he had gone, Auguste berated Claude. “You have a cruel streak, my friend.”
Claude waved his hands in a dismissive gesture. “Is it my fault that he’s colour blind? The man should face up to the facts of life. How will he ever make a career for himself as an artist when he has no colours? Have you seen his latest composition? He calls it ‘The Chess Board’!”
Within a week of that meeting, the Paris Prefecture announced the design for a new safety feature. Necessitated by the emergence of Louis Renault’s new invention, a pedestrian walkway was to be introduced throughout Paris. The walkway had been designed and patented by the up and coming young French artist, Henri de Beauregard.
He called it the zebra crossing.
(C) Copyright JJ Toner