The master used to paint every day, but of late he pains, and sits on the couch. Semi-reclined, Magritte’s posture puts Loulou the Pomeranian in mind of Perspective I: Madame Récamier by David.
The original hangs in the Louvre, and the alabaster sitter in her empire-waist intrigues. The master has replaced this charming young woman with a coffin of pink that appears to be thinking. In his rendition, Madame’s gown remains beneath the coffin’s legs on the sofa, cascading emptily. The furniture’s name was an empire méridienne – Loulou knows a great deal about furniture, since he expends so much energy resisting the urge to chew or scratch it – but it’s come to be known also as a Récamier. Both David and the master framed their figures with a smoking candelabra and a wooden stool.
The master rarely complains, but can’t fool Loulou, who feels his aches and aging as he sits beside him, head on his trouser-leg. The master strokes Loulou’s fur and speaks of his childhood. As a boy, in the pays noir in the south of Belgium, he played in a cemetery with a little girl, going into the vaults and kicking the dead leaves, and even one day seeing a painter! Painting! His first encounter with applied magic.
David’s Madame was less a portrait, more an ideal of feminine grace – hence her commissioning Francois Gérard to paint one more to her liking. David’s original looks over her shoulder, but the master’s coffin looks straight ahead. There is only one way any of this can end.
Loulou flips and offers his belly for a rub, and the master speaks of his youth – how painting cabbage roses in a wallpaper factory made him feel dead. But then he found a way to build his life around real painting, and being around Georgette. “The irony,” Loulou says, because he knows it will comfort him, “is that death will probably not make us feel dead. It will likely make us not feel anything at all.”
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Co-editor of *The Selected Writings of René Magritte*, forthcoming from Alma Books (UK) and University of Minnesota Press (U.S.) in 2016, she is also the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel *O,Democracy!* (2014) and the novel in poems *Robinson Alone *(2012). Her second novel,*Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk*, will be published by St.Martin's Press in 2017.