The artist’s mother

A few weeks ago the gorgeous Messy Nessy Chic Instagram posted this amazing photo and issued un petit défi – a challenge! Write a short story inspired by this image in 700 words or less. From their post: This photograph has possibly been long miscredited to a Branson Decou circa 1945, but since he died in 1941, it’s more likely it was taken by his wife, a *Madame* Decou, who was also a photographer.

I wrote a story but could never find where and how to submit it so here it is.

Mother, and her mother, agreed I would make a terrible wife but If it was left to the men, we would all starve. I have found myself wife to none but mother to any man who comes to Paris and believes himself to be the next Manet or Gauguin. Valerie says I demean myself, buying wine and fetching bread each day, but I point at Claudette, who brings a pot au feu or a rotisserie chicken. She is a talented portraitist, but does she stay to paint with her husband? Does he invite her? Does he insist she paint? No! She hurries home to her spacious flat to drink and play cards with the neighbour.

Of course, Claudette’s husband can afford to contribute such fine fare to the atelier. The others sometimes say, ‘His inheritance has made him rich, but it cannot make him a painter.’

He is lucky to have a wife to cook for him. I imagine how delicious it would be to have a wife at home to cook my dinner and mend my socks. Of course, I have Valerie, my dear sister, to keep house. She is the sensible one, Mother says. Valerie’s studies at the university do not require near as much time as my work and even Valerie, with her ledgers and numbers, knows that to be an artist requires… Everything.

My stipend from dear Aunt Constance gives me the freedom to buy wine for my friends from time to time. Formidable Aunt Constance! There is a woman who is wife nor mother to anyone. Aunt Constance with her wigs and her diamonds, and a flat in Berlin! She understands how a young woman who wishes to be an artist should live, but she pays for Valerie’s studies too, because someone should know where the money is.

Sometimes, when a new painter, usually a man, joins the atelier, he will ask questions when he sees me at my easel. The men who are sons of wealthy families in the country question my presence. They don’t drop their voices or shield me from their opinion. They are quite accustomed to believing their opinion worthy. The other men defend me, even when I am not there I am told.

Once the new man sees my work, he knows I am truly his better, but sometimes they leave in disgust, and the old painters laugh.

‘Get out and don’t come back,’ the men say. The would-be Pissarro or Renoir scurries down the narrow alley behind the atelier, raucous laughter ringing in his ears.

So, who cares if I leave my easel and walk each day to the boulangerie for our bread? I leave the men to their grumbling, to their cigar smoke. I leave them to their complaints about one another, whispered to whomever will listen. But when I return with bread or new wine, they are happy to see me, and each man smiles at me as they spoon tasty mouthfuls of Claudette’s latest stew into their hungry mouths.

Messy Nessy Chic have a wonderful website, social media, books, and even Spotify playlists.


  1. Dean Kyte

    I like the fact that the boulanger has gone to the trouble of wrapping the baguette in a piece of paper so as to prevent shoulder soilage. You really don’t want shoulder all over your baguette.

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