The Silhouette of a Painter

by Franc

Preface

An anonymous friend relates to the reader, the fascinating and tragic story of the painter Francisco Montero, a Spaniard from the southern region of the province of Andalusia.


'I was born an idler of society, but died a genius of literature'.-Francisco Jabier Rodriguez

The abstract notion of finality that we call death is forever attached to the surreal concept of its inevitable eventuality. Often, we have presumed with our constant presuppositions, the cause and effect of such an irreversible phenomenon that is titled in Latin "mors voluntaria," but we fail in the end to understand the complexity of its entire nature. Heretofore, I shall introduce to you, a man of exceeding eccentricity and intellect that the world would have forgotten, if it was not for his immense artistic acumen bestowed upon humanity. His name was Francisco Montero, a Spaniard from the southern region of the province of Andalusia. If you must know how I became acquainted to his noteworthy appellation, then through the general admission I avow, know that I had befriended him, from our early days of childhood.

The year was 1919, and my friend Francisco was nearing the age of fifty. He was an intimate painter by trade, but a skillful philosopher at heart. I would describe him as an avid reader and a Renaissant thinker, beyond his time. He was of average height and constitution, with dark hair and brown eyes that exuded his extraordinary enthusiasm for the arts. It was approximately, around this time period that he began to be troubled, with the haunting affliction known as hysteria. His life had evolved into an uncertain dubiety and an uncontrollable apprehension that was dauntless in its implacable dominion. Soon, he would be horripilated, by the quotientive effects of his lingering hallucinations and fantasies. Francisco was once a man of the utmost devotion and praise. Nonetheless, his life had radically altered, into a wretched state of an unsettling trepidation that was veraciously unbeknownst to me previously. Its evident manifestation had concluded in his ultimate demise and my dismay.

The dreadful precursor to this disturbing occurrence had begun, when he had lost the love of his life and the recognition he had earned as a painter. He was no longer a fervent admirer of the abstract vision of Picasso, Gaudí, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, or the sapient follower of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Thus, he had found himself forlorn, in the depth of the fathomless place that was the singularity of his abhorrent solitude. He felt destitute and imprisoned, like his hero the emperor Napoleon, who was exiled to Saint Helena and confined as a prisoner of chastisement. There is a dire mystery within the irony of life that cannot be juxtaposed, with a facile exposition that is extremely soluble. Verily, I suppose that the only answer that could confirm the suspicion of this enquiry is found, amongst the roving spectres of the earth that are invariably present and acknowledged thereafter. Nothing in life is interminable, and the divine hereafter to sceptics is a mere notion of belief and dogma that has no scientific basis of a contingency. It is instead, a genuine creed that men adhere to fanatically, but the logic of its original inception is for evermore a contentious issue of mortal interpretation. Henceforth, what you must comprehend is the grievous nature of the horrendous circumstances that caused his death. What I shall disclose willingly is of a matter of great importance that cannot be refelled, with such a hasty dismissal. Whether it is moral or immoral in its composition that I shall not dare to question its relevance. If there is a supreme creator of the universe, then it is for that omnipotent deity to decipher man's determined fate accordingly.

As for the personal story of Francisco Montero, the essence of the sequence of events had unfolded, with such a despondent effect that pursued him, with an unbridled obsession he could not dissuade, amidst the gradual intervals of insanity. He had procured the necessity to discover the unusual correlation of his misfortunes and failures in life. Despite the unwanted gloom, he had been blest with an enormous talent that resulted in his curse that he ascribed, to an apparent reality that was always twofold in its defining characteristics. He had been readily fascinated since his infancy, with the fantastic wonders of the world. Art and culture were his specialty, and he became a proud connoisseur of the immemorial Renaissance and Victorian epochs. We grew up in the small village of Almodóvar, where we saw the Guadalquivir River flow majestically daily, beneath the mountain ridge that surrounded the magnificent city of Córdoba. The castle of Almodóvar stood erect on the hillside so plainly, and in the distance we descried, the Moorish ruins of Medina Azahara. As small lads we had envisioned in our muse the world, beyond the Sierra Morena. His faithful parents were humble in class and demeanour, and had instructed in him well religion and ethics, but they could not comprehend his animated passion for painting. To them it was a senseless fancy that was lived, by the foolish Utopians of the world that drudged in abject poverty and failure.

The early 20th century had seen the notable emergence of the elite vanguard of sensational painters. Their progress would create a new abstract style of painting that manifold people admired. Francisco knew that he was different in his precocity, but the society that had groomed him had then shunned him so dapocaginously. When he was in his forties, he was enamoured with the artistic vision of Picasso and he became his student. For several years afterwards, he emulated his masterpieces in reverence, until he had become inventive in his own painting. The subitaneous developments in his life had produced an unsettling evolution that was very conspicuously present. I did not precisely know, when his episodes of hysteria had begun to consume him. All I remember was the sudden apprehensive fear and anxiety that caused his susceptible mind to suspect the uncertainty that had ensued. The occurrences of anonymity that he had experimented were indicators of the volatile state of his ordeal. He could not suppress the daunting reminder of his drastic inopportuneness. Therefore, he was racked with insurmountable guilt and depression, as he pondered the significance of his existence on the earth. Painting was the only escape he had from the real world that tormented him unrelentingly. In the canvas of his paintings, he saw the aesthetic beauty of his vision and with the tip of his brush, he created that surrealism so convincingly. Much to his chagrin, the world of the mortals was never receptive to his plight of grandeur.

Francisco had two brothers and a sister, but he was not the only prodigal son, within the immediate family. His younger brother was an artist as well; although a struggling musician for the most part. The time period we had been living was not that propitious to our steady advance and diligence. In his adulthood he had learnt the utilitarian trade of a carpenter, but he was more interested in the art of painting, through the illustration of his sublime artistry. He was fond of the wondrous zarzuelas of Felipe Pedrell, the folk compositions of Isaac Albeniz, and the classical music of Pablo Casals and Ricardo Viñes. I was never wont to the principal allurement of bullfighting as he was; even though the spectacle of death was enough to contemplate my own death. I assume we were carefree as other young men, but we had grown weary of the monotonousness of our lives and yearned for endless days of adventure and prosperity.

Consequently, we had moved from our quaint village to Córdoba, where we met the enigmatic Julio Romero de Torres. After spending eight years there, we then moved to the port city of Málaga in the region known in Spanish, as La Costa del Sol. We sought to find our artistic liberation and develop in depth, our creative expression also, within the birthplace of our mentor Pablo Picasso. The years Francisco spent in Málaga were the best years of his life, where he had met his beloved Mercedes and got married. The pulchritude seen in her enthralling large onyx eyes and Mediterranean skin colour was similar to the woman portrayed by Romero de Torres, in the portrait of La malagueña. Some of the locals had sworn that she was indeed that exact woman. Yet, I could attest to the veracity of that bold assertion. Even though, they had no children of their own, they enjoyed the evening promenades, near the beach and the spectacular view of the medieval fortress palace of the Alcazaba.

There was so much that he relished of Málaga, and he had purchased a modest apartment in Torremolinos, where I stayed upon my visits. He had corresponded with Romero de Torres and Le Fauconnier, about Realism and the Crystal Period, whilst he painted at the beach, and the sounds of the gulls of the Mediterranean Sea were heard in the audible background. The times had seemed to be pleasant and memorable, as he had painted and profited from his natural talent exhibited. However, this would all change, when he began to have insuperable debts that had triggered his indifference towards Mercedes. His indifference soon became an unstable impertinence that had burdened their marriage constantly. Eventually, his erratic mien would lead to the finalisation of their marriage and the incontinent hysteria that began to haunt him afterwards incessantly. I believe in my heart that he never overcame the distressing loss of Mercedes.

After his untimely separation from Mercedes, we departed the city and had returned to Córdoba. He never spoke to her again, but she had remained in his heart unconditionally. At Córdoba, we resumed our acquaintance with Romero de Torres. We had exhibited our craft, in the numerous art galleries within the city. The museums had displayed our paintings as well, with an ample reception. In time, his fortune had dissipated with his reputation. The demons of his past had resurfaced, into a recurrent pattern of instability. The depletion of his earnings had occurred, and he had reached the pathetic stage of nullibicity that had disrupted into a laden disquietude. The uncertain aspect of his future was something that he could not foresee or control. There were visible signs of his distress and anguish that had manifested, into a disturbing paranoia. Every strange noise he heard sounded like a vociferous clamour, and that what he barely heard was analogous to devilish whispers of people. The drab and drear room of his studio was the isolation he had called home. He retreated there to paint, and the wonders of nature were his unmitigated inspiration of providence. There was a telling image that had fixated us, with curiosity. The countryside of Córdoba was abundant of life. From the distance in his studio, we beheld the fluttering doves of the cathedral that flew in the mornings and the bustling carriages of the Gypsies. When Francisco had thought his nightmares of death had been effaced, the horrid remnants of insanity encompassed him, inside the recesses of the darkness of his inexplicable despair. He had attempted to forget his insufferable sorrow of Mercedes, but the palpable pain he endured had overwhelmed his placid disposition. Anon, his predictable affliction had overshadowed his painting and desire to thrive, with his gifted ingenuity. He was keen to the acute sounds of the fallen rain drops and the chirping swallows that had amassed outside his residence.

We had taken casual strolls frequently, in the Jewish Quarter and passed the ancient Roman Bridge and the Moorish tower of the Calahorra that stood, as a clear reminder of the city's glorious past. We sought inspiration in these monuments and buildings of Córdoba. But he was haunted by the continuous absence of Mercedes and the horrendous presence of his disconcerting and unstable situation. Shortly, he lost the proclivity to paint, and he was drowning in his own obscurity and impulsive mania. His mental faculties were being perturbed, with the tainted memories of his irreparable failures and mistakes. Thoughts of his immediate future were forsaken, by the past he could not leave behind or bury. The few friends that he retained correspondence had begun to abandon him, when he then struggled to sell another painting and had isolated himself from society. Francisco was once a man of faith, but time had made him question that reborant recourse. He was born a Catholic, but he had loathed the corruption, in the hierarchy of the church and their deception employed. If there was ever an actual inducement to be incredulous, this harsh period in his life would be representative of that conflictive extent. Nothing seemed to overcome the wearisome tribulation that had enveloped him, within a profound murk that was simply merciless and undaunted. The unnerving uncertainty that plagued him had intensified with the years and withdrawal. For the first time in his life, he was alone to endure this unyielding torment, without surcease.

The desperation to make a good livelihood had urged him to devise a way, out of his impoverished state. This feckless effort would result in a consequential realisation that was unbearably irremediable. Essentially, he cast aspersion on the world and was resentful of his social decline. His foe was the irrepressible lament that he carried and the immeasurable days of infelicity. Trips to Madrid and Barcelona were his transient escape, to his compulsion of his depressive gradation. When he had renewed his passion to paint, his paintings were less abstract and much more conceptual in contrast. He had evolved as a subjective painter and had the construct of a recent vision of art that he had surmised with sudden anticipation. He was not certain in deliberation, if the actual world was ready, for this renovation and adaptation that he had created. There was no real precedence established of this innovative concept of painting, and he was not truly guaranteed of any form of instant success. However, his options were dwindling, and his finances were also reaching that extreme measure. The manifold debts with the banks and his other creditors were surmounting, with an unwanted celerity he had detested. One day in the city of Barcelona, he had taken the unpredictable risk afterwards of displaying in an art gallery our current paintings, and the reception by the public was a remarkable success and fortuitous endeavour that we cherished, as a momentous occasion.

Within the months that followed, he had achieved a brief stability that was meaningful and significant in his life. Yet, he could not replace the hopeless memory of Mercedes, and his rekindled inspiration to paint and travel had been subdued, by the lurking fear that absorbed his human psyche without pity. His friends and neighbours had taken notice of his unusual comportment unexplained. Nonetheless, none of them had imagined the profound contradiction of his internal thoughts and consternation. He had busied himself, with his books in his private library and the broad vineyards in the fields. Wine was our predilection, and women were our fine entertainment and pleasure. But he was too tired of that unfulfilment and immaterial dissatisfaction that I still craved for. Therefore, he had pondered the possibility of life overseas in The Americas. He had a promising offer for several expositions in New York. This was his ultimate opportunity to pay off his creditors and eliminate his countless debts. He accepted this generous offer and travelled, aboard a ship to New York. There, he spent two weeks displaying his paintings. He had returned to Spain then, and was free of his vexatious debts and felt a new beginning, at last. In spite of the fact that he had effectuated his prime objective, he was burdened by the absence of Mercedes. Subsequently, he had regressed into a caliginosity again, and the anguish had returned also. He thought only of her and his unannounced visit to Málaga.

I knew that his life without her was pointless, but he could not condemn her once more, to the miserable life she had experienced in their marriage. He was invited to present his art in Málaga, and he invited me to go. I had accepted his cordial invitation; although I was reluctant to believe that he could regain the love and trust of Mercedes. He had not been there, since they had abated their marriage, and he had not received tidings of her life or whereabouts. Simply, he was not aware, if she was still residing in Málaga or not. Before he had decided to accept the lucrative offer, he was diagnosed with the early stage of phthisis. The disclosure was something I did not suspect and could not believe in the inconceivable consequence that the disease indicated. The intimations of his demise were more deadly and patent. The doctor informed him that he had only months to live. His illness was not limited to his physicality, and his anxiety had begun to unhinge his brain. Francisco had an urgency to see Mercedes, for one last time. He tried to resist the temptation, but the portentous fear of dying before seeing her was difficult to eschew. Thus, he made the conscious decision to seek her in Málaga.

When we had arrived in the city, he searched for her throughout the main areas, where we had frequented and to no avail. As we were walking the streets of the centre, a lovely woman had crossed to the other side of the pavement. Francisco had recognised that familiar visage, with those indelible moments he had appreciated. The woman was without a doubt, his beloved Mercedes. All that he wanted to do was hold her in his arms, with a gentle embrace of affection. He had noticed her natural beauty and stare that had not altered at all. But the one thing that did was her new-fangled status. She appeared to have come into an inheritance. He knew she had siblings, but he was not keen on her interactions and relations. All he had cared about was her well-being and happiness, even if it did not include him any longer. She had stopped and paused, as if she sensed something odd. At first, he had thought that she had descried him. However, she did not recognise him, as we stood watching. In the end, he continued his observation, as she walked away. This was indeed, the final time he saw Mercedes in person.

Francisco left Málaga, never to return anew. Before he had departed the city, he visited the port one last time. He had collected colourful seashells on the beach and touched the water with his fingertips, in reminiscence of a golden generation gone forever. During the duration of the trip back to Córdoba, he had contemplated his predicament and foreseeable circumstance. Life would preclude his insatiable determination for success. Would he be forgotten by the selective group of artistic peers of august emulation? The precipitous deterioration of his body and mind were visibly seen, with the tangible effects of his affliction. He had ceased painting, and the only memorable vestige of Mercedes was a painting he had painted of her years ago, when he first met her in Málaga. The other portrait he had was of his dearest mother, who had passed away. If there was an unequivocal divinity called heaven, then I hoped that his irredeemable sins would be exculpated forthwith.

The grandiose vision he had once inspired would remain in those painters that dared to be different. As I recall in retrospection the last years of his life, I can attest that they were mostly reflective of his torment and angst that discomfited him. The discomfort of his depression and mental incapacity was evident and impossible to overcome. The voice in him to take his life had become louder and amain by the passing of the days. The phthisis had as well begun to debilitate his strength and volition. His attempt to employ blatant deception and distraction was totally futile and unproductive. Any form of connivance was rejected by his mind and opium was his nepenthe to rid himself of the daily pain and sorrow that had troubled him. He became dependent and addictive to the drug, but there was no other manner to control his intense apprehension and desperation. Every day was a brutal challenge of survival and thwarting the oppressive thoughts of his immolation. Perhaps, the strange irony in life is never fully answered, and its puzzling conundrum can be interpreted, as a moral conviction. How this is exactly determined, I do not know. Hence, this is a task for religion and philosophy to resolve in accordance. What we differ in discrepancy is nothing more than a mere discussion of human psychology imposed. Life and death are forever intertwined intrinsically in nature.

Upon an early morning in a day that was inconsequential, except for the fact that it was his last day on the earth, he took his life with no objection and hesitance. For those righteous individuals that dare to judge his action as an iniquity and aberration of God, then know that his action prudent or not was of his own selection. His vindictive critics will say that his madness, addiction and illness had distorted his rational thoughts completely to the point of no return. He did not take any considerable pleasure in his death or action committed. Instead, he had merely ended the madness that haunted him for years. Even though his life ended in an abrupt action, he had regretted only one priceless thing in his life, the loss of Mercedes. He could not replace her absence, and all the temporary success he had was not enough to fill his heart with just merriment. Francisco was discovered afterwards by an Arab peasant hanging from the strong branch of a tree, nearby the ancient mill and Guadalquivir River. The soothing breeze had accompanied him to his grim death. His onerous suffering was over, and the odyssey of his soul had begun its eternal course. He had often thought that the soul's trip to endless immortality was comparative to the many trips he took in train. If there was in sooth a celestial heaven, then let it be immensely boundless and beautiful, as the paean of the seraphim.

Remember him not for the mortal man he had failed to demonstrate, but the painter that shared his artistic vision with the world overtly. Do not mourn his death, instead be rejoiceful of his name and accomplishments duly. Although he died poor and vanquished by society, he was the proud son of Almodóvar. Before he died in Córdoba, I had known in my heart that he had seen from afar, the fainting image of his nostalgic village. Pay homage not to us, but to the painters that had inspired us, Picasso, Gaudí, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. History will remember him always, for his innate brilliance and artistic vision, beyond his time. He was born into a covetous and materialistic society that was not conducive to our peirastic vision and aspiration. The precarious sin of avidity was the one sin man had not learnt to conquer, since birth. Francisco left behind no child, no concubine, no property and no will.

The indispensable remnants of his existence were found in the letters he wrote to his fellow artists that he called friends and the two paintings he kept of his mother and Mercedes. The last portrait he had painted was of his envisioned tragic suicide. It was discovered by me, his close friend. What had fascinated the world of this particular painting was the depiction of the seraphim of palliation that had hovered above his dead body. To many people the painting was macabre and indecent, to others it was incredible and innovative, as the painters we had admired tremendously. There was another striking image on the portrait, and that was the lone figure of a mysterious man within the background. It would remain an unsolved mystery and triviality. But those who knew him well as I did, they could affirm that the deliberate silhouette of a painter was Francisco Montero in quintessence, and not a paltry representation of a vague shadow.

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