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Cabinet of Chic Curiosities

The Photographers Promise

“Parisian woman with her cat in her cannabis garden, 1910”

On October 16, 1910, in Montmartre, reports of Shiraz vines drying up outshone news that Alfred Kannst was found partially decapitated. Both stories begin in 1905 when Aryanna de Bosque arrived from Persia.  Aryanna took her cat and two small shrubs to the pastoral hills above Paris, stopping at the fountain where St. Denis washed his own severed head in 250 AD.

She traded her Shiraz vine for lodging near the Au Lapin Agile Cabaret. She cavorted with dancers and artists. She witnessed young Picasso trade Gérard a painting for food. In 1989, that painting sold for $40.7 million. She began to barter in art. Works attributed to her collection break auction records.

Alfred Kannst sought to be a famous painter, but pursued women more than expertise. One evening, Alfred was harassing a dancer. Taking pity on the girl, Aryanna intervened.

“Painter?”

“How did you know?”

“Fingernails.”

“I thought I was recognized.”

“I know your work.”

“You do?”

 “It’s awful. Too sober.”

“Art’s supposed to be honest!” his voice cracked

“Are you honest?”

Alfred shrugged. The dancer exited.

“There’s an art suited to more realistic sensibilities.”

“Don’t say engineer.”

“Photographer.”

Alfred laughed. “I’m an artist, not a chemist.”

“Some consider photography an art.”

Alfred looked her up and down and shook his head. “Nonsense.”

Three days later, Alfred received another rejection from his dealer. He marched to Aryanna’s.

“Abandon painting and I will make you a famous photographer.” Aryanna demanded.

Alfred promised to abandon painting as a cold wind rustled his collar.

Aryanna spit in her hand and held it out. Alfred driveled a little spittle and shook.

She made him pledge two more things:

1.     Never touch her shrub.

2.     Never enter her wine cellar.

She taught him the tablotype method. He practiced on her in the garden. He was a good student and she a fine study, but she refused to cross her legs. Aryanna would take dried flowers to artists and return with paintings she put directly in the cellar. Alfred asked to see, but Aryanna refused.

Soon, Alfred’s tablotypes were famous, but he knew he abandoned the noble art of painting for the lesser craft of photography. One night, at Au Lapin Agile, he suffered a painter’s insult. Drunk and hurt, he climbed the wall to Aryanna’s garden and plucked a flower while her cat watched.

Back at his apartment, he smoked. His pupils dilated. Strange images and colors burst forth like spring. An apparition of a peasant woman in a vibrant field, the house beyond smouldering radiantly. Morning found him filthy and demanding peculiar pigments. He did nothing for two days but forge a tableau of his flower vision.

Once finished, he took it to his art dealer. Aryanna was waiting outside the gallery, holding her cat.

“You’ve broken your promise.”

“But I’ve made the grandest work of art!” he said revealing the painting.

 “Yes, I remember it.” Aryanna said swallowing hard.

“I’ve only just shown you!”

“Your vision, my memory.” she said leaving.

“Wait! I need more!”

“You can have more when you perform the miracle of Saint Denis.” she shouted without turning.

The dealer loved it. Crowds and critics praised it. More paintings were commissioned. When the celebrations faded, Alfred found his inspiration dry.

Days later, he was banging on Aryanna’s door. The door caved into an empty apartment and barren garden. He lurched to the wine cellar. It was empty save for a simple dagger inscribed “Le miracle de Saint Denis.” He howled and spit at it.

The dealer became impatient. Alfred began talking to himself. He painted nightmarish, headless saints. The gallery didn’t even try to sell them.

By October, Alfred was broke. He made a scene at the gallery. His name was ruined. The night of the 15th, he was seen prowling about the fountain with a dagger and growling at street urchins.

In the morning, Alfred was found partially decapitated and wet. The authorities couldn’t confirm suicide, so they arrested a nearby beggar. That afternoon the Shiraz vines dried up, the vintners vowed never to grow Shiraz and a boat arrived in New York, all passengers dead except a woman, a cat, a shrub and a crate of paintings.

Sam Michaux is a shampoo salesman from Minnesota. You can see what he’s up to on Instagram.

Read more stories from the MNC Storyteller Challenge here.