“I still don’t know where you’re going with this,” the nude woman said in French. “Why does everyone else get to wear clothes, and you stick me out here like a peeled apple?”
“You are the heart of the painting,” Manet growled from behind his easel. “Freedom! Nonconformity! Revolution!”
“What I am is getting bitten by bugs. History will cast me as a dope, not a hero. ‘Why is she naked?’ people a hundred years from now will ask. ‘Doesn’t she know ants will eat her bum?’”
“I’m ushering in a new era of art,” the Impressionist assured her. “They won’t ask realistic questions because they will be too shocked with style to fixate on content. Your white skin against his black suit. The ghostly background woman wading. The two chauvinists bathing in your sensuousness. It’s about composition. It’s about shapes. It’s about color–or the lack of it.”
“What it’s about is a lack of clothing,” the woman grumbled. “What am I doing out here bare as a baked croissant? I’m talking not only as a model, but as the woman in your painting, a wife, a mother; a writer, a barrister. Is it my nature to flaunt my body? Did I do it as a young lady reveling in her own self-worth, or was I merely a quirky flirt, an easy mark?”
“None of those,” Manet replied, “and all of those.”
“I don’t want to represent any more than I am, which may be the last vestige of female self-respect,” the woman retorted. “I just want to put on a blouse, skirt and sandals. I want these two apes to stop staring at my chest. You’d think they just escaped from years on Elba. I hope you’re at least lifting and rounding my breasts.”
“I’m doing what I need to do,” the painter said. “Now be quiet, can’t you, and earn your pay. I cannot create with such a chatterbox.”
“I have to pee, and both my legs are asleep. Have you thought of a title yet?”
“Lunch on the Grass,” announced Manet. “Lovely, concise, descriptive.”
“How about, Underpaid Nude Model Sitting Beside Perverts? You want descriptive, that nails it.”
“Enough already!” thundered the artist. “Take half an hour, but don’t get dressed. Your robe is on the stump where you left it. My God, what I put up with to change the world.”
“No,” the woman said, rising stiffly. “It is what I put up with. You they’ll remember. Me they’ll gawk at.”
Manet rolled a cigarette and handed it to her. She tied her cover closed as he lit the cigarette for her, then she turned up the road that led back to the village.
“Come back!” he called.
She raised her hand, but in a wave “Okay” or telling him to stuff it, he couldn’t be sure.