Across the Generations - Hale Family

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[Ellen Day "Nelly" Hale to her mother, Emily (Perkins) Hale, 1883]

Paris March 11/83

My dearest Family Mama
      In two months from today I shall be a day out, and I suppose very seasick, but still happy in the thought of seeing you so soon. We are beginning to feel our days in Paris most decidedly numbered--and yet, nearly two months is by no means a short length of time, and a great deal can be done in it.
      I must tell you of a revelation or plan to which my mind has been coming in the course of the last week, and which is now as nearly fixed as in so short a time, without your and Papa's approbation, anything can be for me. I suppose it might be wiser to say nothing about it till the details are more clean in my own mind, especially as it may all end in smoke; but I dislike not to be entirely frank with you about even my hopes or wishes, especially as I think I did wrong in not being so last summer.
      This all sounds as if I were going to be married; but nothing of the sort is going to occur. It is only that, if I can earn the money, or borrow some of it for instance Mr. Kidder, without taking a cent from Papa. I am very anxious to come out here next winter. That I won't take the money from Papa, I'm entirely resolved. That I can earn some respectable amount at home before next December, I'm sure. That if I do borrow any money of anybody, I can repay it by the exercise of my profession, I'm perfectly sure too.
      I know that I am asking a great deal of you in asking to stay here six months, with the going and coming. It has made me more unhappy than I can very well describe; but I do think I am right in forming the plan.
      It was my conversation with Julian
1 last week which set me thinking of it, and an ensuing conversation which he had with Margaret. I know the Patron occasionally tells lies; but I don't think, and she doesn't, that his interest in me and my future is an invented one; he seems to be very desirous to keep hold of me and make me a credit to him; and when a French professor does undertake to push you, he has it in his power to make you go a good way. Julian, who likes money, is very glad of his women's classes, which pay him twice as much as the men's; and every clever scholar he has is of course an excellent card. For instance, one reason I wanted to go to his class was my admiration for Mademoiselle Breslau2, who had been educated there. That I shall ever be like Mlle. Breslau is of course unlikely, but there's no reason why he and his professors shouldn't make me a very much better painter than I am; and I should like to count as a good painter at Paris, as well as at home. I have never, since Mr. Hunt helped me through with Robby's portrait, had a professor who has taken the interest in me which this one does. If he continues to do so, I think it would be wise to take advantage of it, even at a sacrifice which I assure you, will be a very real one to me. I feel more and more the need of the kind of thing I am learning in that class; and I do feel very anxious to come back next winter for six months more of it.
      I went to Julian's yesterday with my picture to show it to him and Fleury
3, the latter of whom didn't come. Julian gave me some good advice about my background; then I said Monsieur, I don't know exactly what to do about my Salon blank; I know people generally write here Mm. Tony Robert-Fleury et Cot4 as their professors; now I never saw M. Cot and you've been my real professor.   This was perfectly true, it seemed to me a farce to write Cot's name instead of Julian's, who really knows me better than Fleury. --He was pleased but said no indeed that he supposed I knew that these gentlemen's services were disinterested, and that 'twas only proper to give them whatever credit was due; that 'twas fifteen years since he'd given up any reputation of his own; and that when, as occasionally happened, he had really formed a pupil, he had still given the credit to their professors. Don't write my name, mademoiselle, said he and I shall be just as much obliged as if you had. --Then I told him that I hoped to take his advice and come back next winter, and that it was a decision which had cost me very dear. He said he was very glad to hear it, that he didn't think it need take me so very long, and implied that he'd get me on as fast as he could, which he liked to do for some few industrious persons, but not for others; also he said something about a petit programme, which will probably be developed in future. So we parted with mutual compliments.
      Now if it's nothing but compliments, I shall find out long before I leave Paris: he can't keep it up unless he has a real reason for wishing to keep me. But I do feel the want of the six months' strict work.
      I know that this will give pain to both of you, and I think particularly of my Papa; I don't address this letter to him, because I don't like to suddenly spring it upon him, but of course it's all to you both. I am thinking with the greatest delight of getting home in May, and you mustn't think that I shall leave my heart in Paris, because I shall bring it with me. But I do feel, much more than I did at Carolus's
5, that I'm in a place where I can learn the things in which I was most deficient. I always work there with pleasure, and never have the horrid stuck feeling I used to have at Duran's.
      Now I must stop. I hope you will appreciate my motive in writing as I do; it is possible I may be distressing you to no purpose; but I must tell you what I am thinking of.
      Of course if you liked, you could send Phil
6 out with me; but I can't make up my mind to taking the responsibility of casting him loose yet in that men's class. I think that he is much too good and too fine a person to be led atray by the bad fellows; his ignorance of spoken French would also be a great advantage to him there. I should infinitely enjoy having him here with me, and we could live very happily together; and if I were in the men's class myself, which I never shall be, I should feel very differently about it. However, we can talk all that over soon!

        Your very loving

General note:   For the most part, transcripts retain the author's original spelling, abbreviations, underlining, capitalization, and punctuation (or lack thereof).   Transcriber's comments, changes or additions are in brackets.

1. Rodolphe Julian of the Academie Julian a competing studio where men's and women's classes of aspiring artists were prepared for the entrance examination to the Ecole des Beaux Arts
2. Noted Swiss woman painter Louise-Catherine Breslau
3. Hale's teacher, the French painter Tony Robert-Fleury
4. French painter and teacher Pierre-Auguste Cot
5. The studio where Hale had studied previously, run by Emile-Auguste Carolus Duran
6. Ellen Day Hale's brother Philip Leslie Hale, who also became painter

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©2002 Sophia Smith Collection