This past autumn when I attended a writing workshop in Essoyes, France, I became acquainted with Alphonsine Fournaise. She was one of Pierre Auguste Renoir’s models, and the room I stayed in at The Hotel les Canotiers, was dedicated to her likeness. A reproduction of her painting hung facing my bed and she seemed to look at me as though she knew secrets about me that I had yet to discover. Her smile, contented but sly, invoked a sense of her spirit and I began to think of myself in terms of ‘what would Alphonsine do’.
She followed me to Paris, where I met the original painting of her at the Musee d’Orsay. I tried to find a print of her in their gift shop, but was unsuccessful. I checked various shops around my home and still no Alphonsine.
Then I looked online for calendars with Renoir as the featured theme and voila, there she was, blond curls peeking out from her bonnet. It could have been a game of hide and seek, so rich was her seeming joyful expression at being found. I did not hesitate but purchased it on sight. When it arrived, it had various other selected works of Renoir including. ‘The Pathway through the high Grass’ . This painting resonates as well. It was inspired by the hill above the hotel and we walked through that very meadow, now a vineyard, as though we had stepped into his painting and kept on going. Wildflowers still dotted the hills and the spaces between rows of champagne and pinot noir grapes.
“Alphonsine”, said friends, “what kind of name is that?”
They don’t know my great-grandfather’s name was Alphonse. Coincidence; maybe. But I think she is my muse and when I feel shy about writing what it is I really want to say, I conjure her image and find the courage to dig deep. She is above my computer and she’s still smiling her contented, sly smile. Alphonsine knows something and I hope to find out what it is someday. For now, I know she is helping me discover what I know.