Madame Dedain, teacher: I taught Jacque in primary school, the basic curriculum for a child his age: arithmetic, letters, music and art. He was not a terrible student, but he was distracted.
I apologize because that’s not true: Jacque was a terrible student. He was stupid and unruly.
But I took pity on him because of his home life. Some in the area said it was Jacque’s mother who was the real painter in the family. His mother was a great beauty with dark, lustrous hair and gigantic eyes the shocking blue color of the sky at twilight. It was said she had taken a lover – a woman who owned a café in town and painted under a male pseudonym– and it was this woman who had introduced Jacque’s mother to painting. I never saw her work, but it must have been quite good because Jacque’s father went to great lengths to keep it hidden.
If you look at Jacque’s works, the representation of the female – there is so much ambiguity. It’s as if he was unsure how himself felt about his mother and his lovers, and perhaps his mother’s lover?
I remember one incident from our classroom, so vividly: Jacque had fallen asleep, with his head on his little desk. When the other students saw my noticing this rude, sleeping child in my classroom, one of them tried to nudge Jacque awake. At the moment, Jacque began trembling in his sleep, crying out a name that none of us recognized.
Marie Betiste, lover: To be loved by Jacque was to be loved incompletely. Jacque’s work was his love. But when he had time for me, there was a timidity and honor in his eyes that broke my heart.
Some of Jacque’s most passionate detractors at that time said he was a man filled with demons, too many, perhaps for success. I never saw those demons. I wish I had seen Jacque’s demons so I could have protected him from them. But he was gone to America before I ever figured him out. We spent two years together – this was while he was married to Madeleine. But it was neither his wife nor me he was devoted to. It was the work. It was this dream of crossing the Atlantic and becoming a great artist.
Hans Beurteilung, fellow painter: I met Jacque in Greenwich Village soon after he arrived from France. I had been in the United States at that point for three years. I was in my early 20s and working very hard to get my paintings shown. Jacque was a few years younger and jealous of the success I was having. Because we had no money, Jacque and I lived together in a squalid studio on the Bowery for about a year until my success became greater, so great, in fact, that I finally left and acquired a large, stylish apartment of my own. Jacque was a typical Frenchman: arrogant, unfocused, lazy. He also had terrible grooming habits, which is another reason why, I’m sure, the women were not as amorous with him as they were with me. He also couldn’t paint worth a damn. Why the art world now wastes its time revisiting that idiot’s work is a mystery.