Julian Barnes, "The Limner"

A deaf-mute portrait artist works on his last commissioned work.

(from The New Yorker, Jan. 5, 2009)

Mr. Tuttle had been argumentative from the beginning: about the fee—twelve dollars—the size of the canvas, and the prospect to be shown through the window. Fortunately, there had been swift accord about the pose and the costume. Over these, Wadsworth was happy to oblige the customs collector; happy also to give him the appearance, as far as it was within his skill, of a gentleman. That was, after all, his business. He was a limner but also an artisan, and paid at an artisan’s rate to produce what suited the client.

I knew what it was to limn, but not what it was to be a limner, before I read this story. It’s an interesting thing, the life of a traveling artist, one who will never make more than a pittance for his impressive work and philosophical considerations. Well, this limner had them, anyway. There’s a thin brushstroke between harmless flattery and sinful dishonesty when it comes to painting these ugly, aspiring aristocrats.
Read the story here.
More on Julian Barnes here.

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