‘Le Marchand de masques’ by Zacharie Astruc

Jardin du Luxembourg

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    On 23 April 1859 Berlioz conducted a performance of l’Enfance du Christ at the Opéra-Comique (cf. Correspondance Générale [hereafter CG for short] nos. 2364, 2366-7 before the concert, and 2368-71 after it). Present in the audience was the writer and artist Zacharie Astruc (1835-1907) who wrote a warm review of the work in the journal Le quart d’heure. Berlioz was very touched by the review and wrote to Astruc to thank him (CG no. 2374, on 23 May):

Allow me to thank you for the fine article you have just written about my concert. Nothing I have read about my musical endeavours has ever touched me so keenly. – As always the grimacing face of irony is there to whisper in my ear: « This is not true; M. Astruc is deceived and is deceiving you. You are fools, both of you. » But there is another judge one might turn to, who sits close to one’s innermost feelings. And when I ask this other judge: « Is my critic a fool, am I a fool, are we both deceived to such an extent? Is the love of truth and beauty a delusion, is passion a fraud, is enthusiasm a hallucination?… » The judge answers me « No, no, no, no…. and no. »

You love what I love, you honour and worship my gods; and that is why to the joy of being praised by you is added a keener, deeper and more intense feeling, the clear-sighted fanaticism of a devotee of the same religion.

That is why I borrow a few words from Shakespeare to say to you:

Most noble brother, give me your hand…

    A few days later Astruc replied to Berlioz at length – the preservation of his reply is in itself an indication of how much it meant to Berlioz, given that after the death of his son Louis in 1867 Berlioz destroyed many letters that had been sent to him (CG no. 2376, 6 June):

[…] What a kind letter! and how happy it made me feel… At first I was in a state of great confusion. My mind is so far below the severe and lofty estimate of your genius that I thought it unworthy of this warm approval. […] These noble words of praise have refreshed my spirit. It seems I had the good fortune to please you, the good fortune to understand you, and the expression of my feelings caused you to smile and applaud…

Thank you a thousand times, Monsieur and dear Master, for so many joys. […]

[…] You have suffered for the sake of art, but your suffering is still a triumph. There are no more blind men, only wicked men. But wicked men disappear like everything else in this world, while admiration remains. Your work is one of the most priceless artistic monuments of our time. […]

    It is clear from a casual allusion in the composer’s correspondence that Berlioz and Astruc subsequently met and remained friends (CG no. 2470, 25 January 1860), though there is apparently no further evidence on their relations. But years later, in 1883, Astruc made his bronze statue Le Marchand de masques [The Seller of Masks], which includes ten masks representing ten major French national figures. It is no accident that Berlioz should be among them. A plaque on one side of the pedestal reads: Le marchand présente les masques de Hugo, Gambetta, Corot, Dumas fils, Berlioz, Carpeaux, Faure, Delacroix, Balzac, et Barbey d’Aurevilly.


Unless otherwise stated, all the photos on this page were taken by Michel Austin in June 2013. All rights of reproduction are reserved.

1. Jardin du Luxembourg in 2013

1.1 General views

A panoramic view

(Large view)

Palais du Luxembourg

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(Large view)

1.2. “Le Marchand de masques” 

(Large view)

(Large view)

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(Large view)

Mask of Berlioz

(Large view

“Le Marchand de masques” in 2006

(Large view)

(Large view)

We are most grateful to Mr Werner Gladines for sending us the above two photos, taken on 21 October 2006.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for the information on this page. All rights of reproduction reserved. This page was created in December 2006 and updated on 1 August 2013.

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