3. A Shoulder to Lean on
In 1960, Jean‐Paul Crespelle (1910—1994), a French journalist who authored books about the Belle Époque artists of Montmartre and Montparnasse, published Modigliani: Les femmes, les amis, l’oeuvre…The title of Crespelle’s fourth chapter, “Un amateur aveugle” (A Blind Amateur), is an homage to Angély, about whom he writes…
Léon Angély, called “Father Léon,” was a little old white‐haired man whose figure was familiar to the people of the Butte. A retired clerk, he lived in a tiny apartment on rue Gabrielle filled with bric‐a‐brac. He was a kind of passionate second‐hand “Cousin Pons,” who spent most of his retirement buying paintings from the artists he met in the bistros around Place du Tertre. His taste was surprisingly good, but he never offered more than ten francs for a painting. This passion was not a disinterested one. Father Léon, not without reason, had told himself that among the rapins of Montmartre there would be some who would achieve success. So one day he might find himself commanding a collection that would be worth a fortune. His plan might have worked if he hadn’t lost his sight and, little by little, had gone blind. Despite this handicap, he refused to give in to bad luck and continued to buy paintings.
Leaning on the shoulder of a young girl who served as his guide, he went to the studios and had the paintings described to him. From what the little one told him, he made his choice, relying on his flair. It is remarkable that the rapins presented him only with works of quality; they made it a point of honor not to give him mere daubs.
In the end Father Léon was punished for his venal love of art. As the war depleted his resources, he was forced to sell his Modiglianis and Utrillos. He had nothing left when he died: it was in 1921, just when the popularity of the artists he had discovered began to soar. A few more years and Father Léon would have died a millionaire!...(Crespelle 1960)
The thematic structuring of this entry as well as Crespelle’s reference to “Cousin Pons” makes it clear that he’s also relying on the urtext of [Douglas’s] Modigliani biography, Artist Quarter… But he adds a tantalizing new ingredient: une fillette (a little girl). From what source does he draw this central figure? For the time being, we can only guess.