Title: The Hidden Masterpiece
Submission Day: 28 March (Day 5) The Artist Inside
Word count: ~2,600
Summary: set some time in 1850-60s. Kurt is a young painter who has just arrived in the city. The first thing he does is visit master Smythe’s studio, hoping that it will change his life, and it does.
[The beginning is a shameless imitation of Honoré de Balzac’s short story The Hidden Masterpiece. The title is also taken from it. There is also a quote from it in the fic. And Balzac didn’t like gays. Oops]
A/N: Albrecht Durer is mentioned here and there is a link to the painting Sebastian talks about.
The front door is big and has intricate wooden designs. There is a golden ring to knock and just a few years ago Kurt wouldn’t be able to reach it. Today he can, and he reaches out, but a much larger and bulky hand grips it before he gets a chance and knocks on the door two times.
Kurt doesn’t have time to turn around and see who it is, because that minute the door opens. On the other side stands the artist, the great Sebastian Smythe. He looks them over and nods to the man behind Kurt in greeting as he ushers them in.
He probably thinks I’m with that man. Kurt puts his hat on the small shelf above the hangers and steals a quick glance at the man who entered with him.
He is big and sturdy, with a bushy beard. He struts into the studio without taking off his hat or his coat, unceremoniously coming up to one of master Smythe’s paintings.
Kurt hesitantly follows, not very comfortable at not actually being invited, but at the same time eager to see what the artist is working on now.
It is… new. It is a whirlwind of colors and strokes. It is the fluidity incarnate.
Kurt breathes out a sigh of wonder.
The strange man doesn’t seem to be very impressed. He studies the picture for long ten minutes, coming up closer, drawing back, looking at it from one side, then from another.
"And what are you calling it, Sebastian?" asks the man, frowning.
“Evening at the riverside.”
The man makes a distressed noise.
"What is it, Frank?" the artist’s tone sounds a bit mocking, but it can just be Kurt’s imagining things.
"I think it is dull. Disorganized. Too much color, you cannot concentrate on one thing in the painting. It’s not eye-catching, just something you pass by at the exhibition because…"
With every word the man says, Kurt gets more infuriated. The painting is of a remarkable beauty. It expresses a feeling, an emotion in its pure form. Kurt bites his tongue, not daring to remark that the man probably doesn’t have any feelings and that is why he cannot possibly understand this masterpiece.
Frank goes on and on about everything that, in his opinion, is wrong. Master Smythe stares at the opposite wall with annoyed expression and pursued lips.
Frank keeps on criticizing, becoming harsher and harsher, and just when it becomes unbearable Kurt snaps, “I think it is a real chef d’oeuvre.”
The other two men turn to him in surprise..
"And do you mind me asking, young man, who are you?” Frank’s turned towards him and is now staring at him from the leverage of his height and size.
Kurt stumbles over his words a bit,”My name is Kurt Hummel. I - I came to the city to become a painter and t-to seek apprenticeship at your studio, m-master Smythe.”
The artist looks in him contemplatively for a few moments, and then says, “Very well. Thank you for appreciating my work.”
Frank actually snorts, and the sound seems more like a grunt. “I’m just giving you an honest opinion, Sebastian. I do appreciate some of your earlier paintings,” he says, gesturing at one of the corners of the studio where a lot of canvases are piled up in a careless manner.
Kurt wonders if there are those amazing pictures that he’s heard so much about.
And it overwhelms him. For the first time since he’s entered the studio, he feels out of place. What has he been thinking? Daring to go straight to this great artist’s studio, entering without being invited, interrupting…
"I’m - Excuse me. It’s time for me to go, so… I’ll go," and Kurt swirls around, ready to march out of the door and try to never ever meet Sebastian Smythe. Because Kurt’s presumptuousness is, frankly, embarrassing and he will never ever tell anyone of this very forward and too bold misstep.
Kurt hastily turns at Frank’s voice.
"Draw what you see in this painting that you so generously called a‘chef d’oeuvre’."
He is handed a piece of paper and a pencil. “I’m sorry?”
"Just draw. If you’re talented, I might just forgive your misconception of Sebastian’s picture."
Kurt darts his eyes to master Smythe, but he’s just standing there, looking amused. When he feels Kurt’s eyes on him, he almost unnoticeably nods.
Well. Kurt tentatively lays the paper down on the table and keeps glancing at the picture and then back at his sketch. He tries to forget that there’s someone to impress in the room and concentrates on the drawing itself.
He quickly finishes and, flushed, hands it to Frank.
The man raises an eyebrow at seeing the drawing. “Hm, it is actually not bad. But I still don’t see what you, with your young romantic mind, see in that painting.” There is a note of sarcasm in his last words and he punctuates it with a pointed glare at master Smythe.
"Okay, gentlemen, I will be off. I’m done here. Take it," he thrusts Kurt’s sketch in master Smythe’s direction and starts walking to the door. On his way there he throws around his shoulder, "and Sebastian, this thing, this strange thing you decided to call a painting, is not going to make it to any newspaper. Yet. I am just warning you.” With that he finally goes out of the door.
“Idiot,” mutters master Smythe. Then he briefly glances at Kurt’s sketch and then back at the boy himself.
"I don’t usually take apprentices, I prefer working in solitude,” he says.
Kurt’s heart falls. He should have known. At least it’s not because you’re not talented and stupid, an inner voice chimes in, comforting.
"But… The way you defended me in front of Frank, one of the most biting and unbearable critics, is very admirable. And I like your interpretation of my riverside," he scratches at his head, unsure. "I guess I’ll make an exception for you. When are you ready to start?"
For one instance Kurt doesn’t believe that his fate has changed in the matter of seconds. Then he realizes - I am an apprentice to a real painter, my dreams are coming true - and grins, trying not to squeal.
"I can start right now."
There is that very popular idea, or more like a misconception, as Kurt considers it, that if you are scared of even breathing properly when there is a great painter present in one room with you, then you’ll be a great artist. Well, it isn’t really formulated like this, more like: “is there a man slender in fortune, rich in his spring-time of genius, whose heart has not beaten loudly as he approached the master of his art? If there be, the man will forever lack some heart-string, some touch, I know not what, in his brush, some fibre in his creations, some sentiment in his poetry.”
But Kurt is angry, and even inspiring words of one of the most amazing writers of French literature won’t calm him.
The only thing Kurt now wants to do in master Smythe’s presence is to strangle the man. Or beat him up with an easel. I can break one of its legs, and it will be very sharp, thinks Kurt.
And that’s all because he’s now yet again completely changing another one of his own paintings, since Sebastian said so.
It’s not like he doesn’t like the changes, they are actually very reasonable. Frankly, for the past two months he’s learned twice as much as he’s known before. But it does nothing to decrease Kurt’s assurance that Sebastian is obnoxiously ill-mannered and crude.
Who would have known?
He keeps on painting but is still reeling on the inside. Eventually the painting process gets him so involved that he stops noticing anything around him.
Sebastian enters the room. The man doesn’t make his presense known for a few minutes, watching Kurt from afar. Then he suddenly stalks towards the other man and lightly slaps at Kurt’s hand that is holding a brush, and it falls down, splashing some of the paint on Kurt’s shoes.
"What is it now?" asks irritated Kurt.
Without even sparing him a look, Sebastian points to Kurt’s painting and spits out, “What are you, Dürer? What’s these math’s symbols everywhere and and hard lines? And compasses, seriously? Still too much of a melancholic romantic, are you, Kurt?”
Kurt scowls, “And you’re too much of an abstractionist.”
“What I draw is not an abstraction, it’s real life! You should understand it by now
Sebastian grabs a brush from the nearest table, takes some paint and starts adding light strokes to the picture. And just barest of touches transform it right in front of Kurt’s eyes: it’s alive and breathing and Kurt can swear that he feels the wind and the sunlight.
He is also mesmerized by the way Sebastian’s hand moves. His wrist flexes in different directions, gracefully goes from one position to another. Then there is this one stroke that goes on until the lowest part of the picture which is unbearably erotic. Kurt’s breath hitches.
Sebastian is holding out the brush with his elegant long fingers.
“I trust you to never try to copy those unneeded symbols, alright?”
Kurt takes the brush and nods shakily. “Yeah.”
Another two months come and go, and Kurt has managed to throw all imaginable (and unimaginable) insults at Sebastian.
He also finds himself staring at the other man more often than not, feeling some kind of attraction. He’ll never admit it though.
But as an artist Kurt has become incomparably better. In fact, so much better that he has his first painting included into an exhibition. He hasn’t succumbed to Sebastian’s style yet, but under his guidance he’s learnt how to make a painting come alive, how to make colors more vivid and bright.
The day of the exhibition Kurt wakes up earlier than usual. He lies in bed for a while trying to calm down his nerves.
When he finally comes downstairs, Sebastian, with his sleeves rolled up to his upper forearms, is already in the studio, painting. His lean muscles are accentuated by the morning sunlight streaming through the windows. His movements are slow and considered. Desire quickly surges inside of Kurt, making him forget all anxiety about the exhibition.
Generally, Kurt tries to suppress these lustful feelings, because even though Sebastian is an exceptionally beautiful man, he’s impertinent and conceited. But today this want is making him forget all his worries and Kurt decides that he can survive a day of being attracted to this man, as long as it prevents him from making a fool out of himself at his first exhibition.
Curious as to why Sebastian is up so early, Kurt tiptoes up to him, trying to make as little sound as possible.
The painting is exquisite. Kurt hasn’t seen it before: there aren’t any hard lines or details. It is a chaos of colours that, as Kurt supposes, depict the sky. Because it’s all blue and pale violet, although there is some green. Kurt is starting to think that it might be a sea.
Kurt knows the exact moment when Sebastian feels his presence. The man tenses but doesn’t turn around. “Morning,” he mutters.
“Morning. What are you painting?”
“It’s called ‘The Eyes’,” says Sebastian and, having added a splash of dark green paint in the middle, he turns around, staring right at Kurt, with something inexplicable in his eyes.
Kurt flinches a bit at the unexpected gaze.
“What do you think?”
Kurt’s eyes dart towards the easel. All shades and tints of colour mesh together impeccably, evoking a whirlwind of different emotions: from melancholy to joy, from timidity to boldness.
Sebastian nods in agreement, saying a bit haughtily, “Yes, it is.”
Kurt snorts, “Really? Well, I think I can point out a few imperfections, so to speak.” Kurt gestures at a couple of light brown drops near the centre. “What is brown exactly doing here? This just ruins the whole image. You should have stuck to strictly blue with occasional green. It would have been more natural that way.”
“Oh, you think?” Sebastian looks too amused for Kurt’s liking. “But it would not be realistic then. And I strive to be as authentic and truthful as possible. Close to the original, you see.”
Kurt shifts nervously, sensing that he’s missing a crucial point in this conversation.
“What are you talking about?”
Sebastian takes a step closer, determination is visible in his eyes, leans down, and Kurt doesn’t even have time to grasp what is going on, when Sebastian’s lips catch his in a heated kiss.
It’s intense and flooding all his senses, it also feels as great as he imagined. Oh my God, I’m kissing Sebastian, is the only thing Kurt can think of before all rational thought evaporate from his mind.
minutes later they part and Sebastian, still holding Kurt close, whispers in his ear, “Darling, it was your eyes that I painted.”
One sunny afternoon there is a knock on the door of the studio. Kurt turns away from his own work to look at Sebastian who is painting in the opposite side of the room.
“Are you expecting someone?”
“Not that I know of. You?”
Sebastian sighs and goes to open the door. Kurt can hear a male voice, speaking excitedly. Next he hears Sebastian chuckle and then the closing of the door, and steps nearing the studio.
There is a young man with blond hair, probably in his early twenties but not much older than Kurt. He looks around the room reverently, eager to take in as much of it as he can.
When his eyes land on Kurt, he frowns, suspiciously eyeing him.
“So what is that you want to inquire about?”
“I admire your t-talent, master Smythe, and I have v-visited all your exhibitions, even the l-last one, which everyone c-called c-controversial,” the man keeps stuttering and it’s really annoying Kurt, because he can guess where it’s all going and he doesn’t like it, “but I think it’s ab-bsolutely b-brilliant! Magical, even! Superb!”
Kurt cringes. It’s the exact opposite of how he himself speaks of Sebastian’s paintings. He isn’t blinded by awe, he is truthful and he knows that Sebastian respects him for that.
But this man, with his adoring eyes and incessant complements, would definitely appeal to Sebastian’s ego.
“I would like to become your apprentice, sir.”
Kurt closes his eyes because he’s known that it was an imminent question. He turns back to his painting, bracing himself for Sebastian’s impending agreement and already trying to learn to tolerate that obnoxiously doting strange man.
“I am very flattered,” says Sebastian, “but I don’t take pupils or apprentices.”
“Ah, Kurt? He is not my pupil or anything like that. He’s my closest… friend and partner.”
“Oh, I see,” says the man, sighing in disappointment. Kurt fails to sympathize. “I will be going then.”
“Alright. Take care and have a good afternoon!”
The minute the door behind the man closes, Sebastian walks up to Kurt and wraps his arms around him.
“Let’s head upstairs for a while.”
Kurt presses closer to Sebastian, trying to hide his grin. “Okay.”
Sebastian takes his hand and starts leading him to the staircase, “Were you jealous?”
Kurt huffs, “What? No!” Of course, he was.
“That’s good. Because you have absolutely no reason for that.”
Sebastian lovingly grins at him and at this moment Kurt feels like he knows all the answers in the world: love is that hidden mysterious masterpiece, and you just need to look closer to find it.