The Portrait Maker

Today’s guest blogger is Earl James.


An old man was lying in a bricked sidewalk. His face covered by a worn out fedora hat, his beard was gray and almost reached his stomach. A few pedestrians will stop at the presence of the old man, some will throw coins, and some give blank stares. A cop walked towards the old beggar now sitting, his back lying on a bakery’s wall.

“Stand up Ol’ man!” the cop said “you are not allowed here!”

The old man stood up, put his hat on and walked past the cop. He didn’t say anything.

“You left something Ol’ man” the cop shouted holding an old and dirty paint brush.

A crowd started to build up, curious about what is happening. The old man continued to walk. He didn’t even bother to look back. The cop shrugged and put the brush in one of his pockets. The crowd dissipated as quickly as it formed. The old man continued to walk; he walked wherever his feet would take him, he walked to eternity. Few people would look in his greasy face trying to remember if they know who the old man is. But only few could recognize him. Only few actually knew him. Only few knew his name. Only few could remember the artist he once was.

Camlin was a painter, an excellent painter rather. He was born in Berlin on 1931 but he was just five years young when his father brought them to Paris. When Hitler and the Nazi attacked France they quickly flew to Ontario, there he was captivated by the beauty of the great Niagara Falls. When he turned eighteen, he went to the United States to study in college. He spent five years wandering around New England while studying medicine. Camlin fell in love with New York, visiting its grand museums that made him fascinated about the art. Finally he gave up his studies and decided to go back to France to explore a life as a painter.

He learned the craft in Paris, going over to Louvre every day to study the paintings of Da Vinci, Van Gogh and many other great painters of the time. He was greatly influenced by Rembrandt in fact Camlin’s first art piece was a perfect imitation of Rembrandt’s the Storm in the Sea of Galilee. He developed to be good painter but art in those days were underappreciated especially imitations.

Like Rembrandt, Camlin became interested in painting portraits. He developed a keen eye for detail while he was creating imitations of Rembrandt’s and Van Gogh’s, or perhaps it was a natural talent. He could capture every line, every wrinkle of his model and he would not fail to put it in the portraits. He made a living by illustrating middle class clients paying him as little as a franc and as high as a grand. He didn’t care, he just wanted to draw.

Camlin was more of an adventurer than a painter. He used the little money he earned in painting portraits to trav­­el around the streets of Europe. He spent forty years travelling around France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Britain. Camlin made a painting in every place he went, he will always get a model and even pay them just to create a portrait in every country he went. When the Berlin wall fell down, he decided to go home in Berlin. He translated the former East Germany into oil canvasses. Camlin also visited Moscow and Siberia. He told the story of the post-communist Russia through his paintings. He stayed there for six years, creating portraits of different people, portraits that reflect the life after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Through these paintings he became an artist.

Camlin, then sixty years old, was in Munich when he met his wife. He was invited in a party by a rich German client named Bracken who was an art enthusiast. There he met Gertrude, a beautiful young lady with a glowing blonde hair and an angelic countenance, the only daughter of Mr. Bracken. He was immediately captivated by her beauty. Camlin ask Gertrude if he can make a portrait of her, the beautiful lady didn’t refuse. The day after the party Camlin returned to the Bracken’s mansion. Mr. Bracken let his favorite painter take her lovely daughter Gertrude for that day, they didn’t return.

Camlin brought her to a beautiful model in the famous Englischer Garten, a 910 acre park in the center of Munich. They went to his favorite place, the Monepteros and there he painted the twenty-six year old lady, Gertrude, in her red polka dot full skirt dress which she wore elegantly. It took one and a half hour for Camlin to finish his most beautiful portrait. It also took Gertrude one and a half hour to fall in love with the old man Camlin. Two days after, the new couple married in a small chapel in Munich. They moved to Berlin to start a family.

Camlin continued to make paintings in Berlin until Gertrude became pregnant two months after they moved from Munich. Camlin tried to look for a better job to support his new family but because of old age, it became hard for him to find a decent paying job. Nevertheless he got a job in a small art shop that paid him 10 euros a day as a clerk. But ten euros wasn’t enough to feed his wife together with their child in her womb.

On the sixth month of Gertrude’s pregnancy, she contracted cholera. Camlin doesn’t have enough money to bring her in the hospital. He tried to sell his paintings in the streets but got just a small amount of money from it.

One evening in their little house in downtown Berlin, Gertrude was in her bed, her baby now seven months old. Camlin sitting beside his sick wife was sketching her, nothing much had changed from the very first time they met each other he thought. Though she lost weight because of cholera, the disease didn’t take her beauty away. They were chatting, laughing with each other, when suddenly Gertrude felt a pain in her stomach. Camlin was clueless, his wife helpless. The old painter rushed his wife to the hospital. Gertrude was admitted to the delivery room. The doctors and the nurses were in an orderly chaos, a woman infected by cholera was having a premature delivery. Camlin wasn’t allowed to enter the delivery room. Gertrude now screaming in pain, the nurses watching her vital signs, the doctor waiting for the little Camlin to come out, everyone was busy, until the woman stopped screaming, the delivery room became quiet, the silence was deafening.

“She’s going flat!” a nurse shouted.

After seconds of silence they were back in a chaos, not to give birth but to revive the woman. Gertrude he was too weak for the labor. Her heart stopped beating, the doctors did everything to revive her but she didn’t respond. They called Camlin.

“How was she? Where’s our baby?” Camlin asked.

The room was quiet. The nurses, laid back, started to leave. Camlin was nervous, clueless about what has happened. He’s looking around for their child, no cries, not even sobs. Where’s Gertrude? He said to himself. Then he saw a bed, a blanket covered a body from head to toe. Camlin started to fidget, sweat forming around his neck, his heart pounding. The doctor faced him.

“I am sorry, sir” the doctor said, “your wife was too weak to give birth because of her cholera”.

“What are you saying?” Camlin asked his voice was high.

“Your wife stopped breathing during labor. We tried to revive her but she’s already weak, she died while giving birth to your stillborn child”

Camlin rushed to the bed, he saw Gertrude, her eyes closed, stationary, and breathless. He broke into tears. He did not know what to do. He called in Munich, in the Bracken’s Mansion, and told the old Bracken about her daughter. Mr. Bracken took Gertrude’s body and her child. Camlin left Germany.

He left Germany with nothing. He did not bring his brushes or his canvasses. He left his masterpieces in their little dwelling in Berlin. His last sketch, the sketch of Gertrude, was left unfinished. He left all his possessions except an old fedora hat, a gift Gertrude gave to him. He continued his life, his life before he met Gertrude, wandering around the streets of Europe. But now he lost any appetite for painting. He lost his wife, his son, and his passion.



Earl James is Filipino, a reader, an aspiring “writer” and a social activist. Visit his blog at


I host guest bloggers every other saturday. For more information, please see this page.

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