Men I Have Painted/Cyrus K. Curtis
CYRUS K. CURTIS
AS the clock in the tower of Independence Hall struck the hour of three, a small man took a very large and shapely cigar from his pocket and began to smoke it. With an inimitable twinkle in his right eye, he said to me, as I stood in front of my canvas trying to paint his portrait, "It is time to smoke." As the pale brown cigar changed its tip to a tender gray, and the smoke curled slowly upwards, Mr. Curtis seemed to settle himself more comfortably into the arm-chair that was perched upon a high throne in the corner of the room.
But he was not at his ease. He sat well enough, as regards keeping still in the right position, but I began to notice that he did not belong to the chair, and that discovery was soon followed by the idea that he did not seem to belong to anything, that he was an être apart, self-centred and detached.
Here then was a man with everything which men desire within his reach, at his feet, who possessed one thing only—his mind; all else was immaterial, meaning it was only material and did not matter. And yet it was difficult to believe that such keen eyes allowed the slightest detail to escape their comprehensive gaze.
On mentioning this peculiarity to Mr. Ludington, he showed a little surprise, and almost instantly said, "You should see him on his yacht; he belongs to that!" Here then was the key to Mr. Curtis's character. The yacht moved, it sped through the water, it rose and fell and rolled, and pitched and tossed, and his restless spirit tossed with it. If it anchored in a perfect calm, the harmonious spell would at once be broken, and yacht and man drift asunder.
And then, pursuing the same thought, I pictured the man saying to himself, "What is to be done?" and not "What is to be won?" All things are a means to an end, and the true end is use and not possession. However strong may have been the desire to possess things in the beginning of his career, that feeling had faded before the constantly increasing ambition to achieve something worthy of the admiration, first of himself—that which his own conscience approved—and after himself of his fellow-men. To accumulate and store away riches in the vaults of trust companies would have been, in his case, hiding a very bright light under a bushel. He wanted to see his talent grow and take on the form of architecture, into which he could see worked the handicraft of artisans in wood and stone and mosaics. And he was content to blend his ideas with those of the past, and to follow tradition in form and colour, in order that his neighbours might not be shocked by the violence of contrasts, but soothed and pleased under the spell of harmonious effects.