For a long time I have been a little enamoured of the little beast with a face like a ‘squashed toad’, Colette’s little French Bulldog Toby Chien. I am not exactly sure what it is about him – his lovely dark velvety face, his white napkin of fur, his ears that go in different directions, or my imaging of that soft nuzzling little snout.
Toby Chien started a long line of canines to feature in Colette’s life, but he was certainly the first, used by her first husband in the promotional photographs for Colette’s first work, Claudine. I love the way his ears echo the wave of her hair, his devotional little face looking straight at the camera.
Colette also featured Toby Chien in her novel, Dialogue of the Beasts, an imagined dialogue between Toby Chien and Colette’s other, later love, Kiki the Demure. Toby Chien and Colette were rarely apart. I wonder if it was Toby Chien with her on the early Metro when she accidentally left a completed manuscript on the seat and as never seen again, always hoping that one will show up, but most likely it ended lining the Station master’s bin.
However, when Colette broke off her relationship after discovering Willy was having an affair with Meg Villars, they tussled over the custody of Toby Chien as if he were a child. Eventually from memory they shared him, with Colette and Toby Chien even going on holiday with both Willy and Meg.
Colette had a tumultuous life – and in some ways could be seen as the first modern woman. She lived by her pen and by treading the boards of the music hall. She was voracious in her sensual appetites – marrying Willy who was many years her senior, to having a relationship with a Marquise, to her Journalist husband and his teenage son, before marrying in her old age a man many years her junior, a Jewish pearl merchant. She was a also a terrible mother to her poor neglected Belle Gazou.
But amidst all this she had two constants, her love of her animals and nature, with Toby Chien her muse. His nose as sensitive as her own as they padded the streets of Paris and the fields of France.
When I think of Colette, Toby Chien’s little face always come to me, pushing his little face through Colette’s voluminous output, as Kiki the demure weaves a figure eight through her words. This gorgeous artwork byDaniel Fournier says it all.
Any other animal muses anyone can think of?