Degas turned over the paper to reveal a drawing of a man reclining on some kind of bench, one arm draped over his eyes to protect them from bright sunlight, feet crossed, quiet repose. Beside him on the ground lay the small, rumpled heap of a nondescript jacket of some sort, and a well-worn pair of leather shoes. The drawing looked effortless, timeless, beautiful. It reminded me of Degas' many drawings of his friend, Edouard Manet. I heard an astonished gasp and immediately realized that it had come from me – confused, surprised, speechless. In another breath I managed to stammer, "What ... what?"
Edgar Degas, Study for a portrait of Edouard Manet, 1864-5
"But, I am becoming maudlin. Much more comfortable to be gruff. Now ... in both Venice and Florence I have noticed here and there some reproductions of my paintings and drawings, so perhaps people still enjoy my work. Who knows? Maybe this sketch is worth a little something. So, keep it or sell it, as you wish. I made this in the Boboli Gardens behind the Palazzo Pitti. Do you know the small stone amphitheatre there? It's often littered with young people resting and sunning themselves on the ranks of bench seating ... like this fellow." He waved the back of his hand over the the drawing.
"But, Edgar, you have no idea ... this is priceless. What I, uh ... I mean to say that ... No! This is too much. How can I accept this?"
"You do not like the drawing?" asked Degas, a twinkle in his eye.
"Oh! Of course I like the drawing," I managed. "It's wonderful, thank you Edgar. I'll always cherish it. My god, how awful that no one will ever believe how it came to be in my possession. Whew. Thank you."
"You are most welcome, my friend. As I said, it is a small gift of my thanks to you. I had only a few pieces of this 'old' paper, so now you own a Degas, on original paper. There are only a handful of others like it."
"Wait", I said. I felt as though I'd been hit with a brick. "Others? There are other drawings on this paper circulating in Florence?"
"Well, some here and one or two in Venice, I believe."