Augustin does his new job so well that he is sued, along with Ambroise Lecomte, in a resounding trial: the doctors’ surgeries were emptying. When the two “charlatans”, as they are called by the Bethune Medical Faculty, appear on the bench of the accused, thirty witnesses – more than that had not been permitted – come to swear that, not only had they been definitively cured, but that no money had been asked of them.
On the day of the verdict, 14 January 1914, the two brothers “in spirit” are acquitted, and receive a long ovation from the public. Augustin says to the Tribunal President:
“Soon, you too, will come to see us, Monsieur le juge!”
This prediction comes true in August 1914.
Then, World War One breaks out. In the trenches, Augustin, who hadn’t forgotten his coloured pencils, illuminates his friends’ letters. He also makes post-cards which are very popular with the officers. Then, in 1916, he is mobilised in the mines and comes back to the Auchel region, where he will stay until his retirement. When the nightmare ends, he is once more able to take up his brushes.
From 1920, he starts receiving visits from some “Messieurs de Paris”, all of whom are connected with spiritism. They beg him to go to the capital which, they say, is the only place where his talent will be able to bloom. He resists them for another few years but, finally vanquished by the emphysema which is torturing his lungs, he consents to his first exhibition in Paris. It is 1925. He is forty-seven-years-old. The success will be stunning and the admiration almost unanimous.
He paints a whole series of big compositions three metres by two metres fifty. L’Esprit de la pyramide, Symbolisme du monde spirituel, La Danseuse, La Fresque de Mena, of such a singular art that all description appears vain. When you have one of these paintings in front of you, a curious sentiment invades you. As if the immense miniature, of strange and worrying charm, is calling you to dissolve yourself in it…
At the Salon des artistes francais of 1928, where Lesage exhibits next to Picasso, the hallucinating Palais des Mille et Une Nuits stuns the jury. The greatest critics of the epoch swallow their science and their opinions, and content themselves with admiring, astounded. Jean Boos, a well-known critic at the time asks:
“Who is the mysterious author of these anguishing palaces, who is the architectural genius of these unknown temples?”
The President of the Salon d’automne and distinguished painter, Paul Cabas, member of the Institut, goes to Augustin to exclaim his enthusiasm. He says in substance:
“After having seen your canvases, I disown all that I have painted until now!”
The greatest scientific and medical experts take hold of the case and want to know if there isn’t some sort of “trick”. They install him in a laboratory for six weeks where, cut off from the world, he paints in front of nine observers from different countries, for five hours a day. Minutes are drawn up. Everyone is astounded by one thing in particular: in spite of the incredible minutia of his work, of the balance or of the unheard of complexity of his paintings, Lesage never makes the slightest retouch.
After this success, impresarios and businessmen start to stir and make Augustin some fabulous offers:
“Just produce. We know that we will sell everything. Very, very expensively… “
The miner consults his “guides”. It is a categoric no. He answers those who want to make his fortune:
“I have a much better mission to accomplish… “
His guides allow him, however, to exhibit firstly in Belgium and England, then in the whole of North Africa. But from 1937, he is haunted by a dream which rapidly becomes an obsession: to visit Egypt. The trip will take place in far from banal conditions, as well.
In August 1938, his guides let him know that he will soon have a determining visit. While he is exhibiting at Paris-Plage, a lady of the best English society comes to see him and gives him a scarab found in the tomb of Amenophis III. The hieroglyph engraved on it reads:
“In this life and in the next, the wearer of this insignia will be privileged.”
This mark of the pharaoh-god touches him deeply and he starts to work feverishly on a painting which illustrates the Egyptian harvests, the scenes of which he has seen in dreams. By working flat out, he finishes it in two months and sails immediately afterwards.
On the El-Mansour, the passenger ship which is taking him to Cairo, he meets a reputed Egyptologist, A. Fournier. He has brought around twenty canvases with him, which he intends exhibiting at the Continental Hotel in Cairo. Among them is La Moisson en Egypte, his most recent painting. Because he is more attached to this painting than to all of the others, he presses Fournier to give him his opinion. The Egyptologist wants to know why.
“Because my guides have revealed to me that the original of this painting exists in Egypt and that I will be able to see it.”
Once in the land of the Pharaohs, Augustin follows the crowd of French tourists throughout all of the great archaeological sites along the Nile. At the end, they arrive in the Valley of the Queens, and are asked if they want to visit the tomb of one of Ramses II’s stone masons who, in exchange for his services was given the right to erect his own tomb.
Preceded by the guide, and accompanied by a few travelling companions, Augustin enters a gallery whose entrance is at a slight distance from the village, and after a few dozen metres underground, leads to a funeral chamber which contains about twenty sarcophages piled against a wall. On the opposite wall, he discovers a great fresque, admirably conserved, which has just been discovered. His heart nearly stops: it is the exact replica of his own painting, or rather, it is the painting which, from across the sea, had unconsciously served him as model.
To be continued.