“It’s easy to imagine the subject of this painting being alive. Merely look at the face, the brown eyes shining through near tears, a hint of blusher in the petal cheeks, the nose only slightly too large for perfect beauty, the mouth with shapely lips on the point of moving in speech…”
The guide was pointing to a large oil canvas, in a gold-studded frame, mixed sprays of flowers subtly implanted within the abstracted margins.
“The girl it depicts, as you can see, has been wonderfully caught, no older than it takes to have the beginnings of womanhood in the lines of dress. And, indeed, the dress is a work of art all in itself - drapes of creamy silk, edged with the frailest lace that paint has, in my view, ever conveyed, and a bodice diagonally crossed by embroidered tulips, each stitch finely wrought. See the undulating curves created by her legs, as she sits inside that marvellous dress, all part of a dream that the painter has, perhaps inadvertently, captured with merely a few instinctive flowing movements of his brush.”
His words were designed to bring out items in the painting that were not there, but one could indeed see them, if only for a few fleeting seconds, which was plenty time enough in the short lifetime of the audience.
“But, I suppose, it only makes it sadder, this being such a fine, living image of a beauty with brown eyes, that whoever she was is now dead, nothing but dust, since scientific examination of this work has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that it is by an artist at the turn of the last century…”
A lady in the audience sobbed. She seemed to have a similar hairstyle to the young girl in the painting; natural flowing curls of rust-brown hair, its final heavenly composure dependent upon the deft positioning of lemon-white ribbons, which the artist had neatly concealed beyond the abstract margins.
The guide tried to see who had sobbed. But the crowd had closed ranks.
He continued, more tentatively: “The artist? He will always remain a mystery, for the painting has a unique style, vaguely reminiscent of the preRaphaelite school, but harking back to all styles, all ages. And, being unsigned, undated, with no background documentation, in a frame unlike any other, I’m afraid the world of art can only stand and gaze in admiration which, after all, is the only thing one can do when faced with the nearest to perfection I, for one, has ever witnessed.”
The crowd was drifting off piecemeal, the sobbing lady lost among them. They remembered seeing nothing upon the canvas except a rather self-conscious still-life exercise in yellow flowers. Their petals appeared as if they were drooping even when the artist was in the process of recording them upon the canvas for an age and a posterity which, he must have known in his heart, could only appreciate fleeting images.
“Only those with brown eyes are able to see Heaven,” the guide muttered to himself before becoming merely one more member of the departing crowd.
(published ‘Silver Wolf’ 1993)