Paris, France, 1923
The wonderful spring morning lightened my spirits, and it felt as if there was nothing that could trouble me. The air was light, the breeze gently stoked my arms, and the birds were having love quibbles in the viridescent trees. I was walking down G. Pompidou and a woman came up to me.
She was quite a peculiar young lady, with burnt sienna hair and fair skin. She was wearing a hat covering her face, but nonetheless her features were elegant. Her outfit was considerably fashionable; a knee long coat, dark brown, almost the same color as her hair, and that was all that was noticeable to the naked eye. And the hat of course. The hat – a grotesquely obese thing that shadowed her whole face – was midnight blue with a light rose colored rosette on one side. I had no idea why she would wear such a thing.
She told me she wanted me to paint a portrait of her. My first thought was to decline her request, but the way she said it, so decisive and straight-forward, intrigued me in such a way that she persuaded me to do it. I can honestly say that she would look wonderful in an oil painting, so that was not the problem of me accepting her request. The problem was that I do not do many portraits. I am a good artist, yes, but I just do not see the purpose of painting a canvas of a person. The person looks so emotionless, and, well, flat. This woman, though, was surrounded by something unique. She would actually make a painting so fascinating that people would want to spend hours just observing her features. And I would be honored to be the one releasing all that wonderful detail. That was what I wold her.
I was in my studio getting all my supplies ready for her when she knocked gently on the door before entering. The delicate woman was clad in a scarlet silk gown, outlining her graceful features perfectly. Unfortunately she was still wearing her monstrous hat, and it still covered her face completely. When she came in, she put 60 Franc on the table, and walked toward my other paintings. My usual motif, landscape, was covering all of them. I had one of a sunflower-bed in the south of Spain, another of the green hills of north Italy. She observed them, her back facing me, with great fascination as though she daydreamed away. Then without notice she slipped out of her dress.
The silky material flowed like Virgin Mary’s tears of blood. It was a stunning scene. The straps flowed down her delicate arms, down her exquisite back, and then it came to her bum. Her dress outlined her every curve on the petite body. The more the silky blood peeled away, the more of her skin you could see. When the garment finally hit the floor there was a sculpture in front of me carved out of ivory by the most skillful renaissance artist. Her whole body was smooth and looked incredibly soft.
She took off her obese hat and placed it beside her. Her curls fell down from their cage and placed themselves gently on her shoulders. There was a stool nearby where she sat down, still facing my other work. She studied them once again carefully. Seeming to take in every little detail of the trees, valleys, and rivers.
While she focused on my paintings, I started my process. I lined up the colors on the palette. Darks in one end, lighter ones in the other. The canvas was in place and I began observing her features. Turned out I got lost in thought because she cleared her throat as if urging me to proceed. So I started. When I paint I usually never really know where I should start and this time was no different. The decision of starting with her hair was not a light one, but I finally made it.
In this light, her hair looked almost auburn. Each strand of hair stood out and had a life of their own, and that was of course the way I had to paint it. Her curls flowed on the canvas like red chocolate running down hills and over rocks. I moved on to her other features, and tried to capture the curve of her neck, the smoothness of her back, her long legs peeking out from behind her torso. It truly was a magnificent scene. Her body radiated beauty and I found it hard not to stop and just stare at her body. I would have painted her for free.
The hours went by, the canvas was covered with shapes and colors. I would have thought she would become bored from studying my landscapes, but that wasn’t the case. Well, if she did become bored she didn’t complain once. And as the last light of the day shone on her though the open window, the breeze grazing her naked body, I drew the last long line on the canvas. My masterpiece was ready.
While I was cleaning up, she pinned her hair up under the hat again, put on her dress, and was on her way out the door. “Don’t you want your portrait?” I asked.
“Let me see your face.”
My eyes was admiring her with love. Love for her body, love for her picture. I thought she was going, leaving me behind, but she turned around. Her delicate hands started to remove what stood between us ever really seeing each other. That’s when I saw it.
I turned away in disgust. Her whole face was unproportional. One eye was milky white and the other a murky grey. She had deep scars replacing the delicate features which should have covered her face. One of them running all the way from her hairline to the bottom of her lips, over her destroyed eye. It was horrible. No woman should ever look like that. Oh, how I wanted her to put the hat on once again. And I was wrong; she was not beautiful.
This time she turned around and walked away replacing her face with the hat for the second time. She left me with a beautiful masterpiece of a delicate woman who didn’t exist and a wish that I had never seen her face.