I was re-editing some short stories for my new website and I thought you might this short-short story.
The artist showed a great deal of promise. He was known as the Valasquez of his generation. His treatment of light and his handling of symbolism was unmatched in his century. Even as a young man he astounded his mentors and his teachers. After his training, (which he passed with flying colours and without the humiliation of an examination), he hid himself in a peeling house at the end of a long beach and set up his easels. Using his phenomenal eidetic memory he painted pictures of the teaming city which were somehow drenched with the light and the movement of the ocean.
All he would accept for his paintings was a small pension for food and paint from the national museum. He thought to sell the paintings would chip off parts his own soul so he would no longer be able to paint.
For ten years he painted in the beach house, his work becoming more distilled, more distinctively abstract. But there was this curious thing. No matter how abstract his painting became, even the most humble and unlettered person could understand his meaning and feel connected with the cosmos. Such people returned to their homes from the national museum and were kind to their spouses and children, knowing now that this was the only way to live. Some of them planted trees and flowers in their streets and alleyways to make their own personal contribution to the beauty of the world.
So, the painter was considered by all to be a national treasure.
One day he fell in love with a plumber who came to install a bath in the house on the beach. The plumber, a fine man with slender shoulders and a seeing gaze, had three children whom he brought to live at the beach house, The presence of the children inspired the painter to return to a more realistic style, He painted pictures of the children - in glowing shades of green and purple, aquamarine and ochre - jumping the waves and scaling the rocks. People who looked at these pictures became full of hope and knew things would be better in the new millennium.
But then there was a great storm of water and the beach house was demolished. The plumber, having rescued the painter and his own children, died of a waterborne disease. In his will he left his tools and his children to his friend the painter. Now for the first time in his life the painter had to be responsible for more than the quality of his painting and the purity of his message. In these new days the well-being of his foster children became his highest priority.
Just at that time a very rich man from Russia offered to build the painter a new house on the beach and as well he promised lifelong protection and security for the children. This was offered on the single condition: that the artist should paint a picture of Russian’s daughter, to be exhibited on the day of her wedding. Of course up to this point the painter had only painted out of his own soul, and had never taken commissions, But because he was looking to the security of the children he took on this special task.
While the beach house was being rebuilt the children lived with a fisherman whose wife played bowls with them every day and let them win. During this time the painter lived in the house of the rich man, so he could concentrate on the painting of the future bride,. The bride lent him her wedding dress, which he hung from a rafter in his painting room, a sky-lit attic with a vast roof window. He placed the dress in a corner, where it could glow like a moth in the shadowy eaves.
The bride herself posed for him seven times, lolling back in an exquisite Louis Quinze chair the painter had spotted in the music room. The girl had a dark, limpid beauty. The painter’s skin prickled in reaction to her sexuality and his senses melted as she made her availability clear. She told him she would do anything … anything … to make sure the painting was perfect, She had to please her father after all. That was paramount. In some desperation the painter told her that what she must - must! - do, was to sit in the chair and stay there. Otherwise the painting would disintegrate and her father would be annoyed.
All the time the painter worked he would allow no one to see the painting. When the beach house was finished he had the painting taken there to add the final, finishing touches.
So the nature of the painting was an unknown quantity as, on the afternoon of the event, the wedding guests - led by the father, his daughter and her groom, all arm in arm - came tripping merrily down the great staircase towards the portrait draped in black venvet, Standing to one side of the easel, dressed in their best, were the artist and his three foster children. The children were glowing with health, nut brown from the sea breezes,
The shouting and the laughter stilled as the bride and her guests gathered round. Then, at last, the rich man pulled a tassel and the velvet shroud fell from the picture. The groom gasped. The bride fainted.
People crowded in to see a canvas covered with a dense black- so dark that its depths took on a green mould. In the foreground the artist had rendered a perfect vision of an empty Louis Quinze chair.
© Wendy Robertson,