The Enigmatic Portrait

Raj Kumar Hansdah posted under Flash Fiction on 2023-08-09

Placed in a corner of a famous art gallery in London, there was a painting that mesmerized the visitors. Peter McDonald was a lesser known artist than his French contemporaries of the post-Renaissance era. He was a painter of portraits and shunned landscapes and other such esoteric subjects which could be the reason perhaps that he didn’t gain fame as others did. ***  As an art critic, I had like others, been in awe with the enigmatic beauty of the woman in the portrait.  She had beautiful soul-searching eyes, and the slight cul in her thin lips displayed a hint of a smile. Yet the yes looked sorrowful and depicted a mystery, a deep-down longing and a hint of sadness. Her identity remained a mystery though people have been quick to make wild guesses. None of such speculations were ever validated. The stressful life of an art critic has taken its toll. Only a critic knows how much he suffers for telling what to him, is the truth and it takes courage to be honest. . Artists, especially those whose works are auctioned an fetch thousands of ponds, are most insecure. They and their fanatic followers make the life of a citic a veritable hel. So it was with much regret that my physician suggested that I should take a break from my work. A holiday at a remote far-off place, away from my acquaintances and spend some time to rejuvenate myself. That was how I found myself in a quaint little village nestled in the hilly region of Scotland.  I stayed in a small guesthouse, that was once a forest lodge. The place had trophies of wild animls an deeer all around the wall. The owner James was a very friendly character and was f my age.  Although I knew little about hunting, and he knew lesser about art; we hit off well. I don’t know if the rejuvenation happened or not, but I did find myslf enjoying the simple life, digging into ham and bacon, and away from the hustle and bustle of the art world. But as they say, if you try to run away from your passion, it ill find a way to come to you. *** That morning, as I sat sipping my coffee after a hearty breakfast, I found James busy with cleaning the entire guesthouse. He was a hands-on owner and loved to do almost everything by himself. Having sipped the last drop of the delicious liqueur I went near him and askd him why doesn’t he let his staff do all these dirty chores. “Can’t let those rascals touch these things, Mr. Graham,” he said with feelingsm  “There are  many valuable things in them, like heirlooms which I inherited from my  grandparents!” I knew the Montgomerys had been running this forest lodge since last four generations.  He smiled at me, “Besides, all these work keeps me healthy and fit.” He bcam busy, stacking thins into piles. On stack of things that coul b used, or had some value, other stack for those that were decayed with time and needed to be disposed off.  *** It was afternoon and well past the time for lunch. Of late, James had made it a point to give me company during lunch – once in a while; and dinner – almost every evening. I sauntered toward the backyard and found that he had almost finished his task. He picked up a wooden frame which had decayed with time and proceeded to throw it into the scrap stack. My art-instinct came to the fore an I took the frame from his hands. It was an oil on canvas painting. It was withered and discolored.  The lines and strokes of brushes seemed to be incomplete with massive empty spaces left around. It wqas a if the artit was practicing his strokes or the combination of shades.   But hat stood out and struck me like sledgehammer, were the eyes and the lips. I could instantly recall where I had seen these earlier. I gently asked James, “Who was she? Who painted this?” James was relieved that today’s task was over. He replied nonchalantly, Oh hat 1 I don’t know for sure, but someon hs told me that it is a picture of one of my grandmothers.” He stopped to take a relaxing sigh and said, It was painted by an artist who stayed in our lodge for some time.”   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!