Monday, September 5, 2011


(The Letter, James Tissot, 1878, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

I love a good story.

Preferably one that's filled with intrigue and just the right touch of mystery to keep me glued to the pages.

Interject a heavy dose of romance and I'm gobsmacked.

James Tissot's "The Letter" is just such a story.


I can't think of a better word to describe "The Letter" than LUSH.

Let's take a minute and dissect all this lushness into bits and pieces.

The setting for this painting is Tissot's garden in London where he lived for 11 years.

Just look at those rich autumn colors!

Maybe your eyes have fallen first on the burnished gold of the drifting chestnut leaves.

Or perhaps it is the emerald green lawn that immediately swept you up and caught your attention.

It's the tomato-ey red vines dripping over the wall-like arbor that rivet me.

What a pop of lush color!

It could be those statuesque urns that snagged your roving eye.

I'm thinking that someone at the Tissot residence has a thing for urns.

How about you?

I counted 17 of them.

There may be more hiding in this gorgeous garden.

The urns lend an air of aged formality to these serene surroundings.

As do their variegated hues of classic gray.

The sand colored pea-gravel pathways are there to calm us.

That's what I think.

Tissot has added them to balance the highly saturated colors in his garden.

As we glance at the upper right corner in the background, we see the painter's man-servant.

He is busy.

Is he setting the table for lunch?

Or removing soiled dishware after the fact?

We don't know.

What we do know is that he is standing in front of a beautiful building with multiple glass windows.

The structure looks like a giant bird cage.

We may be looking at an English conservatory.

Or some sort of lavish greenhouse.

In any case, the operative word here is "lush."

Now let's take a closer look at the lovely lady standing on the lawn.

She's dressed from head to toe in the finest finery.

We gaze at yards of ruffles, lace, netting and taffeta.

All done in silvery grays and dramatic blacks.

Can we say "upper crust?"

It's obvious that she didn't pick up her ensemble at the local "Walmart."

As if there were anything comparable to that in Victorian England.

Our eyes are drawn to her delicately gloved hands.

They are in the act of twisting something small and white.

Is it paper?

We know the small, white object is paper because we see more of the same flying gently in the air around her.

Some of it is behind her right shoulder.

We see more of it at the lower left corner of her frock.

We know that the torn pieces of paper are what's left of a letter.

The artist has kindly solved that mystery for us when he titled his painting.

In the world of art, a favorite symbol of absent or unrequited love is the letter.

In this case, I think we can safely gloss over the "absent" love possibility and head directly toward "unrequited" love.

What do you think?

If this lady's love was merely absent why would she want to shred his letter into a million floating pieces?

Wouldn't she desire to savor it, cling to it and cherish it for future reading?

Undoubtedly so.

We're left, then, with the option of "unrequited" love.

This woman is destroying her suitor's letter.

As she rips the paper apart she gazes to her left.

Could she be thinking of happier times with her beloved?

Or is she thinking of torturous things she would like to do to him for betraying her affections?

(I hate to admit it but that would be my game plan.)

Again, we don't know.

In any case, it's probably safe to assume this woman's romance is officially over.

Haven't we all shared a similar moment in our own romantic histories?

Perhaps it was a letter or a phone call.

Maybe it was an electronic email.

If the gentleman possessed an ounce of class, he showed up in person to announce his parting.

Worst of all, it may have been nothing more than a deadly silence.

However it was done - it hurt.

Our self-esteem was shaken to its core.

For a while, we might have wondered if we could go on living.

In time, our pain subsided.

And we lived to love again.

Ever hopeful we'd never see a second fluttering letter.

1 comment:

  1. I just love this post! First I have never seen this painting and I adore it! Autumn is my favorite season, I love letters, espcially love letters. Keep these posts coming!