My lovely friend Nan has sent me a bright card that came whizzing through the dull skies the other day.   It is called The Orange Blind by Francis C B Cadell.   (Google will display it for you if you wish).    I realise I have seen the painting before.    It is owned by the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow.

This is where I had my first experience of ‘Culture’ with my mother.    The museum is a fine old Victorian building – which is still fine and still standing – and houses an interesting collection of objects.     There I first set eyes on Roman vases, with that beautiful mother of pearl patina that they apparently didn’t have when in use.   Then there were marvellous Egyptian artefacts that I longed to see in the desert.   My mother and I shared an interest in ceramics.    I remember the wonderful teas – which, surprisingly, are just as good today – and I recall that occasionally a great organ was being played which filled the huge space with its thunder.

The painting is very Glaswegian somehow.   A lady sits on a green sofa in rather an elegant salon, waiting.   The room is of tall proportion and is lit by the slightly unhealthy glow from the dominant orange blind.     The chamber is handsomely but sparsely furnished.    There is a chandelier of opulent magnificence, an impressive Oriental screen, and a grand piano at which a man sits playing.   Before the lady a table with a white cloth is set with a silver tea service, and four white and gold cups and saucers.   There is no cake.

The scene is not easy to interpret.   It is wealthy.   But although the piano would suggest it is a tea room, there is only one table and otherwise empty space.   It does not have the relaxed and intimate feel of a sitting room.    You do not feel there is any connection between the lady and the pianist.

The lady looks as expensive as her surroundings.  She is wearing a black dress with a rose like decoration, a black hat, stylish it its simplicity, and dangling pearl earrings.   Draped around her shoulders is a fur coat, so reminiscent of elderly ladies at Scottish weddings, where the heads of the unfortunate animals whose fur made the coat are displayed like trophies on the garment.   (As a girl, I glowered disapprovingly at any lady wearing such a jacket.)

And yet .. it is not a happy scene.   Lit by the livid light the lady sits with tension, her hands laid out flat on the seat beside her as if she was readying herself for a speedy get away.     She awaits with anxiety, not anticipating pleasure.   Four cups are set out so this is not a meeting to do with any romance.   With this type of pictorial art, I cannot seem to help myself from constructing a story around what I see.

So…   The lady has become engaged to the owner of this establishment.   She is not in his mother’s opinion a suitable person to dislodge Herself, His Mother, from the position of mistress of this house.    The fiancé however, persists in his headlong rush into what his mother believes will be unhappy matrimony, and has introduced his fiancée to his mother and insisted that she must be invited to tea.  The mother has complied with the letter of her son’s command, but with a grudging spirit.    The pianist has been instructed to play dirges, laments and music from operas about love affairs that do not have happy endings.    The maid has shown the visitor into this salon, and instructed her to wait.    After as long an interval as she dares leave it, the dowager lady will enter the room –  followed meekly by her two docile daughters, all of them dressed in unrelieved black.

Our lady of the foxes, who is sitting calmly and patiently, though exhibiting some signs of stress, will rise gracefully to her feet on the entry of her hostess and will treat this begrudging woman with all the courtesy that she herself has not been given.    At this moment, the  transfer of the ownership as mistress of this salon from the sour-faced woman who has been in possession of it for several decades to the gracious fiancée becomes inevitable.     In due course, the new lady of the house will order the removal of the lurid orange blind.   And when she receives visitors, she will always offer cake.

However, I am not entirely happy with this  scenario.  Actually the more I examine the painting the more I feel that the artist’s principal interest was in the contrasts of light and shade and the effects of the dying, dazzling light and on the colours and that any ‘story’ to be constructed was of no concern to him.   Some of the subject’s emotional turmoil can be expressed by the painter if he is watchful and skilful, (think John Singer Sargent) but it is all  a question of interpretation.

Although I have enjoyed looking at and thinking about this painting, personally I prefer a more abstract subject – one that does not demand that a story be told around it.   As I wait, I fiddle around with possible plots but I can never reconcile the tension of the woman;  the tea, set for four; and the wretched pianist.

This exercise rather reminds me of those homeworks at school where you had to write a story including 8 given words, seven of which were perfectly mutually appropriate, but the eighth of which was something like extra terrestrial, cholera, logjam, federation,  or – why not – inappropriate!

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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