A Portrait in the Gallery

As a student of still life photographs, Stuart Westly would wander the New York Museum of Photography during his lunch hour and during the weekends whenever there was a new exhibit to such an extent, the admissions lady would usually wave him through the turnstile and the guards would recognize him and nod, occasionally letting him stay long after closing. While he loved the stark reality of the black and whites, he was always drawn to “Exhibit 582: Digichromatographic color print from a glass plate;” otherwise known as “Unidentified Girl, New York, 1907,” photographed by Randolph Morton Phillips, a renowned Gilded-Age portrait artist and protégée of legendary Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, but what always lured him to the print was the fact that it was a full length, life-size photo of a stunning, young dark-haired Gibson Girl-type, head playfully cocked, caught in half-smile, her beautiful brown doe-like eyes looking out from beneath a large flowery hat spoke to him across the ages in a way women his age did not and could not. Even though he had researched extensively online and among the dusty shelves at the New York Public Library, he knew too little about her and yearned to know more; what she was like, if she had a happy life, what was her world like, had she been a lover of the photographer as some had surmised, what happened as soon as the shutter clicked and possibly, most importantly, why that taunting smile upon her blossoming lips? He would linger in front of the portrait for such extended periods that visitors to the museum would cautiously walk around him and the guards even once brought him a chair, which he never used, believing it would demonstrate impassivity. Feeling as if he somehow knew her all of his life and aware that he had fallen hopelessly in love with her, it did not disconcert him the one rainy afternoon when the museum was virtually empty that her hand somehow reached out to him, imploring his in return. Instinctively, he took her hand and was gently guided into her Victorian world, forever leaving his world behind, all of his questions soon to be answered; the true nature of the smile being revealed as having grown from a young lady who too was looking at a museum painting of a man she felt she had known all of her life, but had never met, until now.

Joseph Grant

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One response to “A Portrait in the Gallery

  1. What a wonderful feeling of harmony and escapism, to some extent. I think we can all remember “falling in love” with a picture or image. I can’t help but think how inevitably disappointing reality must be in such cases.

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