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Stranded on an Island

A friend of mine recently posed an interesting question. She said, “If you were stranded on a deserted island and you could take one painting with you, which one would you take?”


Before I answered her question, I made it clear that if I was to be stranded on a deserted island there were several things that I would want to slip into my Louis Vuitton overnighter, and a painting would not be one of them!
For instance, I would want to take my makeup (no surprise there), a bottle of L’Occitane Sweet Almond Firming Lotion (dry skin is so icky), a pair of Christian Louboutin’s (to look fab when they finally rescued me), a volleyball (Wilson!), a satellite phone (so I could call for help when the whole Survivor scenario got a little too intense), and plenty of 100 calorie snacks (because, though I will eat fish when someone else prepares it and serves it with garlic butter, I am not the backwoods, catch, kill, and skin my food kinda gal. Seriously, I get a little queasy at the butcher’s shop).


But back to the question.


There were several paintings that came to mind. I love The Swing and The Love Letter by Boucher because they are light, vibrant paintings of frivolity. In The Swing, a young woman wearing a sumptuous gown is in a garden, being pushed on a makeshift swing by one handsome man, while another lies on the ground and gazes up at her (or up her skirt, as the case may be). The Love Letter features two pretty young sheperdesses dressed in fine silks, sitting in a secluded, bucolic spot. They are leaning against each other, reading a love letter. The painting was commissioned by Madame de Pompadour, the clever, beautiful mistress of Louis XV, and clearly reflects her romantic temperament. It appeals to me not just because if its vibrant colors, but because it depicts sisterly fidelity and erotic promise.


I also like most of the paintings by the obscure 18th century artist, Jean-Francois de Troy. He was a true ladies man, and by that I mean he painted women in power positions. Look at most of his paintings and you will notice that the woman seems to be in complete control. One in particular, The Suitor, shows an aristocratic man and woman sitting on a richly upholstered settee. The woman is leaning back, absentmindedly twisting a lock of her hair, while the man leans toward her, clasping her hand and ardently looking into her eyes, beseeching her to love him. She is bored, toying with him, totally in control.


Ultimately, though, I think I would choose The Bolt or The Stolen Kiss by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Both paintings are highly idealized versions of love, depicting it as passionate, all consuming, secret, and frantic. Frankly, there is something a little seedy about both paintings. In The Bolt, a woman is locked in her lover’s embrace in a manner that prompts the viewer to wonder if she is struggling or surrendering. He has one arm firmly around her. With his free hand, he is reaching for the bolt on the door, whether to slide it open or shut we don’t know. They are in a bedroom. On the left hand side of the canvas, there is a bed, half secluded by sumptuous red velvet drapes, with disheveled sheets. Have they just made love or are they about to? Either way, I am titillated. If they just made love, I want to know why he is leaving? If they have not, I want to know if her head tipped back is meant to convey ecstasy or evasion. It’s this mystery that intrigues me.


The Stolen Kiss is sweeter, more innocent, though there is a certain element of the naughty. A young woman is standing in a darkened room. In the background in an adjacent room, one can observe a small group of older women playing cards. The young woman has her head turned to keep an eye on the biddies behind her. From a hidden door to her right, her young lover emerges and kisses her cheek. The Stolen Kiss has some of the mystery of The Bolt, but not the same level of forbidden intimacy.


When I gave my two choices to my friend, she pressed me to adhere to the dictates of the question and choose just one painting. It was a difficult decision. I tried to imagine myself on a desert island. No TV (which means no Sex and the City reruns). No movies (which means no gazing at Hugh Jackman, James Purefoy, or Christian Bale). No photographs, glossy magazines, or trashy novels. I would be alone, sans paramour, which means the painting I chose would have to nurture my romantic soul. As sweet as The Stolen Kiss is, with the fresh-faced, wide-eyed innocent heroine and her secret lover, I chose The Bolt, for all of its scintillating sexual mystery. I reasoned, if I were going to be stranded on an island devoid of men, I would not want to stare at tame, virginal representations of love, but torrid, hot depictions (and if nothing else, the man in The Bolt is totally ripped – for a character in an 18th century painting, that is).


Which painting would you take?

2 comments:

Fanny said...

Leah, I would take "The Swing." Why? because it was the first painting I had done when we met, and it reminds me of how much fun we had together back in Korea (as much as that was possible...)

Leah Marie Brown said...

Une mille bises, ma cherie.