Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Lady in Pink - Chase - RISD

I’ve stopped by the Rhode Island School of Design Museum many times. I have several favorite paintings that I visit each time, but the one above has always made me stop and look because her gown is so beautiful and she looks so terribly bored.

When I “googled’ information about the woman in the painting, I was surprised to learn that she wanted to be a painter, but first had to work as a model for the artist who became her teacher. She was an artist later in life, but first she had to pose in this froth of a dress.

This is the poem I wrote about her:

 “She came as a pupil, but the moment she appeared before me, I saw her only as a splendid model.

                                                                                — William Merritt Chase, American artist, 1849 – 1916

The Lady in Pink Speaks

I am an artist.
I am an artist.
I am an artist.
I am Marietta Benedict.

And I will never wear this pink froth  again. Ever.
I will wear black lace. I will go to London.
I will ask women to model for me.
I will be more famous than he ever was. I will.

I told him I wanted to learn how to paint portraits.
He said he wanted to paint me.
When I am not his model, I am behind a canvas.
I have learned many things. More than he knows.

But mostly, I watch his hands. And I remember.
How a whisper of paint stirs a tulle overskirt,
how a ruffle of cream and pink becomes a parasol,
how a stroke of white is sunlight on a satin ribbon.

He has a lighter touch than most men. I like that.
That’s why I chose him for my teacher.
Early tomorrow in my room, if the light is good,
I will paint with my father’s gift of oils.

Papa didn’t laugh when I told him what I wanted.
I am his only child, and I learned long ago
how to ask for what I wanted until he tired of my words.

I am like my mother, who keeps asking me to marry Mr. Cotton.
That is why I had to leave and come here.
I knew she would never stop.

And now he asks me to turn my head, to lift my chin,
to put on that weary look of mine.
Soon I will make my own art, make a name for myself.

My mother says Mr. Cotton will not wait forever.
And now he is painting my face, the shadow under my chin.
He says I have an amazing neck. No one has ever said that to me.
Would Mr. Cotton touch my neck? Will he?

I am an artist.
I am an artist.
I am an artist.
I am Marietta Benedict.

 

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8 thoughts on “Portrait of a Lady

    1. So true. I was surprised when I learned more about this woman who was so not what she was painted to be. She wanted more, and she found her way behind the canvas.
      Thanks for commenting!

  1. “I have learned many things. More than he knows.
    But mostly, I watch his hands. And I remember.
    How a whisper of paint stirs a tulle overskirt,
    how a ruffle of cream and pink becomes this asinine parasol,
    how a stroke of white is sunlight on a satin ribbon.”

    Julia, this poem clearly tells us how deeply you have penetrated its secrets. Beautiful!

  2. Her story is the story of so many who wanted to be but were prevented or discouraged by others or by themselves. I know that story well but am finding that even in my elderhood I can change the ending. Keep on seeing and pressing the trigger. Was notified today that the New York School of Photography accepted a photo for their Urban Landscapes show. And I’m doing a solo show in December on the idea of urban wabi-sabi. Keep on poeting.

    1. So glad to hear your work is getting the recognition it deserves. Now I need to get more of your work up on my walls! And thanks for being an inspiration — in addition to being a damn good photographer!

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