As long as we’re on the subject of Savannah, let me say again that my wife and I had a very nice getaway there a couple of weekends ago. The city has changed so much over the years and is more beautiful than I recalled.
Our weekend, though, was tinged with a feeling of the macabre. Most of it was intentionally sought out, although there was an unexpected shock of sorts and the weather contributed significantly, drizzly, dark and blustery as it was. Edgar Allan Poe would have loved it, I imagine.
A further example of what I’m talking about occurred at the Savannah College of Art and Design-related retail gallery right in the heart of the Historic District. As one walks in the door, there, on the left is a most remarkable painting. It’s of a beautiful young lady floating on her back being wafted along by a gentle current. The colors and medium suggest translucency and wateriness and contrast with the subject’s dark hair and red lipstick. Her mouth, slightly opened, has a Mona Lisa smile and reveals fine teeth; she has well-defined bone structure, high cheekbones, long eyelashes. And yet her eyes, though open and appearing as though they might be colorful and attractive, are frustratingly vacant to the extent that they’ve rolled under her upper eyelids.
What a beautiful image, I thought. She’s floating in a reverie among shallow waters or perhaps letting a gentle wave wash over her along the edge of a strand. Her white gown ripples with the water and she is commingling with Mother Nature; blue crabs are everywhere, around her hands, hair ... such a lovely picture, so peaceful ...
“No it’s not, silly. She’s dead!” my wife stated matter-of-factly, abruptly pulling me out of my own reverie. “But then again, if you like dead people, maybe it is beautiful and peaceful.”
Dead! That’s impossible. Could it be? Surely she’s only in a light sleep, but her eyes are rolled back, she may be actually under the water and blue crabs are all over the place — and you know what they say about crabs and corpses.
Horrified, I rushed over to the gallery keeper. “Excuse me,” I said. “Would you please tell me something about that picture? What’s the story? Is she alive, asleep, dead — what’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing that I’m aware of, sir,” he replied, looking straight at me with no change in expression. “It’s a self-portrait of the artist.”
Baffled, I turned around and headed for the door, so lost in trying to interpret the meaning of the painting that I didn’t take note of the artist’s name, or even think of taking a picture with my cellphone. I did note the asking price, though, which was somewhere north of $6,000, if memory serves me right.
As we walked out of the gallery, I was thinking how interesting it is that two people can have such utterly different impressions of a work of art. Either way, I was mesmerized and intrigued. I had to go back and take another look. And then the siren fever hit me and the notion crept into my head that I had to have that painting. I don’t care what it costs. It’s too amazing a work.
My pace slowed a bit and my wife, sensing a weakness and tuning in to a well-founded intuition, hooked my elbow and pulled me along.
“Don’t even think about it,” said she.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.