Thursday, 16 July 2015


The sunlight was dazzlingly bright; the land across the sea mirage-like. It shimmered in the heat haze as somewhere a bell tolled faint, but clear. Its knell wasn't the sound of a celebration or a summons, it was languid-like: an invite to contemplation.
My imagination had taken flight to a time when I had stood before that view; to a time when the 'marbellous painter', Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, had secured me an introduction to that model: his muse for that particular scene.
Kitty Hawkins, who had been a tease was now married to a disagreeable fellow and had, so I'd been informed, much changed from the days when I would hear talk of her in London. Still a beauty, but a shade paler; her skin seeming to be made of non-porous material that the sun's rays touched but failed to warm. Her outward demeanour was said to be cool, yet beneath this people of her acquaintance had begun to notice a nervous tremor. A certain agitation that made her eyes dart and glisten, her speech rapid, and her hand gestures appear uncontrolled. Yet Sir Lawrence said he discerned none of this when she sat for him. Then she was perfectly calm; perfectly resigned to her being. She might sigh from time to time, but she stay contained. Beautifully posed as directed with none of that female hysteria so recently attributed to her. The reports he said were idle chatter designed to undermine her new-found status for hadn't she landed one of the noble gentry: Lord Charles Marlowe. Her rash act had brought her jealously from both men and women as both thought it calculating. Ironic, said Sir Lawrence, when everybody in those circles knew that marriages were built on blood and money. The law of possession. One prides itself on its beauty, the other on its wealth, and they both admire and wish to obtain those properties in another.
And of course I deferred to his candid judgement, he having far more knowledge than I of such matters and more experience in the presence of women. I know little compared to a painter who in the course of his life and pursuit of art moves with that set and spends countless hours with models. Nor am I a physician who would perhaps recognise disharmony within the matrimonial state or those nervous consumptive conditions. But still I was puzzled; curious to see with my own eyes this lady who was said to have lately changed.
On the elected day at the appointed hour I arrived with Sir Lawrence at the rented abode overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Lady Marlowe was on the terrace we were told; Lord Marlowe was not in attendance with her.
It was a most extraordinary villa, one that Sir Lawrence principally used as his studio finding its inner and outer architecture so inspiring: its columns, its archways, its lavish marble surfaces and adornments.
Lady Marlowe when we approached was resting; in a position of abandoned repose on the curved bench: lying full length with an arm flung over her eyes, its bare underside an inadequate shield from the blazing sun, and with a faint trace of content on her lips. She made no definable stir, although I felt sure she was aware of our measured footfalls, which to my mind was slightly shocking as she had already donned the Romanesque white dress Sir Lawrence required which emphasised her slender figure, and because she had known there would be a companion in tow as Sir Lawrence's guest.
When a few steps was all that stood between us, she acted startled and abruptly rose upright, yet no becoming blush bloomed on her pallid cheek. Her faun-like face scrutinised me as she graciously greeted Sir Lawrence, then as quickly dismissed me by turning her bored gaze to the glittering blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the wave-like settlement set ashore. Her composed stature was unaffected and yet enthralling for it was a pose that very deliberately said: I know what's expected of me.

Picture Credit: Expectations, 1885, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema