Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One Woman's Survival Kit

"Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thought that is forever flowing through one's head." - Mark Twain

A Passing Storm - James Tissot, oil on canvas, 1876
Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick
 I love the quiet feel of this painting.

In fact, I love most of James Tissot's paintings, so you are bound to see quite a few of them if you stick with me for any period of time. I feel a deep respect for women embedded in his work, and an understanding of them at a level far deeper than other painters of his period. When you study the images of Tissot's women, they are much more than the beautiful surroundings, costumes, or circumstances in which they are found.  Rather than merely seeing a two dimensional study of form and color and shading, you experience a glimpse into a multi-dimensional soul.

Back to the quiet feel of this particular Tissot work, though. This is a depiction of a passing storm, after all. How can it appear with such muted tones, such subtlety?

We see the man on the deck of the ship, hands thrust into his pockets, probably pacing, his demeanor suggesting some concern. What is he gazing at off in the distance?

Behind him, we see the clouds on the horizon, the ships' sails in the distance hinting at the strength of the wind. The sky is moody, dark, and misty.

In the foreground, we see the lady, the central figure of this work. She reclines on a lovely chaise, covered so completely by her dressing gown that not even a toe is exposed (is this literal or figurative?). Her hands are raised to her chin, as we ladies do when we are somewhat pensive. Her back is turned to the man outside (oh, yes, please note, he is literally, and figuratively "outside").  She looks very alone to me.

Her face is the real masterpiece of this study. The woman's expression holds so much. What do you see? A touch of fear, sadness, regret? Can you see the wistful, faraway look, as if she may be remembering something? Do you detect a faint smile on her face? Maybe a look of quiet defiance?

Ah, the real storm is within.

But the title of the painting tells us the storm is passing. How do we know this? Well, I can only speak as the woman I am, and a woman whom Tissot appears to understand so well.

Despite the passing storm, the woman looks to be at peace, doesn't she? I notice that she is well equipped with all the necessary ingredients to endure any storm. She has that lovely chaise lounge to begin with, and thrown across the back of it, her head resting on it, there is a fringed shawl or coverlet.  Yes, that will come in handy if she needs that extra layer of softness, comfort or warmth.

Behind the chaise is a (rather messy) stack of newspapers, and probably further back on the table, out of the picture, a good book or two. I imagine them to be filled with poetry, stories, and essays. Perfect for diverting her mind and filling it with more peaceful, sunny pursuits.

Just in front of her is a small table on which lays an ornate tray with a tea service. There we see the silver pot of hot water, her tea accoutrements, and a beautiful, single, china tea cup.  Most telling, isn't it?

Fast forward now. Over two hundred years later, many of us find those exact same tools in our emotional storm survival kit. It's not a complicated formula, just a few items that bring us comfort, intellectual diversion, and warmth. We may choose cappuccino over tea, or Vogue over Dickinson, but the idea is the same.

By the way, this technique is not solely for women...it works for men every bit as well. Stop pacing and brooding, for heaven's sake. If you feel "out of it," by all means, find your way back in. The door is probably wide open, just waiting for you to come in.

For everyone, the advice is simple in stormy times; find a quiet spot, take care of yourself, and return to peace. 

Today I wish for you all the things which bring you peace.

I've chosen Schubert's  "Serenade" to accompany this post. It has a melancholy, almost melodramatic, feel to it, just what I imagine the lady in the painting is listening to off in the distance. Enjoy.


  1. Or ... bash your head against a wall, rage at the storm, get knocked down and THEN find a quiet place to find peace.

    Hmmm ... is there a flaw in my characteristic approach? Ha!

  2. Ha! Reya, you win the Laugh of the Day Award for that remark!

    There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to achieve peace, but you might want to skip those first few steps in your process and jump right to the "taking care of yourself" part. It just feels so much better!

    By the way, you have no flaws in my book, so carry on. ♥
    Many thanks, Reya. xoxo

  3. Oh how I wish it was that easy to have peace. The chaise lounge in the picture is just like my Grandma used to have and I would always sit on the edge of it to read. Fond memories. But Reya's approach is more my style today.

    I do love coming here for your fresh perspective and your "pollyanna" quality of which I am not capable...Love to you today...xoxoxo

    I love the music and painting as always!

  4. I am always amazed at artists that are able to do so much with just a few colors - and the rhythm of design, deep perspective out the window...now I look at the guy as saying, 'Hey, we have been cooped up here, let's go DO stuff...' and the lady has the patience to wait...stuff to do all around her.
    The music is a piece I LOVE playing on the piano...as a matter of fact this is the first time I have ever heard it played anywhere besides my stumbling, emotional outbursts. It is a FUN and emotional piece to play - and the music I use does not have the ending here. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  5. Hi Vicki...yes, I'd love to have that chaise lounge in my boudoir...if I had a boudoir. ;-)

    I think the point is to find a way to quiet the "storm of thoughts" running through our heads to find peace...whatever works for you.

    Much love and thanks for being here.

  6. Nancy, I should have known you'd know the music. I can imagine you playing it...beautifully, I'm sure.

    I love your perspective on the painting. We each see it through our own eyes, don't we? Great art says something different to each of us. I think that's what makes it great.

    Thank you, Nancy. I love seeing you here and reading your thoughts.

  7. jo the boy is not even looking at the storm. that's what caught my boyish eye right away! he's looking at something on the inside . . . not her . . . something. almost as if he is waiting for her to resolve the crisis she is passing through that is mirrored so beautifully in the passing storm outside. hmmmm. the sliding window is up, the quarter doors are open. letting air in. clearing the room. i wonder if perhaps something has passed between them. something they are both reluctant to deal with and are hoping to see pass with the passage of time. what a superb painting and thanks for your own unpacking of its significance jo! steven

  8. Ah, Steven, your powers of observation never disappoint.

    I can see the posture of waiting in the man's pose now. Maybe a bit of impatience, with both hands in his pockets like that.

    Oh, I wonder what Tissot would think to know that here we are, still wondering what he meant with his brush strokes?

    Thank you so much for joining the conversation, Steven. Your boyish eye catches so very much!


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