|A Passing Storm - James Tissot, oil on canvas, 1876|
Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick
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.