Multiple Pictures of Single Women

This morning I scrolled through Twitter as I drank my tea, despairing over Putin’s war games, and the bravery of the men and women of Ukraine as they stand against it, but as I looked for something lighter this Tweet caught my eye:

And I began to contemplate the paintings that adorn the walls of my own house. Now I am not saying that I only have pictures of single women. I don’t. But I do seem to have an awful lot – paintings bought over the years from art galleries, local fairs, or exhibitions – and all bought because they spoke to my soul on some level. I only buy paintings when I fall in love with them, but the idea that my preference for art that depicts single women somehow signals that I like to be alone is one that intrigues me. So… a little investigation if you will, into the “single women” that I live with and what they mean to me.

This one hangs above my bed. I love the ethereal, dignified beauty of the woman in this painting, even as I import her story into what I see. And I am sure that it surprises no one that the painting, by Mark Demsteader, is called Ophelia Study IV, evoking the spirit of Millais who painted Lizze Siddall as Ophelia. The women of the Pre-Raphaelite movement have always fascinated me, and I felt an instant connection with the painting. Not because of what it says about death, but because of the peace she finds in the water, free from male expectations and tyranny. She floats in serenity and solitude, utterly oblivious to the trauma unfolding around her.

In fact, this is the second of Demsteader’s works from the Ophelia series that I bought, having initially bought this stunning black and white (sorry about the reflection of my messy workspace).

Again, it was the ghostly, haunting beauty of the woman that beguiled me – and the fact that she has her eyes closed, which only seemed to heighten her power even as she confronted her fraught fate, choosing not to see the murderous chaos playing out around her.

But in this one, it was the woman’s alluring eyes that caught my own, the green, questioning, witchy quality of them as she holds aloft the shoot of a plant (a tree, in my mind) symbolising her connection with the earth and its maternal power. Fertility and life are held in her hands, and yet she is not burdened by the wight of them.

Painted by Italian artist, Lamberto Melina, her radiant beauty, her wisdom, speaks to me of the ancient arts of women. There is something very powerful in the forthrightness of her stare.

Next we have Concentration, where the eyes of the woman look down, but there is nothing about her demeanour that suggests defeat, grief or despair. Indeed, aptly entitled ‘Concentration’ the painting, to me, suggests a woman that knows her own mind and is not afraid to nurture it. Knowledge – the thought process itself – are important to her, and intrinsic to my perception of this painting. It is no wonder I was drawn towards this. She is comfortable with her intelligence, and unafraid to use it.

This next one, is called Dusk. It is a small painting, the exquisite detailing in it a testament to the skill of the artist working in such a small space. It is called Dusk. She sits, in the fading light, in the heart of the woods, wrapped up in a shawl to ward off the creeping cold, trying to protect herself. I bought this as my marriage was dying. The woman is certainly alone in this painting, but I do not think she is lonely. I see her at peace. The white of her shawl signals the bridal, or the ghostly. It is a haunting painting. I bought it as my marriage was dying, yet I never feel sad as I look at it. It brings me a kind of reflective peace.

Finally, there is this one – a nude, bought not just because it nicely blended in with the curtains I had in my bedroom at the time, but because it reminded me of the way my body was – before children, before my husband. The strength and beauty I see in this painting is a constant reminder to me that I carry – still – both of those inside me.

So what do all of these paintings say about me. That I prefer being alone? Perhaps I do. I certainly have found much happiness and contentment following my divorce. But being alone is not the same as loneliness, and my heart no longer yearns for what I have lost with the end of my marriage. I prefer to think that, instead, the paintings I have chosen show a woman who knows who she is, knows what she deserves, and a woman who will not diminish herself and will never lose herself in a relationship again. These paintings remind me of the power and beauty of women. They remind of me of all I am and all I can be, for what is painted on these canvases is really no more than a reflection of what I am – who I am. A woman: single, strong, unyielding, free.

Published by Deborah Siddoway

Dickens enthusiast, book lover, wine drinker, writer, lover of all things Victorian, and happily divorced mother of two lovely (and very tall) boys.

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