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A mysterious lady ...

Wednesday 26/09/18

Debby Faulkner-Stevens

The long hot summer is finally over and plans are already afoot for 2019.

Six miniatures have made the journey to the USA ready for consideration for the Miniature Arts Society of Florida's annual exhibition in the new year, and three more miniatures are currently taking a long and convoluted trip around various States in an attempt to make it to the Seaside Art Gallery in the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Hurricane Florence, and a few days held up in customs have complicated what is usually a quick and painless journey across the pond, but I was very glad to hear from Melanie at Seaside Gallery that Florence didn't come as close to them as was feared, and although severe storms and flooding  made life very difficult, they battened down the hatches and stayed put for the duration and surfaced unscathed.

I have just finished my six entries for the RMS annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries and am now busy sorting through books and articles for inspiration for the next set of miniatures - always difficult to come up with new themes and quotes to hang the paintings on. Keats, Shakespeare, the Victorian poets, myth and folklore have proved fruitful over the years but I'm always on the look out for fresh inspiration!

A short break in Suffolk proved a very welcome break for us both, especially Alan, who has been plagued with a run of minor irritations this year; the latest being a squashed thumb, the result of him kindly opening a heavy iron gate for me as I struggled with gifts for friends we were visiting. The resultant blackened and swollen thumb has proved an object of great interest to the grandchildren, who are waiting eagerly to see what happens when the nail falls off.

We have a new acquisition. I wanted to buy a small something with my award from the Seaside Art Gallery - I have done this with other prize money as I most certainly didn't want it to be swallowed up by domestic bills - so we paid a visit to an emporium of collectables and curios in search of something interesting.. I found a little tazza which came within my budget  (and a 21" plaster figure of Jesus, but that's another story!) so was very happy with that but then, in a corner, I spotted an old oil portrait of a rather enigmatic woman in a dark gown and lace bonnet. Something about her fascinated me and over coffee we discussed whether or not to buy her.

I was feeling very sensible that day and came out with all the reasons why not - we don't need an oil painting, we don't need any more stuff, where would it go? etc etc. However. two weeks later, she was still niggling at the back of my mind so we went back for another look. I was half hoping that she had been sold and so there would be no decisions to be made, but she was still there and she still held a fascination for me.

The price was extremely reasonable, but we were instantly offered 10 percent discount and then the dealer offered a further reduction. I can only guess they had had her on the wall for a long time and were happy to move her on. Probably not the most popular or easiest thing to sell these days - unless people like us come along!

And so, wrapped up securely in bubble wrap, our mysterious lady was strapped in to the rear seat of my Jeep and she made the journey to her new home.

There are no clues as to who she was, who painted her or where she came from. An historian friend of mine has dated her to around 1830 by her style of dress. She could do with a good clean and there is a little damage to the canvas, but any restoration costs would far outweigh the modest price we paid for her so, for the time being, she will stay as she is.

Our granddaughter,who initially thought she was Florence Nightingale, declared she was Great Great Great Great Aunt Julia - oh, the imagination of an eight year old - but I have secretly christened her Elisabeth, as she reminds me of a very vivid dream I had on our first visit to the cottage in Suffolk, when a rather stern lady in antique garb expressed her unhappiness at our presence in her cottage. She introduced herself as Elisabeth Marie but her surname was lost as I woke from the dream.

As the evenings draw in and the mood shifts towards  foggy nights, log fires, old houses and ghost stories I am hoping the inspiration will strike to write a short tale about Elisabeth - or Great Great Great Great Aunt Julia.

Meanwhile, her Mona Lisa smile greets me as I pass her portrait on the stairs, her mystery, for the time being, safely hidden within the paint and canvas ...


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