Tuesday, 12 July 2011

'The Woman by the Lake'

What would you do if some spotty stranger stuck their nose in your face? Would you politely cough and move away? Maybe glare at the lack of manners? Give them a shove?
Violetta had devised all these methods and more to deter the gawpers: professors with their round glasses and scratchy writing, bored schoolgirls with skirts that would make a nun blush, a housekeeper who tutted as she bustled. But Violetta could no more fulfil her angry wishes than she could skydive from Westminster Abbey. She was stuck – suspended against a background of green wispy reeds and water with more ripples than creased clothing. She sat, glum, fixed expression painted on her face.

Violetta wasn’t quite sure when she had arrived. There was nothing, a blank canvas... and then she appeared. She remembered a hand stroking her nose, shading it a dainty pink. First she was a sketch, then a defined outline, which became a solitary figure, before finally appearing as ‘Woman by the lake’. Couldn’t her creator at least have come up with a better title? She knew he worked in brushstrokes, rather than words, but it smacked of indifference.
This maker was still a mystery. Many had arrived to scrutinise the black scribble at the edge of the frame, blemishing her yellow, ruffled skirt, and failed to pinpoint him. She had been tested, analysed and evaluated. Essays had been written on her strange beauty, and critical articles published in riposte. If only these arts writers had bothered to ask, then Violetta would have happily told them her name and story – before ripping apart their waffling theories. She was not a “distressed fiancĂ©e, who watches the turbulent waters, representing her inner turmoil as she waits for a loved one” and nor did the “muted shades of her dress suggest a retiring sensibility and demure nature”.

Her juddering train of thought was ambushed by a movement. Approaching from the door was a bent figure, hand clenching a polished walking stick. The clicks and taps as it moved reminded her of Morse code. She could see now that it was a man heading straight towards her. He stopped and leaned closer, sucking his teeth. His upturned features were an ordnance survey map; his forehead a field and his eyes two drying ponds. Contour lines stretched out in arcs across his skin.
She knew those crumpled landmarks. Those eyes had studied her with interest, looking feverish with excitement or tense with frustration. What’s more, she was acquainted with the now wrinkled (but still stained) hand reaching out.
“Hello old girl”.
It was him alright – the cheek of it. The prodigal artist returning after all these years, only to wipe his smudged fingertips all over the clouds above her head, and smile at his work. No apologies for painting her in such an uncomfortable position that she had suffered a bad back for the last six decades. No offers of commiseration at the levels of boredom involved in being the star attraction of a drafty hall. He hadn’t even given her a shawl to ward off the chills.
As his fingers traced the line of her arm, Violetta made a snap judgement. She seized the thin wrist, dragging the surprised pensioner swiftly into the painted scenery. She felt a rush of air as she toppled backwards, and down onto a hard wooden surface. She looked up to see a canvas – her canvas – hanging on a cream wall. In one corner, a very startled looking gentleman stared in puzzlement at the floral parasol he was bearing.
Leaving him trapped like a bug on a windscreen, she sauntered off. The late afternoon threw soft squares of light through the windows. Violetta stepped out into the garden.
Spread below was a tapestry: two satin lakes, surrounded by shorn velvet fields and a grey-blue linen sky. The scene was pinned together with trees. Breathless with excitement, she made her way towards the water. Every few yards Violetta would halt to pluck up flowers, making a bouquet. Her nose twitched in delight, and the petals felt soft in comparison with their scratchy painted counterparts.

Revelling in the feel of grass under her feet, she arrived at a small jetty. From here she could turn back and study the vast building she had left.
Violetta leaned over the edge of the planks, and stretched out her hand. Her touch broke the surface – making the water hiccup. It was cold and sloppy – unlike anything she had imagined. She tried to hold the liquid, but it melted through the cracks in her fingers.
It would be so easy to walk away. She could leave the artist where he was – dangling in his own creation, puzzling visitors. She could rip off her ruffled dress (which was already splitting along the seams – not used to movement) and let it float across the lake in its fading decadence. She could offer her sash to the wind, and pull out her jewelled headpiece to give to a passing magpie. She could run.
Impossible. Violetta sat back, stroking the flowers, her fizzing thoughts subsiding. She recognised her surroundings – they had been her background for years. But what lay beyond the edges of the frame? Noise and busy lives? Or empty space?

No, easier to stay in this moment – with the scent of honeysuckle and the sound of swans. She idly picked apart her bouquet, ripping out stamens and peeling stalks in half. She busied herself with un-doing the flowers until she was left with a multicoloured mound.

Her slender frame rose; she arched her neck to see the birds darting like paper cut-outs. She flung her arms wide. A small storm of petals were let loose, the purples, pinks and yellows briefly in flight, before they were blown back towards her. They settled on her dress, on the lake. Confetti, caught in a split-second snapshot.

The sun slid towards the end of the lake. She stretched. She would enjoy the walk back, the early evening breeze, the call of roosting birds. She would slide in through the French doors, across the smooth floor. She might even have to find a chair to climb back in, and let the old man go, but she would take her time...

The next morning, the cleaner looked in bewilderment at the petals scattered in front of “woman by the lake”. Though even more odd was the painted lady – surely she had been seated before?

This is dashed - as I am writing this before heading out the door for holiday (although I should be in Spain by the time you read this!). Thanks again to my wonderful friend Ellen for assuming another persona - this time in a vintage dress from a market stall, and a sash from my dressing up box - so that I could take photos of her to accompany another photo essay.

I was overwhelmed by the thoughtful and funny responses I had to my 'Style Yourself' giveaway. I was so impressed that I would like to incorporate some of the best answers into a future post, so that everyone else can read them. However, there is only one book on offer. I used random.org to decide the winner (adding in the emails as numbers at the end), and can happily say that Catherine will be getting a package from publisher Weldon Owen soon! Please could you email me your address?


Erin said...

This is beautiful, just beautiful. The story, the outfit, the pictures, and of course you! Thank you for sharing these with us!


Caitlin Rose said...

This is absolutely beautiful! Well done.

Lydia said...

I love this!! The photo of Violetta throwing the petals into the lake is beautiful! I really enjoyed the story too. Great job.

Shoaib Ishrat said...

So Beautiful pics just love it...

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Super lovely photos! That dress is a dream!

Maisie said...

Wonderful story, you photos are always so inspiring. :)
- Maisie

Shervin Nassi said...

This is ABSOLUTELY dreamy! Love her dress and it is just do sweet and elegant! great work!!

www.shervinsworld.com 4 vintage street fashion

Penny Dreadful said...

Fabulous :)

Libby said...

Roz, this is beautiful! Seriously, your writing, photography and styling all fit together in such a gorgeous aesthetic. You're incredibly talented.

Jessica said...

Such a great post, lovely photo's!


Please take a minute to look at my vintage boutique;



The Thriftaholic (Leilani) said...

You definitely have a knack for photographic composition and fashion styling-- I always enjoy seeing what you come up with when you're behind the camera! The ruffled dress is beyond amazing-- what era is it from? I also like how you paired it with the cobalt blue necklace & aquamarine sash, both colours of summer.

Enjoy your holiday in Spain, I'm definitely jealous!

sacramento said...

By the time you read this I will be in England. Isn´t life interesting???

PinkBow said...

lovely words, you're very talented. and with perfect stunning images to accompany.

Enery said...

lovely shoots baby!!!
come on my blog :)

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Ruffles, flowers and a lake -- I quite imagine John Singer Sargent bringing Violetta to life with his brush strokes. Absolutely lovely concept and photo-essay! Have a wonderful time in Spain with your family! xxx

Sigrid said...

oh I LOVE THE DRess!!! and the scenery is just stunning! my favorite photo is the last one. so tranquil and beautiful!

<3 thanks for your lovely comments on my blog by the way!

Love your blog Roz! I may have to feature you on my blog and use a few of your photos with your concent!
feel free to say no! you will get all the photo credit i just want to tell the world who my fav blogger is! =)

Love Sigrid

from dancingsinginganddreaming.blogspot.com

Amoniel said...

What a lovely story, the pictures accompanied it perfectly.

Leanne and Jenna said...


AvaPilar said...

Bravo! Beautiful story. Gorgeous dress, is it silk? Have a lovely holiday in Spain (I actually just got back from Barcelona!), they have a very particular style there, sort of dark and bohemian.

Autumn said...

I love this story!!! The pictures are divine! Ands make the story even more fabulous. What a great post! Have fun in Spain!

adrielleroyale said...

Oooh I love this dress and sash! Such a lovely, feminine look! Great story too :)

G. Grigori said...

Hey Roz
Do you have a Lookbook account-or do you know about Lookbook?I would really love to see your works on there.You should definately check out!
Take care and have a nice day!

San said...

This post is utterly perfect. The pictures, the story and telling. WONDERFUL.

Makes me wonder how Mona Lisa feels in her portrait. Every day thousands of people looking at her and the theories about her.

Again great story, wonderful.

bonita said...

~ * ♥ * ~

..... Amazing. I love your photo essays Roz, I think you have a marvelous talent for telling a story through pictures and painting a tale by words. Simply gorgeous!

bonita of Depict This!
~ * ♥ * ~

Marianna S said...

I lave this photo shoots!

Kelly-Marie said...

That dress is ridiculously beautiful. As are your enchanting pictures and writing. x

LandGirl1980 said...

This is one of the best posts I have read on a blog in a LONG time! Thank you for brightening my day!

Miu said...

So beautiful pictures!

Enjoy your holidays!

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

delightful post, roz. you are so creative and imaginative. ellen is beautiful in that ruffled dress. indeed, she is violetta.
enjoy your holiday! xo

- stephanie @ style odyssey

awishisarainbow said...

I love your writing...I wanted to carry on reading! The photos and outfit add to it really well :)

GreenCoffeePot said...

You are such a fabulous creative writer Roz, and lovely photos!

Erin said...

I know I've already posted a comment, but I've awarded your blog the "One Lovely Blogger Award"! Come check my blog out to see it!


The Foolish Aesthete said...

Hello Roz. I've listed you for a Blog Award. You probably have so many accolades already, but if you like, you can come and pick it up at:


Have a lovely holiday with your family! xxx

alexandratherese said...

Roz this is quite simply INCREDIBLE writing! This could easily be an extract from a novel the fluency and quality of the writing and the care taken with the description. The concept too is thought provoking whilst being humorous and in places sarcastic at the same time. It does pose the question "what if objects could talk?" similar to your previous post when you said how fascinating it would be to hear first hand accounts from the clothes that have been passed down to you by numerous family generations.

I too am now free to enjoy my summer and have been letting myself be absorbed by my new pile of books! Hope you have a lovely time in Spain, look forward to hearing about it soon xxx

ps. After our conversation re the NOTW coverage the other day I realised that it was one of those events that I will now always remember - where I was and what I was doing when I found out the NOTW had been axed. It's weird isn't it, how these insignificant moments are made significant by events that unfolded at the time? The fall of the NOTW is up there with Obama's inauguration and rather randomly the death of Michael Jackson in the list of events that I can remember first hearing the news of! Can't deicide which one I enjoyed most - Obama giving hope to America or finding out the NOTW was no more!

Irusja said...

Fairy outfit!


Rosa Goodchild said...

That dress is just amazing! Very lucky find, i must say. Wonderful shoot, i particularly like the first and third shot. :D

West End Girl said...

A truly inspired and magical story; wonderfully written! Violetta's dress is beautiful too - it half reminds me of Victorian under-garments :)
I'm curious, is this based on a real painting?


Vix said...

This is breathtakingly beautiful, Roz. Have a wonderful time in Spain. x

valncami said...

You always write such a wonderful story to accompany your photos. Great job on the photography as well. Hope you are having a lovely time in Spain I hope to go there one day myself.
Thank you for the comment on our blog and I hope you continue to follow us now that we are no longer on blogspot. We are having a hard time leaving you a comment from our new site so we just logged into the google account to leave you this message.

Val n Cami

Frocktasia said...

Dear Roz,
Stunning, so much so I'm quite literally lost for words.
That last pic should be made into an oil painting and hung in an art gallery.
Lot's of love,

Celynne said...

Wow! Lovely words, and absolutely beautiful photos. What a way to tell a story!

mollieeeeess said...

amazing picture such an inspiration x