the lady in the painting

Years ago I bought an art print from a poster fair that would visit my university a couple of times a year.  I was so drawn to this painting, which featured a woman sitting at what looked to be a Parisian cafe, a pensive expression on her face, quill and half-glass of wine on her table.  I loved everything about this piece: the setting, the colours, the subject matter, the painter’s technique.  I didn’t even look up the artist for some time, or explore the historical context of the work (which is strange, considering I was an Art History major).  It spoke to me, and that was enough.

The Cafe, Tsuguharu Foujita (1949)

The Cafe, Tsuguharu Foujita (1949)

I felt an affinity with this woman, and I wanted to be her, but her world and life were so far away from mine.  This painting created a tension within me.  Of admiring, of relating…but also feeling disconnected.  Not having her life.  Not being able to do what she was doing.

That painting remained on my bedroom wall for one or two years, but then I rolled it up and stashed it away somewhere.  I eventually left university life and moved back to my hometown, and I suppose I had other posters to mount.

The thing is, I could never get rid of that print.  Not only that, I made sure it stayed in as pristine condition as possible.  In my many bouts of clearing out clutter over the years, whenever I would come upon that poster, I would feel happy to have re-discovered it, and made sure it did not get thrown out with the rest.  And I would think….I need to mount that someday.  But there it went, back with the other items not currently in use, tucked away safely in storage.

I moved a couple weeks ago, subletting my friend’s place while she is travelling for the next few months.  This space is teeny tiny, so I have brought minimal possessions with me.  But for some reason, I had to bring the print.

Why now?  What shifted so that I knew, without hesitation, that she was coming with me this time?  And where was this impulse before?

It’s more than just arbitrary.  I look at that painting now, and the tension is gone.  I look at her now, and I relate with understanding.  She is in a different time, in a different place.  She doesn’t have a coffee by her side, nor a laptop in front of her.  But I can relate to her process.  I can relate to her expression.  I know what’s going on in her head.

The lady in the painting is me.

20 thoughts on “the lady in the painting

  1. Thank you for posting this. I bought this print from a similar college poster fair in 1979. I had it for many years – first in my home, then in my office. A few years ago I had no place for it and gave it away. I’ve been missing it ever since. Same story as you – she just spoke to me and I never bothered looking up the artist. I was just was thinking of the print and googled ‘woman in a cafe paris’ and came upon your blog. I may actually buy another – I miss it.

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    • I’m continually amazed by how many people have been affected by this print, this woman. The artist would be pleased, I am sure! Thanks so much for sharing your affinity with her. Perhaps she will make her way back to you! Aleya

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      • This morning I emailed a couple of friends and attached a photo of ‘ma petite parisienne’ as I call her. One of them spends time in Paris every year and I asked her if she could make out the name of the artist. Within minutes, she forwarded your blog. I could have almost written it myself!! We bought an old Victorian 30 years ago in a little gold rush town in the Sierra foothills. In the basement on a pegboard on which to hang tools was this print. Having lived in France as well as all the reasons you expressed in your blog, it spoke to me. It was not in pristine condition, but I refused to throw HER away…it wasn’t about the poster…it was about her and I was always relieved when I would rediscover her. She was stashed in cupboards and drawers, we moved away twice, but kept the house, returning in 2003 after 3 years in Kathmandu…with lots of nepalese art to hang. She serendipitously collided with the arrival of a bunch of frames stacked on my porch from a neighbor, one of which was the perfect size. No more hiding in the dark, she is now part of the family. Even the slightly whitened lines from being rolled and then crushed behind other things do not diminish her allure and her unspoken invitation to stop and ponder where her imagination was taking her. Thank you for sharing your story.

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        • Oh, I got chills reading this!! Thank you so much for sharing your story and the impact she’s had (has) on you! There is something so beguiling and enigmatic about this print…I’m convinced of her magic more than ever. ❤ Have a wonderful day and thanks again, Aleya

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    • OMG. I just found this post of yours about this painting and wondered if I had written it and forgotten that I had! I, too, bought this image as a poster around 1979 at an art fair at my university. But I had it framed after college and it has hung on the wall in every place I have lived in Nyc, Middle East, Paris and now Texas. I was sitting in a cafe in Luxembourg this morning while on vacation, staring out a window, thinking of friends, an upcoming birthday, a tempestuous love relationship and it hit me that I had become this woman in the painting I love! I have no idea who you are Alohaleya but I feel infinitely connected to you. If you’d like to connect, I am at agreis123@gmail.com

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      • That is so amazing!! This painting has some magical, otherworldly quality to it. Those who have been affected by it know what I mean. It’s connected so many people who have an affinity for this enigmatic woman. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I still have the print, but I’ve been so transient this past few years that I still haven’t properly framed her. But your comment has inspired me to do so – for maybe framing her will help me find the home that she belongs in. Thank you again!! ❤ Aleya

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  2. I love your last line! The painting is quite captivating. As a woman, it draws me into her thoughts and her world. The pensive expression on her face. Resting her face in her hand. One eye slightly wandering off with eyebrow slightly raised. The ink splotches on the paper. All paint a portrait of a woman trying to gather her wits to write to someone about a topic very emotional to her. Great find! She’s a keeper! 🙂

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    • Thank you! I’m looking forward to giving her a new home as I move to a new space this week. I’m happy that my WordPress friends have enjoyed this work too. Makes me appreciate her, and the artist, even more. Namaste, Aleya

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  3. You are exceptional, Aleya. I am thrilled you posted this again because I had not seen your original post – just absolutely exquisite. The way your write is like an invitation into a place rarely touched or seen.

    I literally caught my breath when you said, “I can relate to her process.” Oh god – so good, so insightful, so perfect.

    And then I exhaled on, “The lady in the painting is me.”

    You are a treasure and a love. 🙂

    Peace, light and only joy your way, dear friend. Xoxoxxxxxx

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    • Allison, I just love hearing from you – always! And this comment in particular tickled me, and touched my heart. Thank you for your immense awesomeness! ❤ Big, big love, Aleya

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  4. Reblogged this on alohaleya and commented:

    In honour of Mercury Retrograde, I’m re-blogging a post from my early WordPress days. An extra fun twist is that I now work at the university I mention in the post. I’m loving this trip back in time.

    Happy equinox-full moon-lunar eclipse!

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  5. Your story is my story with minor differences. I bought the print at university over 25 years ago and, although an art major, I never looked up Foujita or even paid much thought to the painter at all. I kept her over my desk and pondered long about her innermost thoughts, why she beguiles and the many possible reasons for her outward melancholia. I decided she had writer’s block, despaired her artistic merit and was unhappy about her place in society. I lost her during a move along with all of my other art prints and at least one of my own paintings. Over the years, I had tried several times to find the painting on the Internet and, not knowing the artist’s name, was stymied until I found your post. Thank you for reuniting us. She is still as compelling as ever.

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    • Oh wow I love the parallels here! Seems she captivated many of us! Funnily enough, in a few weeks I will be moving back to the city where I went to university, over fifteen years ago. So your comment is very timely indeed. Thanks for sharing, and I’m so glad you got to reunite with her. 🙂 Cheers, Aleya

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