Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

Part 1: Fugere Non Possunt
We Can’t Fly

Her gown is on fire. The bonfire waxes its light over her face and she looks at her through the billowing smoke. The women around them are clapping and chanting fugere non possunt fugere non possunt fugere non…. They look at each other through the smoke. The embers dance in the haze and settle on her white gown. It is on fire. The smoke shifts as a gust of wind heralds the rush of the women. They are suddenly around her. They surround her and the next moment she is on the ground and the fire on her gown has been put out.

Part 2: Héloïse

All art is about discovery and Portrait of a Lady on Fire is about the greatest discovery of all: love. It is a twofold journey. You are an active explorer tracing the crumbs of your feelings in her smile, on her hands hovering above the piano, in the concentration on her face while you study her unobserved. You are also a passive explorer, letting her paint you in her mind’s eye with all your vulnerability spread bare on the canvas. You see yourself in the painting but want to cover it. You try to brush your feelings under the canvas but the strokes are too wide and they cut too deep. You try to breathe reason into the landscape of passion – and you pose for her and cannot hide your pain.

Part 3: Marianne

All art is about memory and Portrait of a Lady on Fire is about the memory of love. The love you feel for her resembles a painting: you know it will be eventually finished but it will live on in the memory of posterity. Just like love, a work of art is forever shrouded in mystery. It speaks to everyone differently but its true intimacy is enfolded in the embrace of its two painters. Two artists painting inside each other's colors. You and her. But her colors are pale with self-restraint. You try to breathe passion into the landscape of reason – and she poses for you and you don’t see her smile.

Part 4: Orpheus and Eurydice
Two Lovers

She reads you a story about two ancient lovers. Her voice makes you forget they are long dead and her lips tremble from the weight of their fire. She reads you the story.

The Greek musician Orpheus was told by the gods that the only way he could save his love was by not turning around to look at her. He was unable to restrain himself and turned around, thus sealing Eurydice's fate forever. The interpretation as to why he acted against the gods’ command is twofold, though.

She looks up from the book. Her lips tremble once.

She says it’s because Orpheus couldn’t resist it in the heat of the moment, he loved her with such a passion. You disagree and say it was a conscious decision on his part and he chose to remember not Eurydice herself but her memory.

She remains silent and her lips don’t tremble. You can tell your reply just ignited the fire that she tries to keep sealed behind her untrembling lips.

You recall the memory as you stand in a grandiose museum and regard a painting of Orpheus and Eurydice. This time, you see it both with a painter’s and a lover’s eye. You see… the two lovers looking at each other just after Orpheus turns back and before Eurydice dies. They are suspended in the realm of time stopped dead in its tracks – for one moment. For one fragment of eternity they are allowed to cherish both the moment of looking into each other’s eyes and the memory of their timeless love. A second etched in the dent of time – and discovery and memory unite.

When you parted from her, she told you to ’Turn around!’ and you did. It meant something else for her than it did for you, but now you understand that both of you were right.

There is a moment where discovery and memory overlap – and that is the moment of saying goodbye.

Part 5: Fugere Possunt
We Can Fly

Discovery and memory become one in a work of art. They become the art. The lines are blurred, the strokes are too muddled, but the colors are the shades of deep-red orange. The embers dance on the flaming canvas and the fire glows.

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