10 Jan 2010

Lingering before A Lady in Grey

Every time I walk through the doors of the National Gallery of Scotland, I can feel a presence beneath my feet. The main floor, with its lush carpeting and high red walls, holds paintings from a host of European masters, while the gallery’s oldest, most fragile pieces are on display upstairs.

Walk through the main floor to the back of the room and you will find the entrance for the stairway leading downstairs to a separate exhibition that is dedicated solely to Scottish painters. It is my favourite part of the gallery, because it is where she resides.

I am sure there are paintings of more glamorous women, ones with perfect postures and looks of eternal, coy assuredness swept across their features. But there is something about this single painting that never fails to capture my imagination. I love the moment when I round the corner and she comes into view, her face like a pale moon above the shadowy billows of her dress.

She is A Lady in Grey (1859), by the portrait painter Sir Daniel Macnee (1806-1882). The Lady is Macnee's daughter. Or, as I have seen it described: “an idealized portrait of his daughter.” I am not entirely sure what this means, other than to assume that he wanted to paint his child with all the perfection he saw in her.

Forgive the poor quality of the image. There are no photos allowed in the gallery so I had to scan a postcard. I love the way her hand hovers above her needlework, but more than anything I love the expression on her face. The word “expectation” clamours into my mind, but it is not enough. There is an adjective that is supposed to go with it, which would adequately describe the way she is looking at the viewer. With _________ expectation… It just won’t come to me. Perhaps it will in time.

There are so many talented Scottish artists and writers and I hope to learn more about some of them in the coming year. As always, should anyone have a favourite Scottish artist or work of art, I welcome suggestions and ideas.

Thank you to all those who have taken part in my book giveaway and shared their thoughts about their favourite walks in Scotland. The winner will be announced tomorrow.

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