|The Storm, 1880|
Pierre-Auguste Cot (French, 1837–1883)
(click painting for detailed view)
When I first encountered The Storm at the Met my breath was taken away, and a slightly painful feeling arose in my chest...similar to the experience of what is called in The Godfather, "the thunderbolt"—love-at-first-sight. The Storm resonated with me visually and psychically. I found the portrayal of emotion captivating, the clinging sheer garment brilliantly executed, her naked body beneath enticing, and the use of light on the couple in conjunction with the dark background an eery über-reality. I identified strongly with the young man, having gravitated to the role of protector from a very young age, and often finding myself reassuring loved ones that things are not quite so dark as they seem.
A few years back I found a print of The Storm on the street and Heather encouraged me to have it framed. I hung it directly in front of my desk, where the tops of books I've written touch the bottom of the frame, as if attempting to siphon inspiration. Interestingly, the young daughter of a friend who saw the print in our apartment asked if it was a picture of Heather and me. I chuckled, because I don't think the two figures resemble us except in the broadest sense—dark and light, male and female, and curly hair versus flowing. Perhaps the young girl picked up on something about our relationship, and saw it limned in oil on canvas.
Two months into her final struggle against leukemia, when things weren't looking so well, Heather asked me, "Am I going to make it, Vinny?" I looked at her, smiled and reassured, "You're going to make it." I wasn't as sure of my words as I seemed, but it was my role to be optimistic. I thought it wouldn't serve her to voice my doubts. In retrospect I wish I could have uttered something closer to the truth, and that she would have been able to hear it with equanimity. But this is asking too much of her. She was brave enough, fought enough, gave enough. So in that moment we stayed within our roles: Heather worried and I minimized. She was as vulnerable as the young woman in The Storm; I as ostensibly strong as the young man.
Now as I look at this painting tears come to my eyes. The smile has been wiped off my face...the danger was real, and I didn't fully see it. The storm rolled in and I couldn't protect her...I failed in my role...none of us can truly have that kind of influence over people or events...we are at the mercy of randomness and free will...chaos and design. Before her illness I walked through life with the attitude of the young man. I thought Heather's anxiety toward the future immature, but in truth she was always ahead of me, more developed, realistic. Was I a fool to see only my love for her?
When I first brought the print of The Storm to our home, Heather had not seen the original, and we planned to view it at our next visit to the Met. This is one of the many things that we never got to do. Her sister Lizzy is also an ardent admirer of this painting, and we now plan to go to the Met together to see Cot's masterpiece; in such fashion we will bring Heather there with us, and we will study it through our eyes and her spirit, and no doubt contemplate the many storms that surround us all.
|The Storm, as it hangs in our apartment|