The Portrait Sitting

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingress had arrived at last, and although I wanted desperately to fly down the staircase and burst into the sitting room to breathlessly gaze upon his dear face once more, I willed myself to practice restraint. That would be unseemly behaviour for a princess such as I had so recently become.

Instead I glided into the room, chin up, face turned slightly to the side, as he had painstakingly instructed me from the beginning. I did not look directly at him as I took my place on the backless chair and resumed the pose. Nonetheless, I felt the blush in my cheeks as we greeted each other.

“Joséphine-Eléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn” he murmured, with a slight bow of his head. That he always recited my entire name each time we met thrilled me, although I strongly suspected it was merely meant to tease.

“Monsieur,” I demurred, “please call me Princess, seulement.” It had become our small private jest, from our first encounter when he had found ‘Princess Albert de Broglie’ too stuffy and formal for our ‘intimate’ sittings. But he did not call me Princess, of course, and strangely enough that fact made me feel even more of a princess in his presence.

He remarked that the afternoon light was perfection. I straightened my back and looked at his left elbow, the place we had agreed I should direct my focus. Chosing a spot in the distance had been dismissed when he found it difficult not to portray me as staring vacantly into space. I was happier to be able to regard him so well in my periphery. My serious face had too closely resembled a frown, and my artiste did not want to preserve for future generations a princess with a scowl. I remembered to relax and to breathe.

Impossible for me to glower in his presence. Impossible. He chattered aimlessly about my unique beauty and traits and mannerisms that he was so diligently attempting to record. This was to be the culmination of his numerous observations, the tiring but never tedious consecutive hours and days of posing, the capturing of my very soul on canvas.

Would he also capture the small sadness I felt today, knowing this would be the last time we met like this? Did he know that I had fallen a little in love with him, my very handsome gentle portrait painter? How I would miss the preparation, the donning of the blue satin dress, the bracelets, the hair just so.

As before, the hours went by, the afternoon light faded, and the session ended. Too soon, too soon. He gathered up his paints and his brushes with a satisfied sigh. The rest he would finish in his studio, and the portrait would be delivered tout de suite. I was not allowed to see it until it was finally complete.

If, when we unveil the finished portrait, I should sense a wistfulness in my pictured expression, a petite ennui, then I will know that he saw it there. And perhaps, sweet foolish dream of something that can never be, I will know that he felt it too.

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