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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: PICNIC - deadline 7-12-12 @ 9:59 AM NY Time (07/05/12)

TITLE: Tissot Tale
By Jody Day


She sat on a cold marble bench across from James Tissot’s 1876 painting, The Picnic. A blissful smile graced her wrinkled face.

“May I join you?” 4th grade art student field trips wear me out. I needed a moment to rest while the children plunked down their money in the gallery gift shop.

“Of course, my dear.” She continued to look in wonderment at the painting across from us.

“Do you know Tissot?” Her tiny hands pulled her sweater close.

“Victorian realist, a contemporary of Degas, Monet, and Whistler, he was famous for his biblical paintings. This piece is typical with a country tea party, nature, high fashion.” I rattled off my substitute art teacher knowledge in a sterile tone.

“Oh, but this one is so much more than that,” she said, grasping my arm. “Please, let me tell you about it.” Her eyes became blue stars as she stood up, her arm in mine. We walked to the painting.

“Nine people grace the scene. Three lounge on soft blue and white linens. See the young woman on the right, gazing over her teacup? Her hair is the color of shining black molasses.” She reached up as if to stroke the painted woman’s hair.

“See how forlorn and listless she appears? Her name is Ophelia. Her shawl is wrapped tightly around her shoulders and her skirt is flounced with black and white checks. She is very beautiful.” The old woman whispered in enthralled awe.

“Her brother, Francoise, reclines next to her. He suffers from a headache. His jaunty striped hat and cream colored suit are unwrinkled as he holds his teacup for his wife, Marie.” She closed her eyes and held up her hand, as holding a cup.

She’s really into this. Yes, he’s been holding that teacup for over a hundred and thirty years. I’d have a headache too. This lady must really know her art history. I’d never heard there was a story behind this painting.

“Ophelia’s grandmother chaperones the affair. She pretends to doze with her tea, but in reality, she and the vicar whisper and conspire.”

“Conspire what?” I leaned closer to the painting, pulled into her reverie.

“Ah, Marie’s brother Jean Claude leans against the tree on the far left. He pines for Ophelia. The grandmother and the vicar plan how to arrange a courtship between them.”

“Were they successful?” The words spilled out before I could stop them. The old woman did not laugh at me, but lay her head on my shoulder.

“The couple standing behind the columns gossip about the quarrel they witnessed between Ophelia and Jean Claude.” She shook her head and clucked as though the couple should mind their own business.

The painting came alive for me as the old woman talked about the cascading golden leaves, the elfish dancing of the pond water, and the fragrance of strong tea. My mouth watered as she described the nut cake that sat on the linen cloth. I could hear Marie singing Le Marseilles.

“Ma’am, I only see eight people in the painting. Where is the ninth?” I looked closer.

“Don’t you see me? I sit on the other side of the pond, dangling my bare feet in the cool water. In a moment I splash Ophelia. She will laugh and stand to her feet. Jean Claude will rush to her and propose. Francoise’ headache will disappear. The grandmother and the vicar will pretend indignation, but will be secretly pleased.” She spoke with childlike laughter in her voice.

“Excuse me?” I looked at this tiny old woman with questioning eyes. I hadn’t noticed the distinguished old gentleman standing behind us. He put his hands on her slight shoulders.

“Ready to go home, my love?” He held out his arm for her. She looked confused.

“You’ll take me home?” She took his arm.

He whispered in my direction. “The painting hung on her wall as a child. She used to gaze at it for hours and make up stories about it. It’s the only thing that she can remember anymore.” He tipped his cap good bye and led the woman away.

I turned toward the painting, still held captive by the tale. I saw her. A slight blonde child with eyes the color of blue stars splashed her bare feet in the water. I stood beside her, holding her shoes.

*James Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1836-1902.

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This article has been read 1806 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lillian Rhoades 07/12/12
Very unique application of the topic. Your knowledge of the painting was obvious, and your imagination is as impressive as your MC. :-)

I loved the interactive dialogue and the well-developed story line that ended with a great, although predictable, conclusion.
Cheryl von Drehle07/12/12
You made me look. I googled the picture... evidence that your story is quite successful!
Dolores Stohler07/12/12
What a charming story! You told it with such loving detail I felt as though I were standing there too, enjoying the art. Impressionism is my favorite form of art. Well done!
Danielle King 07/12/12
This is quite unique and hooked me from the beginning. What a gentle and charming tale!
Sharon Eastman07/12/12
I love art history, and I loved this story. Your descriptions of the painting were beautiful and insightful.
Helen Curtis07/13/12
I, too googled the picture! You really did do a marvellous job with this. I loved the ending, how the MC entered the picture through the old lady's descriptions. Well done.
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/13/12
Absolutely wonderful story!
C D Swanson 07/13/12
I loved this whole piece. How completely brilliant the way you presented this weeks topic.

I smiled while reading this because the MC speaking about the painting is something I have been doing all my life. Staring from childhood. I would look at a portrait and make up the story behind each person. So I felt as if my "house was bugged" while reading this. Loved it, and the famous portrait "The Picnic" I wonder why others didn't think of it, including myself!!

Great job. I loved it, and thought it was sheer genious.

God Bless~
Frankie Kemp 07/14/12
I absolutely love this piece! You do an excellent job of capturing a moment through the storyline you've created and through your dialogue. It made me think of--forgive me for this--Rose Dawson from the Titanic movie looking at the wreckage of the sunken ship but not seeing the wreckage. Your MC goes back to a sweeter time, and she takes the reader with her. I just love it.
Laury Hubrich 07/14/12
I love this story too, but in the back of my head I'm wondering what kind of mischief the kids are getting into in the gift shop. Oyyyy... Can you tell I've been a substitute teacher on a field trip? :) I would never leave the kids and that little thing tripped me up the whole story. Besides that, this was beautifully written!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 07/14/12
Wow! This brought tears to my eyes. You did a great job with this. It gave me a new perspective about art and paintings. I never would have gone down that road on my own. The why you covered the topic in such an individual way speaks volumes about your imagination and shows why you are a Master!
Catrina Bradley 07/14/12
Goodness! Powerful, imaginative, engrossing... and that list line. Sigh. So perfect.
Ellen Carr 07/14/12
This is just beautiful. It's so descriptive and it drew me into the picture too. (I'll have to look at that picture now.)The characters came alive and the ending was so touching. Well done!
Yvonne Blake 07/15/12
Beautiful! I was waiting for some connection - like a being a great, great granddaughter or such. You ended it very well.
Myrna Noyes07/15/12
I enjoyed this imaginative story very much, and I thought the ending was really clever. You brought me into the art gallery and in front of the painting with the women! :)
Jenna Dawn07/17/12
This is amazing. Extraordinarily creative and extremely well crafted.

I did get a little confused in the very beginning the first time the narrator spoke. It wasn't clear to me who was speaking and at first I thought you punctuated the quote wrong, as if the quote included more than it did. Other than that, I was captivated by the entire piece and hope some day I can create words on a page the way you do. ;)
Jenna Dawn07/17/12
By the way, I had to google the painting as well. It's amazing to look at it after the incredible story I just read.
C D Swanson 07/19/12
Congratulations! God bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 07/19/12
Congratulations. This is so creative and one of my all time favs. So happy it did well!
Jenna Dawn07/19/12
So you won 1st place. What a SHOCKER!!!! ;)

I didn't get a chance to read all of the Masters entries, but I suspected this would be the winner. And a 1st place EC, no less.

Congrats! I must go read more of your work so I can glean from the award winning writing style. ;)
Noel Mitaxa 07/19/12
Congratulations on your win, which is so well-deserved. You've captured so much feeling and energy in this piece, as well as demonstrating your love of art.
Lillian Rhoades 07/19/12
I didn't need the judges (love them all), for me to pick this as a winner. Congrats!
Myrna Noyes07/19/12
WARM CONGRATULATIONS from me, too! This was one of my favorite pieces this week and well deserves its win! :)
Margaret Kearley 07/20/12
I guess the Google searches for Tissot's painting have taken a dramatic rise this week - mine included. This is such a beautiful story and so brilliantly told, it captivates us all and no surprise it took a well deserved 1st placing! What a wonderful old lady - I think the MC's teaching would never be the same in future! Thank you so much for this.
Charla Diehl 07/20/12
Add me to the fan club for this wonderfully written story. Our imaginations are such a gift, and you certainly used yours to entertain every reader who took the time to check this one out. Congratulations on taking 1st place in the EC list with this very clever entry.
C D Swanson 07/26/12
Congrats! God Bless~
Gloria Grenada07/01/13
I enjoy and deeply admire James Tissot's paintings.
My screen saver [believe it or not] is `Spring'. I have used it for about six months. The people look so real and alive.
Your story is very `moving'.
Tracy Nunes 07/01/13
This made my fingers march to Google to look up the painting. It made me love the painting and the old woman. This is beautiful writing. Congratulations!
Beth LaBuff 07/02/13
Super congrats on your award, Jody, with this captivating story! I love it!
Francy Judge 07/02/13
Congratulations on well-deserved 2nd place Best of the Best! This is so creative. You chose a great painting as the subject of your story, and your vivid descriptions brought it to life. I loved it.
Margaret Kearley 07/09/13
Congratulations Jody on your well deserved second place B of B - its great to read this wonderful story again. Beautiful story, beautiful writing.
Phillip Cimei06/19/14
Jody, a well deserved 2nd b of b. I, like that little old lady, could sit for hours and create stories from paintings. Thank you for reminding me of such delightful moments in my life. God bless.