Large, Bright Shop Window, 1912
This painting makes me think about my mother.
I have almost no memories of my mother and me out in the world together. Isn’t that curious? Surely we must have shopped together sometime, but I simply don’t remember it. All my memories are with the rest of our family around us, at home or at one of their houses, not roaming city streets or off to a parade or window shopping at Christmas. She was a woman who worked. And when she had that rare moment to herself, she would have taken it. Like our lady in the blue coat who, I think, is also a mother. The hobby horse to her left gives me that impression. I don’t know if she works or not, this lady, but she certainly doesn’t fancy having her little boy with her at this particular moment. He’d have shivered in the cold while pointing to all the things he wanted. (Which was everything, of course.) He’d tug at her arm to take his hand. At last she would relent and take his mitten in her stiff gloved hand and they’d have stood there, annoyed and dissatisfied together. Our lady in the blue coat does not want or need the distraction of a child clinging to her hand like wind-caught cardboard.
Her focus is in the center of the window. The prismatic colors only imply treasures. We can easily imagine toys and jewelry, china and bolts of cloth within that kaleidoscope. This is a window to everything, to fine cigars rolled on the thighs of virgins, iced tins of beluga and stiletto flutes of champagne chilled to precisely one degree above crizzling, silver goblets shared by Antony and Cleopatra on evenings of poetry and murder. And these fine things are not beyond her, but they do not hold her interest.
We sense that this is a fine quality coat our lady is wearing. In the complete picture you can see she wears a very long gown, the hem of which extends below her calf length coat. And so it is reasonable to guess she has stepped away from a small group for a moment to gaze in this window. She has been, or is going to the opera, I think. In the window I see the suggestion of a man in a cape and top hat, proper dress for a night at the opera in those days. He bends as if to take someone or something into his arms, but we do not know what or who. We do not sense this is a reflection, but rather something she imagines. We know this is the center of her attention for see, the very blue of her hat has moved from its crown into the glass to roughly frame the caped figure. This is not the man she is with, no. The window man is deep within some dream or fantasy. This is a woman who is barely hanging on, who is ready to come apart. Notice how there is only light at the top of her head, as if she burns with dreaming. Notice, too, how to the left of the caped figure is a plain bold line of brown like the bole of a tree, and a brief suggestion of palm fronds above. This woman wants more than a lover. She wants a new life altogether, away from everything she knows. Away from her husband, her children, her land.
And so this painting makes me think about my mother.