General Fiction posted September 30, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
an art-based story


by Angela VA

Do you see me in the painting? I'm the one slightly to the right of the middle, holding the glass of wine. I wish I could put down that glass, at least during the night, when the visitors have all left. Still, holding the glass for eternity is better than having that man beside me staring at me every second of every day and night. It's been over 100 years now, and still he stares.

I am the model and actress Ellen Andrée, or so I thought until 1882. When Auguste painted his last brush stroke of me, on "Le déjeuner des canotiers," I was terrified. It appeared I'd moved from real life to being stuck in the painting. I tried to call out to Auguste, but I couldn't move or make a sound. He could obviously see me here. How did he not notice that I was missing from the room where I was modeling for him? Did he think I'd left the room that quickly? Was he too engrossed in washing his brush?

Even as Pierre-Auguste Renoir continued to make adjustments to his painting, he still didn't realize that I was trapped. I wondered when France would realize that their beloved Ms. Andrêe was missing. I was determined to not lose hope.

For a year I'd been stuck here, glass to my lips, wondering when the efforts to release me from this prison would begin. The painting was obviously finished now, after months of changes and additions. The paint had dried and I heard that the painting would soon be displayed at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. I welcomed the chance to see something besides that one room. I was grateful that Renoir had painted me facing forward, so that I could at least see!

At the exhibition, there were visitors from other countries. For the first time, I heard an English translation of the painting title, "Luncheon of the Boating Party."

I sat in the painting, watching the crowds mill about, many staring at the painting with exclamations of "magnifique!" and "c'est énorme!"

At last a woman looked at me and asked, "Isn't that Ellen Andrée?" If I'd had a heart to beat, it would have been beating wildly at that question. Would I finally be released from my prison?

Looking at me intently, the husband said, "I think it is. I saw her earlier, at the entrance, and it sure looks like the same person."

Saw her earlier? How could that be, since I was here, in the painting?

Then I saw myself, or rather, her, across the room. There she was, walking with Pierre-Auguste Renoir himself. A hush fell and the crowd parted as they strode toward me. The other Ellen looked up at me, smiled broadly and thanked Auguste for including her in his breathtaking painting. Chuckling, she said that now she would live on, never running out of wine or attention.

I'd say that my world stood still then, but it already had, hadn't it? I wasn't Ellen. I was just a painted image of Ellen, despite having all of her memories. There would be no escaping this painting and no removing the wine glass from my lips. If the staring man beside me was also self aware, he would be forever focusing on me, without even any blinking. I'd have to learn to ignore him.

The years have flowed by, as streams of people have come to gaze at the painting, and at me. After Paul Durand-Ruel sold the painting to an American in 1923, I was moved to the U.S. to the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C., where I still am today.

Most people only come through the museum once and I never see them again. Others are drawn to return. Decades ago, one particular man visited repeatedly, for 30 years. I heard people say that he was a famous actor named Edward G. Robinson. He would stand and look at the painting for hours, even saying that he was plotting a way to steal it.

That was the closest I have come to feeling known. I kept waiting for the day that he would realize that I am alive in here. I think he did know, in a way, but he just couldn't wrap his brain around it.

If you ever find yourself in the Phillips Collection, please look me in the eyes and say, "hello." You can call me Ellen, for I have no other name.


Sudden Flash Fiction contest entry


I fell in love with this painting when I was in high school, on a field trip. I walked into the room, saw this painting for the first time, and was entralled. I understand Edward G. Robinson's fascination.

photo credit: Pierre-Auguste Renoir [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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