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Portrait of an Art Historian

Joe Dunthorne

She clicks. The projector beams

The Cotton Exchange in New Orleans, 1873 

across her dining room wall.

She checks her notes, winces at the simile:


Degas pulls our gaze to the gent

keeping book in the back room,

the windows hang like guillotines.


She's revamping an Impressionism lecture

that's older than most of her students.

After thirty years, her projector's a house pet,

squatting at the end of its leash. She clicks,

it draws a blank. A slide is missing. She stares at

The Spot-lit Square of Uneven Wallpaper, 1973.

She remembers choosing the pattern

from a stack of remaindered stock:

her first attempt at DIY. The sheets overlap;

rose stems splint where they ought to meet.

An aesthete would cringe but, as her cow-licked

fringe stands to attest, she is not so afflicted.


Her thumb is attuned to the undergraduate

attention span. She clicks again. It's Manet's

maid at the overstocked bar,

for whom she still gathers sympathy.


Baring her wrists, saddened and bored

despite the spectacle. A gentlemen

addresses her bib of pale skin

for a flute of champagne and a clementine.


She plucks a satsuma from the still-life

on her table, turbans her thumb, removes

the peel slowly: a spiral, an abstract.

She feels nothing. It's dark outside.


The height of Parisian entertainment

is cut from the frame: the trapeze artist's

ankles are all that remain.


She's been to see this painting a dozen

times – more – and watched her students

hustle to get a good look as though fighting

for drinks at the Union Bar. The girl's glazed

expression, kept behind security glass.


The barmaid has no reflection; a ghost

amid the vanity, defined by her work and yet lost

to it. The chandeliers hang like rain clouds.


The Wolf No 17 (Spring 2008)

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