by Javier Marías

Not long ago a friend and I went to the Prado to see the exhibit entitled “The Spanish Portrait.” As we walked through the show she turned to me at one point and asked, “Have you ever looked at a painting and felt intensely attracted to the subject for some reason? And then remembered that you will never meet the person, who has been dead for centuries. And yet, the person is still there, and you still feel attracted. What do you do when that happens?” My friend went on to confess that this had happened to her once while gazing at a reproduction of a portrait of the young Isaac Newton. Later on, we discussed this phenomenon with a friend of ours, who said that she had felt drawn in the very same way to a painting by Titian, of a young gentleman with long black hair and intense eyes, his face turned slightly to the side. I didn’t think I had much to add to the conversation; nothing of the sort had ever happened to me while looking at any painting, though I cannot deny having admired the elegant, icy beauty of Lady Helen Vincent, captured on canvas by John Singer Sargent around 1905. If memory serves me correctly, before she married, Lady Helen had been an actress, a woman used to being admired for her beauty, and so she allowed an art gallery to display Sargent’s painting in its window for all the world to see, a highly unusual occurrence in those days. After thinking about it a bit more, I realized something: on one or two occasions, while looking through newspapers and magazines, I had come across photographs of women I found so compelling that I cut them out and saved them, though I rarely ever looked at them again.

Translated from the Spanish by Kristina Cordero

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Javier Marías was born in Madrid in 1951. English-language translations of his novels include All Souls, A Heart So White, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, and the short story collection When I Was Mortal.

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