Beautiful Sadness

A prolonged and exasperating search for a hair clip yesterday led me to a mildly revelatory moment. Hmm. Can something be “mildly revelatory”? Sounds oxymoronic to me. Oh what the hell, let’s go with it. Anyway, I finally found the elusive hair clip – my best tortoiseshell one – tucked away on the shelf of my bathroom mirror, wedged behind a jar of skin cream. I removed the clip from its hiding place and, since I was standing right in front of the mirror, looked up and saw my reflection. I saw, staring back at me, my “beast face”. My “troubled” face. A face of sadness.

When you consider that I was completely makeup-free, with air-dried, uncoiffed hair, and had only four hours of anxious, fitful sleep, I actually didn’t look half bad. From a purely superficial standpoint, my appearance was surprisingly decent given the circumstances. But something else was going on underneath. It was the unmistakable look of sadness. A look that easily overrides glowing skin and shiny hair. When one is profoundly sad, as I am these days, it marks your face indelibly, the telltale signs found in the eyes, the corners of the mouth, tension in the brow. An overall expression of despair. A mask that carries the desperate message, “Help me”.

The bathroom mirror incident led me to think about how sadness or, more poetically, “melancholy”, has been a popular theme in art through the ages. Sad women (it’s always women!) are considered a “beautiful” subject in the eyes of many painters. The Pre-Raphaelites had a particular fondness for dejected and forlorn women. Who knows? Maybe they suffered from depression too!

I’m somewhat relieved that artists aren’t disturbed or distracted by unhappy models, and even find beauty in them, because I have to pose at the New York Academy of Art tonight. And the beast, tag-along that he is, will be up on that platform with me. He’s a menace. It’s what he does.

John William Godward’s Tambourine Girl:


10 thoughts on “Beautiful Sadness

  1. Claudia,

    You found it. Good job. This is an archetype that you might fill comfortably for now. Just know that it is an archetype and not completely you. You just need it now.

    Take care.

    • artmodel says:

      Well said, Waverly. Thank you for that. There’s actually something quite comforting about “becoming” an archetype, as it is timeless and recognizable. I can lose myself in it – like you said, temporarily – even though it isn’t the “real me”.

      Appreciate your comments, friend.


  2. Hernan says:

    Interesting question, however, if you look at some of Velázquez dwarf paintings you’d see a profound sense of melancholy there. I think one of the main reasons why sadness has been so widely projected through the female form in the history of art is partly due to the mistreatment women suffered in those days, also, let’s not forget that art reflects the author, and what better way to project something harsh than using the gentle and warm contours of the female form? – to contemplate the female body is like varnishing oneself against all bitterness, it makes us feel safe, I now wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that we all come from one? – I hope you will soon find the answers your soul may be seeking for.

    • artmodel says:


      That’s an interesting analysis. The “sad woman” can be interpreted many ways. No doubt that social mores and cultural attitudes toward women come into play. Femininity was defined very differently in the 18th century than it is now

      My soul is still searching, thank you. I hope the “answers” come soon.

      Nice to hear from you.


  3. swatch says:

    Another beautiful painting and your journey continues. Thanks for providing a platform for so many interesting insights. Have a calm weekend.

    • artmodel says:

      Swatch, many thanks. You are always so sensitive, and I find it very reassuring.

      This is a beautiful painting and I knew my readers would like it. One of the best from that genre I think.

      Yes, I am hoping for a calm weekend.

      Thanks for commenting.


  4. so beautiful, I love this painting…

  5. Kate says:

    you are beautiful. at your worst. but at your best too. aren’t we all? best and worst and beautiful?

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