The girl in yellow
Kathryn Marshall | Monday, October 10, 2016
Try as I might, I can’t help but fall into the category of people whose complexion takes on an unflattering sheen when the color yellow is adorned. However, there is one nameless lady in particular who rocks the color yellow, and I’ve been admiring her dress for years.
The French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard called her “A Young Girl Reading” in his 18th-century Rococo style painting, which currently hangs in the National Gallery of Art. My mom loves the painting, hence the copy currently hanging on our dining room wall.
I still recall lugging that painting with its thick wooden frame to writing camp because I wanted to write about her, the girl in yellow. Little seventh grade Kathryn loved pondering the question “What is she reading?” At that time, I decided the little pink book was one of poetry, because (for all I knew) poetry books are small and fun to read.
Walking past the painting was one of many daily habits of which I thought nothing when I moved away to college. She didn’t reappear until my third week of freshman year, when I made a wrong turn on the way to German class and found myself face-to-face with a copy hanging in the hallway.
My flustered state collided directly with the graceful, content persona of the girl dressed in yellow. Tearing up was the last reaction I expected, as I still don’t pride myself on being overtly sentimental, so the overwhelming wave of emotion caught me off guard. Upon reflection, I think it’s because I turned that corner at the peak of my first ever frantic exam week, right as college was becoming a reality.
That week I again asked “What is she reading?” I determined she was reading a prayer book of some sort. Because there is no way I look as composed as her as I try to skim-but-also-analyze large academic texts for class every night.
Since then, the painting continues to appear at the most unexpected moments in the most unanticipated places. Yesterday, my senior-self again made that wrong turn and found myself studying the girl in yellow. This time, I just smiled and mentally said thank you for the reminder of the peace one can find the pages of a book.
And of course I again asked, “What is she reading?” I’ll never know. But right now, I like to imagine she’s re-visiting a journal written by her ten-year-old self and pondering how in the world she became the person she is today.
Or maybe she’s just looking past the book and pondering whether or not the vibrant yellow color suits her. Either way, I still think she rocks the dress.
Contact Kathryn Marshall at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.