Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Portrait

What I find fascinating about anonymous portraits is the imaginary life we create for those captured for but a moment in time. I've often wondered about the woman in this portrait. 

I imagined her to be the eldest daughter of three, living on a grand estate and wearing beautiful dresses. I wondered if she was happy and if she lived a long life. I hoped so.

Romona, a library acquisitions assistant, wrote me recently after coming across a familiar face. She traced the familiarity back to the post I did on the woman in the portrait...it was, indeed, the same woman.  Her name was Enrica Soma, the mother of actress Angelica Huston.

On June 9, 1947 she was featured on the cover of Life magazine, identified only as "Young Ballerina." She was the fourth wife of famed director John Huston. Shortly thereafter, she became the mother to three children. A son named Tony, a daughter Angelica and her sister, Allegra. 

Many years later in Italy, while driving to her father's house for the holiday, she died in a car accident. She was just 39 years old. 

Her youngest daughter Allegra, who was four years old at the time of her mother's death, has written a memoir called Lovechild

Of course, I see the portrait differently now. Knowing more about the woman behind the face is bittersweet. She did not live a long life as I imagined, or hoped. In fact, she died at my age. 

But despite the tragedy that greeted her in her young life, I find myself with an even deeper respect and appreciation for her grace, her beauty and her mystery. And in this portrait, it is the life she lived passionately as a ballerina, and her beauty and presence as a mother, that endures. 

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