We moved on past paintings of lesser quality, among the frolicking marble nudes that the pompiers did so well. We passed into a room devoted to Gustav-Adolf Mossa and stopped at the doorway. It was overpowering. The colors were vibrant, almost harsh after the gentle treatment of the pompiers, and the subject matter was grotesque. The paintings were hard edged super-realism, all portraits of women, or rather of one single woman in a dozen horrifying guises. Her face looked like a Mucha face that had taken up devil worship. The size of the eyes was exaggerated; the mouth was tiny and perfect, smiling just a little and self-satisfied. In one painting she sat, quite nude, with her legs together and her upper body turned toward the viewer. Her breasts were enormous. As she leaned forward, with her weight on her hands and her elbows together, her breasts jutted, round, rich and full, with huge aureoles that faded imperceptibly into the white flesh beyond. Her only adornment appeared to be a Victorian hat and she sat on a pile of hay, or perhaps seaweed.
As we approached, the hat resolved itself into two ravens perched on either side of her coiffure, and within the nest of hair on top of her head were three tiny human skulls, resting like raptor’s eggs.
The painting was masterfully constructed. The eye was caught by the painter’s skill, and carried through the picture on a cunningly conceived path. From the shock of the hair nest, one’s eyes could only return to the ample breasts, down the arrow formed by her arms, past the darkness that lay at the base of her belly, to her thighs where they rested on the sea wrack. They were splattered with tiny drops of bright red blood. And then the sea wrack resolved itself into what it really had always been: hundreds, thousands, of bloody, broken, twisted human bodies.
Repelled by the pile of bodies, the eye darted back to the breasts and face, but there was no relief. Instead, the serene, enigmatic look had lost it’s mystery. Now one knew exactly why she looked so self-satisfied.
All of the bodies were male. This was no allegory of war. This was the all-devouring female.
Raven’s fingers dug into my arm as we stood before the picture and she whispered, “Horrible.” But neither of us could look away.
The picture next to it was stranger still, subtler, and therefore more terrifying. more tomorrow