By Victoria Gao & Soyolmaa Lkhagvadorj
Set in London in 1892, two women meet at an art exhibit for famous (and recently deceased) painter Wil Finch. Through their brief encounter, we find out what makes them admire his work so much.
On a dreary Thursday afternoon, I cross Bloomsbury Street and make my way over to the British Museum for the third time this week. The languid security guard posted by the right side of the Museum door tips his hat ever so slightly as I walk past him.
“At it again, Ms. Minnie?”
I force a chuckle and reply, “Oh you know me! Can’t get enough of the new Wil Finch exhibition.”
He shakes his head and goes back to the newspaper in his hands; the front page headline screams “THIEVES RANSACK NAPOLEON PORTRAIT AT LOUVRE!” in all caps.
Inside, I can see not many people have dedicated their afternoon to appreciating British art and culture. The stairs in the great room lead me down to where the Finch paintings are currently being held. When I get there, I see that I am not alone; a young woman stands in front of “Melody,” engrossed by the vivid colors and scenery. They always did say Finch was a master of optical illusions.
She wasn’t someone I had ever seen in my time scoping the Museum over the last three months. From the corner of my eyes, I watch her eyes move from left to right, from one brushstroke to the next. I keep a close watch as I pretend to look over the other Finch paintings around the room. She never leaves “Melody’s” side.
I have no other choice but to make small talk if I want her to move away from the painting.
“Are you a fan of Wil Finch?” I ask her.
She flinches at the sound of my voice. “Oh, I hadn’t realized anyone else was in the room. I apologize, I didn’t mean to hog this painting. It’s probably my favorite piece in the exhibition.”
I pull out a small sketchpad and charcoal. “Do you mind?” She shakes her head and leaves enough room for me to gaze at the full painting, and I get to work.
“Finch is a genius. This is also one of my favorites of his.”
She smiles and says, “I’m Loretta by the way.”
“Minnie.” The only sound filling the room is my charcoal flitting across the paper.
“There’s something about standing in front of a painting like this that makes you feel like you’re both insignificant and wishing you could be a part of something bigger.”
I can’t make out her expression, but something in her voice makes me look up. It’s almost like she’s no longer looking at the painting, but through it. I wonder how often she comes here to question her existentialism, and why “Melody” is the work of art in this whole entire museum that makes her do so.
“You must have been devastated by the news of Finch’s recent death,” I say. “I saw in the papers last week.”
Loretta shifts slightly. “That would be an understatement. The art world has lost a true genius. No matter what they’re saying about his death in the papers, Wil always had a knack for seeing the world like no one else.”
I barely remember what the papers had said about the details of his gruesome death; I had only remembered that this was his last known painting, and that its price would triple by the time it went to auction. If it went to auction. The museum probably loved all the press.
“For example, look at the brushstrokes on the bottom of the girl’s dress. The way he’s able to capture the light of the setting in the smallest of places.” She continues, “And same with the light on the subject’s faces. Have you ever seen such expressions in any other artwork in this museum?”
As I finish up the first page of my sketchpad, I have an urge to ask her a question. Would it be imprudent to pry?
In the end, my curiosity gets the best of me. “I don’t mean to pry, but did you by chance know him?”
For the first time in our conversation, Loretta turns to face me. With her high cheekbones and sharp jawline, she could be an older version of the girl in the painting. But other details are off, like the color of her eyes and the slant in her nose bridge.
“No, I’ve just been a fan for a long time, that’s all.” She looks at her wristwatch, smiles, and says, “Well, I think that’s enough art for me today. It was a pleasure meeting you.” Her smile does not reach her eyes.
I watch her ascend the stairs back to the main part of the museum and hope it isn’t still raining outside.
Back at my studio, I transfer my rough sketch of “Melody” onto a blank canvas by placing a piece of carbon paper between my sketch and the canvas and lightly press my pencil over the lines in my sketch. Then, I apply splotches of paint along the pencil marks and use my brush and palette knife to spread the colors evenly across the canvas. I add three more layers of paint by quickly applying short, thick brush strokes to imitate the texture, illusion of movement, and lighting of Finch’s last-known painting. After my replica of “Melody” looks exactly like the original painting, I add Finch’s signature to the bottom left corner and wait for the paint to dry.
This was the first time we wrote a piece together from inception to submission, and we had so much fun with the brainstorming process! We knew we wanted to go the mystery/suspense route and came up with so many different ideas for what the setting, plot, etc., could be, especially with the digital piece in mind. In the end, we decided on a historical piece about art forgery and wanted to incorporate a fictional crime/thriller podcast episode.
Victoria Gao is a passionate writer and high school student. As a Girls Write Now mentee, she enjoys exploring different writing and multimedia genres such as science fiction and erasure poetry. She is also a writer for her high school newspaper and enjoys informing others about current events.
Soyolmaa Lkhagvadorj is an Associate Editor at Abrams Books acquiring illustrated and narrative non-fiction titles. She is especially interested in books highlighting marginalized voices and stories across a wide variety of subjects including lifestyle, pop culture, self-care and wellness, self-help, memoir, and more. She's currently a Girls Write Now and POC in Pub mentor. Originally from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, she now resides in Brooklyn.