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Henri Fantin-Latour, White Lilies (c. 1883)

The beautiful and the terrible mingle. The horrible and the delightful- the flower that blossoms in all its loneliness into a beauty incarnate. Setting against the ugly and the homely, like a harmonious melody that courses through a hubbub of ceaseless clanks and clangs, one need not strain his ears and the music will flow into them like honey. Modesty the flower knows not. The flame of its beauty coruscates even in the depth of night, when the whole town is plagued by endless sleeps and ravaged on the point of crumbling away. Those who are inexorably licked by the flame allege that the flower is the vessel of the Devil.

Still-lives often take on the appearance of an artificial nature. What is depicted is no longer something that bustles with life, as life is frozen for the sake of art. Therefore we see, on closer inspection, how every leaf of the lily seems to tremble as its last breath is on the brink of slipping away, or some might fancy that they hear the flower letting out a long but faint hiss of remorse. Impeccable beauty often comes with the price of an ephemeral existence. Even before the flower starts to bud we prophesy its decay. And the process of its decaying can be painfully long for spectacle: it is akin to witnessing a molten wax model melting away to its demise.

“And thus whenever I toss and turn, unable to sleep when my head is too weighed down with heavy thoughts, the balmy night wind will always be there to calm my restlessness with his affectionate caress. This little gesture of ready charity never fails to transport me to sublime happiness. In return to his kindness I sway my supple body like a serpent navigating his way to a disarmed prey, or an undulated sea, the choppy waves making periodic appearances like numerous crescent moons. He will be so ecstatic that together we sing a duet of a merry elegy, until the music abruptly ceases as we are out of breath, and silence, and the whole earth, is peopled only by our thrumming echoes,” the flower confesses.

The flower lives perennially with her beauty immortalised fresh as if she is just on the cusp of her youth. Myriads hands rub her petals, savagely or tenderly, in their sweated palms yet beauty is indestructible. Veins still betray a pale red even when the flower is withering. Confidently she whispers to herself that her heart still palpitates.


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