"Art is a jealous mistress." Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote easily summarizes "The Oval Portrait," written by Edgar Allen Poe. It is a chilling tale, describing the two different passions of a married couple. The husband, a painter, requests that the wife let him paint her portrait, and in obeying him, she meets her doom. As the painting matured, her health and spirits declined and yet she remained and, without objection, she continued to sit for him. His passions increase and after many weeks, as the painting nears completion, each stroke of the brush strips her of her beauty, and finally, upon the conclusion of the painting, it robs her of her life. This is a bewitching story of passion, murder, vampirism, and murder.
Poe's story is an uncanny analysis of two passions: art and romance. It is a given that the artist loves his wife, but he seems to share a much deeper bond with his art.
It is unfortunate for the wife to have fallen in love with a painter who was "passionate, studious, austere and having already a bride in his art." As she was young and happy, she seemed to have a love of all things, and yet she came to loathe his art and to despise his brushes and the other tools of his passion. All the way through the story, it is made very clear that art is not simply his occupation, but it becomes an actual woman who rivals with the wife for the painter's affection. As the wife withers away, the portrait comes to life, thus the painter achieves any artist's ultimate fantasy: the preservation of his true love and passion (whether it be the wife or the painting) against the total destruction of time.
It is well known that the...