She was the first piece of “real art” I had ever acquired. She was a gorgeous nineteenth century little girl beautifully painted in rich pastels – and at the time she was living in a barn that doubled as an antiques shop. You see, I was fresh out of college visiting my best friend, Suzy, up at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. We tooled around the countryside to come upon this fabulous old barn with a little antique shop inside. When we went in, I immediately noticed the little girl pastel painting. It was love at first sight.
Her seated portrait, in its original frame, was so commanding at about three by four feet, and the pastel itself was in perfect condition – absolutely flawless. She was so pretty, so innocent, seated in a green garden clearing on a perfectly blue skied day. The painting was signed G.G.Fish 1871. The only unusual thing about it was that the frame was missing the glass. (A pastel painting is so fragile, that without glass to protect it, it can be smudged and damaged so easily.) Nevertheless, she was a steal at $90.00 – but unfortunately at that time, ninety dollars may as well have been 900!
The antiques shop owner was a really nice lady who could tell how worked up I was about this painting (trying to figure out how I could afford it) and offered to hold it for me for a couple of months until I came back with the whole payment. As soon as I did, I called her on the phone. When she realized it was me who was following up on the little girl, she became very upset, crying, “the rain, the rain!”. Well, much to my horror, it had rained into her old barn, and the unprotected (remember the missing glass part?) pastel painting was ruined. She said the water had damaged half the painting and that she would just give it to me if I still wanted it, because she was going to throw it in the garbage. The following weekend I drove up to collect my poor messed up little girl. The lady opened the barn door, and sitting right there – so commanding as the first time I saw her – was the little girl, now half of her water stained and looking a little creepy (actually pretty haunting). Sadly, I drove her back home, thinking about how I “woulda- shoulda” – kicking myself all the way home for not returning sooner with money in hand.
First things first – Suzy’s mom (who happened to be a very talented artist) helped to restore the most damaged section. Second thing was to get a piece of glass cut for it asap to keep it from any further harm.
Fast forward a few years to our honeymoon on Nantucket, where Rick and I stopped into the Historical Society’s new exhibit. As we walked around the room, I admired an oil painting of a sea captain – signed G.G.Fish. G.G.Fish! Could that be my G.G.Fish, the same artist that painted the little girl?! I ran over to the Nantucket Atheneum to do a little digging, and found out that George Gardener Fish was a native Nantucketer born in 1822; a portrait painter who worked primarily in pastels. There were other examples of his work, one hanging in the sitting room of the Jared Coffin House that included a group of girls – two were his daughters and the other girls were the children of his patron, Matthew Starbuck. One of the girls looked just like my little girl. I also learned that his brother William was a frame maker on the island, and built many of George’s frames. This also confirms the origin of my little girl, because her gilded frame is of the period, but has a very unusual material adhered to it – sand! And I venture to guess that that would be Nantucket sand!
You know, in hindsight, I still regret not taking her home with me the minute I fell in love with her – oh how differently this story would have been told. She now lives in a high traffic area of my house, the Gallery, where she looks out north facing picture windows (perfect spot for a pastel, because direct sunlight tends to fade them) and where I walk by her several times a day. Yes, she still has that “Twilight Zone” vibe to her. And yes, she sometimes creeps people out. But to me she has added so much – beauty, color, scale, and antiquity to the space, as well as an intriguing story to my life. Not so bad for a first purchase.