Ladies with Letters: By the Sea

Alexander Mark Rossi 1894When I visit the beach, I am almost as covered up as these three ladies in their Victorian gowns. Long gone are my childhood days of scrabbling over mussel-encrusted boulders, the wind whipping my hair against my face. Older and maybe an inch wiser, I sit under an umbrella, a skirt protecting pale legs, my toes burrowing into the sand.

In my bag of water, grapes, hardboiled eggs and sunblock is a book. It’s always there, but I seldom read more than a page or two.

The waves hypnotize me, roaring with the collapse of a billion bubbles. What do you call that shade of green in the deep hollow of the curl, or that shimmering translucence right before it breaks? And yet the distant water is blue, blue and bluer still until the horizon melts into the sky.

I watch seagulls steal chips from the young mother snapping photos of her child and search for the flash of dolphins, which sometimes arc through the surf just offshore. Pelicans fly overhead in a V formation, their shadows gliding across the sand like bombers in WWII news reels.

The glare and salt and whoosh make me drowsy beyond measure, but I don’t close my eyes. I look at everything…except the pages of my book.

That’s why, as much as I enjoy this 1894 painting by Alexander Mark Rossi, I can’t picture myself as one of the three women ignoring the sea behind them.

The painting is (inevitably) entitled “The Love Letter,” so they must be sisters rather than a mother and her daughters. With her hair pinned up, the middle woman is clearly older than the girls whose hair streams down their backs. An envelope lies on the rock, and a little sailboat floats forgotten in a puddle—perhaps a comment on leaving behind childish things for more “grown-up” pursuits like romance.

In the background a barefoot woman with a basket on her back appears to be looking for something, clams perhaps or seaweed? And on the horizon, a ship trails smoke as it steams away from port.

Rossi was born in Corfu in 1840, the son of an Italian judge, and emigrated to London in the 1870s. Over the next 30 years he exhibited 66 works at the Royal Academy, often painting children and young adults, many modeled on his own family members.

Cards and other products featuring this painting are available in the Post Whistle Shop on Zazzle.

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3 thoughts on “Ladies with Letters: By the Sea

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