A Portrait of Forever

Set in the 1800s, this story is based on two figures from history, Claude Monet, the famous painter, and Elisabeth of Austria. He once painted a portrait of her, and the story is based on their relationship. It is fiction, however. There is no truth in the story.

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1. A Portrait of Forever

 Claude Monet stood before Elisabeth, the Empress of Austria, and bowed low. They were very well acquainted, as he had painted her portrait many times before. Though what Elisabeth did not suspect was that the painter was hopelessly in love with her.

  He vividly remembered how she looked the first time she sat for her picture. He was in his late teenage years and she wasn’t yet fifteen. She sat upon a velvet stool, fidgeting irritably in her tight crinoline dress. She was a very beautiful young woman, with dark ringlets of hair falling around her pale skinned face, but on her first sitting, she ruined the image by wearing a permanent scowl throughout the day.

 “Mother, why must I wear such atrocious attire? I will be made a mockery of,” she complained, furrowing her brow in an unpleasant manner.

 “You do amuse me, Sissi! You look most desirable! Think of how jealous your friends will be.”

 Elisabeth obviously wasn’t convinced. Claude smiled nervously at her as he set up his canvas and paints. Upon meeting her, he felt a little intimidated, as did most people. Thirteen years later, however, no such nervousness was present. She had grown to like the chirpy painter, who whistled while he worked, and amused her during the dreary sittings. After three sittings, she had requested that Claude be the only man to paint her, as he was the one man who made it an enjoyable experience. So that particular day, he cheerily prepared his paints, whilst Elisabeth, now a young woman, floated gracefully around the room, chatting to Claude.

 “I do not understand why I must marry Franz Joseph. His intentions are good, and I can tell he loves me so. But what of me? I do not love him. And what is life without love? I will never feel the same for him, and it saddens me,” she said, throwing her hands in the air in despair. Claude made a sympathetic noise. Though he was upset that Elisabeth was marrying, he couldn’t help feeling pleased that Elisabeth’s feelings for her husband to be did not match those of Franz Joseph.

 “Sissi, you must do as your mother says. She only wants what is best for you.”

 “Her opinion matters not. I want to be happy. I would rather marry a perfectly charming man of no fortune than spend my life with such an unimaginative man of no taste!”

 Claude smiled smugly “Such as myself, ma’am?” he said cheekily.

 Elisabeth smiled, and a giggle escaped her lips “Perhaps we should elope! Elisabeth Monet…how delightful that sounds.”

 “Miss Elisabeth! What would your mother say?” Claude asked in jest.

 “I think she would be most pleased. She rather likes your company. As do I.”

 “I’m glad to hear it, Miss Elisabeth. Now please sit and relax. You used to be an awful sitter.”

 “I still am,” she replied, wiggling on the same velvet stool she had the first time. Claude smiled as he made the first stroke on the canvas.

 Evening drew nearer, and Claude bid Elisabeth and her family goodnight, trudging home through the muddy fields in the dark. Upon his arrival at his house, he was greeted by the warmth of the coal fire, and a strong sense of home. He took off his boots and settled down at the table, lighting a candle so that he could work. The picture before him had been a project of his for almost a year, and every night, he would add a little more detail. He was determined, however, to finish it that night. He worked until the early hours of the next morning, adding the final brushstrokes as sunlight flooded through his window. He propped the masterpiece against a wall and stood back to admire his handiwork. It was a picture of him and Elisabeth, sat on a bridge with their legs dangling over the water. Every detail was perfected, from the sunlight reflecting off the water, to all the many shades of brown in Elisabeth’s hair. But the most important feature was the ring on her finger, as she clasped Claude’s hands in her own. In the picture, her lips were slightly parted, and only Claude knew the words she was saying. In his mind, she said “This is it. A portrait of forever. So that no matter where we are or who we are in the company of, we know that our hearts are bound for eternity.” He longed for the day when she would say those words to him, but he knew it would never come.

 Claude wiped the tears off his cheeks, and set out to visit Elisabeth, and spend another day of bliss in her presence.


“Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

 Claude wondered if he should speak out. He couldn’t bear to see Elisabeth, stood at the altar, flawless in her white dress, but with a man she did not love, and never would. She looked near to tears, and her sorrow stirred something inside Claude. He wanted to tell her. He could tell her.

 “Then I now pronounce you to be husband and wife.”

 As the rest of the procession applauded, Claude slipped out of the church and ran all the way home.


 “I love you.”

 Elisabeth looked mortified. Claude was on one knee before her, a ring outstretched for her taking. She was already shaking her head. She put her hands over Claude’s and closed his hand, forcing him to take the ring back.

 “I cannot.”

 “We could elope, like you said.”

 Elisabeth sighed “I wish I could. My heart belongs with you, Claude, it always has. But where would we go? My mother would be so disappointed…”

 “My darling. We can go anywhere you wish. But you cannot allow her or anyone else to stand in front of us. We have waited too long. I have waited my whole life for you. You can finally be happy.”

 Elisabeth nodded and smiled, though tears were streaming down her cheeks. “Of course. We will be so much happier, shan’t we?”

 “We will, my love. I will wait for you in the gardens beneath your window tonight. I have a gift for you.”

 With that, he turned and hurried home. It was ten years since Elisabeth’s marriage to Franz Joseph, and Claude had hidden the painting under his floorboards years earlier. Now, he found it under a layer of dust, but otherwise, unscathed.

 Meanwhile, Elisabeth sat in her room, brushing her ringlets with care. A huge grin was glued to her face, one her mother would have called “undesirable” but she didn’t care. She was finally going to be happy.


 She turned, to see her husband stood in the doorway. He looked slightly sinister, his eyes bloodshot and his bottom lip quivering in anger. A bottle of ale was in his hand, and he clasped it tightly. Elisabeth feared him in his state. And she suddenly realised that Franz must have heard her talking to Claude. He knows. He knows. Oh, God forgive me, he knows.

 “Are you well, my love?”

 “I am not your love. You will never love me!” he cried. In pure rage, he ran at Elisabeth and brought the bottle down on her head. The glass shattered and lodged into her perfect skin. Her blood spilled over the carpets, and several minutes later, she ceased to live.


 Claude waited for hours beneath her window. He didn’t understand why she hadn’t come. Deflated, he wondered if he should find her himself. He sneaked through the house, only to find his true love dead in her room. He fell to his knees, unable to believe the sight before him. Then he cried and cried, his tears mingling with her blood. His chest ached, as though her death had literally broken his heart. He decided he couldn’t bear to live. He snatched up his painting and clasped it tightly to his chest.  Opening her window as wide as possible, he took a deep breath and stepped out into the darkness.

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