The Secret Life of Paintings

Submitted into Contest #242 in response to: Write about a gallery whose paintings come alive at night.... view prompt


Fantasy Fiction Speculative

The door below closed upon the inverted cupcake which was the museum. From 92 feet above, the light from the glass dome dimmed as the sun set, and the night lighting came to life, automatically signaling the end of another day and the beginning of the secret adventure.

The ramp that swirls around the building’s interior, leaving a void – a heart, of sorts – in the middle seemed bare, empty of footprints and sound. For the briefest of moments there was a lull, a silence. No breath heard, no sound. It was peaceful.

Then things changed.

It began with the Hermitage at Pontoise. Had any human been there, they would have noticed that the window in the tallest structure of the painting suddenly had a slight flicker of light. The candle flickered, casting an eerie glow upon the three French peasants in the lower part of the painting. The one who was bent over straightened, placing a hand at the crick of her back before straightening her large white hat. A sigh escaped her throat as she looked around, eyes widening at what she saw.

She stepped forward, murmuring, “Mon dieu.” With that brief utterance, she reached the front of the painting, and again bent, this time leaning out of the frame. With a gasp, she looked back at the other two.

“Henri! Henri, tu dois voir ça ! Viens vite!” With that utterance, the man who was picking greens stood. Slowly, he made his way through the low fields until he stood beside the woman. The other woman, hiking her long skirts, came behind to peer between them. With a shrug, Henri stretched one leg over the frame edge and straddled the frame of the painting.

He was immediately shocked as the portion outside the painting grew in size, forming a half-man, half-painting version of himself. He was so startled he tumbled completely out of the painting, instantly righting himself to a full-size man. Patting himself, he stared at the painting, at the diminutive versions of the women he knew. With a barked laugh, he reached into the painting, plucking both women out before they knew what was happening or his hands shrunk back to painting size.

As both women grew, they began to laugh and dance around, sending echoes through the winding hall of the museum. The women hugged each other, then looked over the railing of the walkway as Henri ran up and down the ramp.

The first problem happened when Henri passed by the yellow cow, whooping and hollering. The oddly formed creature, already locked into a panicked pose, was used to silence when the night lighting happened, so this startled her further. She began bucking in the oranges and greens that surrounded her, until her frenetic motions bucked her out of the Franz Marc painting. Landing with a clatter on the ramp, she began to slide downward towards the women. The one in the dress, younger than the lass with the white hat, screamed and fainted. The other woman, more aged and experienced, began to coo at the cow, trying to calm her as she slid. With strong hands born from years of experience as a painting peasant, she grabbed the horn as the cow slid by, and managed to dig her feet in and halt the descent.

 No longer moving, the cow seemed baffled, stunned into stillness. Unused to the position, she froze, her udders rocking gently until they finally settled. The older woman rubbed her neck, whispering to her as Henri helped to revive the young girl.

Things settled to a calm for a brief moment, as the figures from the awakened paintings caught their breath. As this happened, three naked women climbed out of their paintings to join the others. All three were similar in appearance, from what they could see. They looked at each other with confusion as they saw themselves in the others. The one who was nursing an infant as she stood there, nodded, and frowned. “You two look hurt.”

The masked one, who bore scars and odd decorative garb reminiscent of bondage, scoffed. Her scar read “Pervert,” and she shook her head. “Truth,” she said. The other one, whose scars reminiscent of a child’s drawing of two women holding hands dug in glaring red on her back, murmured, “Life is pain.”

Meanwhile, Henri, seeing these three naked women, struggled to avert the other women’s eyes. They were chattering on in French, outraged at the bare display before them. The cow slowly lay down, off her feet for the first time since being painted the bright color of a lemon.

Next to join them was a black man, completely hued in shades of grey. He brushed down his immaculate top and shook his head at the scene before him. He went to the three women and looked upon the baby. His ever-present frown slowly broke, rising into a smile. He whispered some words to the baby, drawing confusion from the others.

“Sawubona, ngane enhle.” The baby gurgled and smiled.

Slowly, the people and cow came to feel more comfortable with each other, drawing into a community and interacting with each other as the moon shone directly overhead, casting additional light through the dome above. The goal of the architect to draw people together through the large, open museum space seemed to work, even for creations made of various art supplies. Language barriers were overcome with gestures and smiles. The cow fell asleep, having finally succumbed to the exhaustion of the years. And all seemed fine.

Until the abstracts came to life.

It started with the words from “Prisoner of Love” numbers one through three. All those words, black and dark, jumbled together, forming a fog that seeped around everyone’s feet. Appearing as a massive swarm of ants startled the cow so badly that she immediately leaped to all four feet and began stamping away, causing a horrific echo to tremble through the museum. Even the glass of the dome seemed to tremble under the might of her vengeance.

The human figures reacted as one, kicking them away, and shrieking when a word danced on their feet. That is when the woman with the baby stopped, suddenly, and looked at what they were trying to snuff out.

 “Why,” she began. “Must.” Her eyebrows lifted. “They’re words! They’re just words!” The other two selves of her started to calm the others, and eventually they all even managed to ease the fears of the cow. The words slid down the ramp, landing at the base of the museum, to lay still.

The next wave of abstract craziness occurred when white swirls came through the air, dancing around like fireflies until they fizzled down at the bottom, illuminating the words. Repelled by the blackness of the text, they soared, as one, to hover around the top of the museum, illuminating everything below.

A shattering sound of glass pierced the air as various blue, red, and green shards exploded out of the Giacomo Balla painting, noise filling the air with a cacophony that awoke all of the Jackson Pollock paintings at once. Multicolored swirls of strings and yarn flung out into the area, wrapping around all the humans and cow, binding them and tying them more firmly than a duct tape convention could.

The light was beginning to come through the dome, as daytime started to approach. The strings of the Pollock paintings began to move again, dragging their captives to their respective paintings. Several strings formed a net to catch the words and the light swirls. Each was shoved back into their painting, and then then, only then, did the strands of color return to their own homes. They managed to get into place, every one of them embracing the chaos that they managed to subdue, as they prepared for the doors above and below to be unlocked and opened.

When all the paintings had returned to stillness, the first curator walked through, looking at the paintings as he strode down the spiraling hall. He stopped, suddenly, in front of Camille Pissarro’s “L´Hermitage à Pontoise,” and stared at it.

“Funny,” he said to himself. “I don’t remember a light in that window.” Shaking his head, he continued downwards as the day began.

March 21, 2024 19:04

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Darya Black
21:07 Mar 27, 2024

Love the chaos caused by the abstract paintings and the references to real works of art! A very lively and engaging read! Beautifully done.


Denise Glickler
03:07 Mar 28, 2024

Thanks so much! I have always loved the architecture of the Guggenheim, so I had fun finding out the paintings currently there to use. When I started, I knew I wanted to involve the Pollock, since I am NOT a fan of


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Kristi Gott
23:12 Mar 24, 2024

The transformations of the paintings to living beings is creatively and beautifully written. Well done!


Denise Glickler
13:08 Mar 27, 2024

Thank you so much! I appreciate that.


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Alexis Araneta
10:32 Mar 22, 2024

Very creative and imaginative, this one. What a riot ! A bit of a correction: "Henri! Henri, tu dois voir ça ! Viens vite!”


Denise Glickler
21:11 Mar 22, 2024

Thank you! Edit made. I never studied French or Zulu, so I had to rely on Google Translate.


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