The Watchful Painting

portraitAbout 15 years ago, I was attending university outside of London. The school is famous for its art gallery that draws visitors from all over England. My final exams were given in a cavernous hall with dozens of enormous oil paintings covering the walls, from floor to ceiling.

I noticed that one painting hanging to my right had been covered with a large British flag. Although I didn’t think much of it at the time, I asked several of the 3rd year students if they knew anything about it and they told me the following story.

Apparently, the university had always given exams in this hall because it was the largest building on campus. A number of years ago, there was one student who could not concentrate on his final exams. He just kept staring at a certain painting, oblivious to everything around him. He stared and stared at this one particular painting.

While everyone else was scribbling down answers, he took two of his sharpened pencils, inserted them into his nose and slammed his head into the desk. The pencil tips penetrated straight into his brain, killing him instantly.

Ever since then, there has always been one painting in the gallery that is covered up during final exams. I went into the gallery one day to see the painting, and it is a portrait of a British nobleman from the 19th century. It is utterly unremarkable except for the fact that his eyes stare straight back at you the kind of painting that follows you wherever you move.

The only certainty in this story that I can vouch for is that every years hundreds of students shuffle into the hall to take their final exams and try, against all instincts and urges, to keep from continually glancing up at the British flag hanging from the wall above them.



Jonathan from Sudbury, MA