…….Wounded, the narrator takes refuge at nightfall with his valet, Pedro, in an apartment in the turret of a grand but gloomy chateau in Italy’s Apennines Mountains. Pedro had broken into the building, which appears to have been temporarily abandoned, so that his injured employer would have a place to rest.
…….The furnishings are elegant but old and run-down. On the walls are tapestries, armorial trophies, and modern paintings in frames with intricate golden designs. In his excited state of mind (the delirium that appears to be setting in as a result of his injury), the narrator becomes fascinated with the paintings. So that he may contemplate them while lying down, he directs Pedro to light a candelabrum next to the bed and draw back the bed curtains. A small book he had found on the bed describes the paintings.
…….Hours pass as he reads the book intently. About midnight, he draws the candelabrum closer for more light. When he does so, he casts light on a painting in a niche, a painting he had not noticed until now. It portrays a young girl “just ripening into womanhood,” the narrator says. After looking upon it for a moment, he closes his eyes while he considers whether his vision had deceived him. In a few moments, he looks again. It is a head-and-shoulders vignette in a gilded oval frame. Though the painting is a worthy work of art, it was not the painter’s style or the extraordinary beauty of the young lady that had startled the narrator moments before; it was the absolutely lifelike expression on her face. It now appalls him. The narrator returns the candelabra to its former place, casting the painting back into the shadows. He then looks up the oval portrait in the book.
…….It says the lady was the wife of a painter who loved his art more than he loved her. One day, he expressed a desire to paint her portrait. Meekly and obediently, she agreed to sit for it in the dim light of the turret; however, she did not look forward to the prospect of watching her husband lavish his affections on a canvas rather than on her.
…….“[H]e . . . took glory in his work, which went on from hour to hour, and from day to day,” the narrator says.
…….So intent was he on his task that he did not notice the “withered the health and the spirits of his bride, who pined visibly to all but him.” But she did not complain, for she did not want to disturb the pleasure that her husband—a well-known artist—took in executing the portrait. Those who saw it marveled at its remarkable likeness to his wife. They regarded it as a testament to his love for her.
…….When the portrait was nearing completion, the painter was so engrossed with his work that he refused admittance to all observers. As his work progressed, he did not realize that the hues he was daubing onto the canvas—the color of the cheeks, for example—came directly from his wife. She was a living palette.
…….At long last, after the final stroke of his brush, the painter stood back to observe and said, “This is indeed life itself!”
…….In triumph, he turned around to his wife. She was dead.Climax
…….The climax occurs when the account in the book reveals that the lifelike portrait of the young lady is absorbing her vitality.