The Stairs (1899)

James Shannon’s The Stairs is a large oil portrait of an anonymous woman ascending some steps. Painted in 1899, her beautiful face seems to hint at an unnamed sadness. Her heavy silk dress is not conducive to climbing, and she carefully lifts it, to prevent breaking her neck as well as appearing demure. Why is she climbing? Why the melancholy? I can find no explanation, either in the painting or the sources at my disposal. Suffice to say that she must move on; her current, downstairs location is no longer desirable or expedient. Despite the difficulty, she must keep going.

Change is often hard and unwanted, but come it must. As a new year approaches, may we have the wisdom to let go of what must be released, and the strength to cling on to that which must be kept.

Our follies past forgive;

Our souls divinely cheer;

And help us more to thee to live,

Dear Lord, in this new year.


Prepare us for thy will,

Whatever may appear;

And let thy loving-kindness still

Preserve us through the year.


Confirm our souls in thee,

In faith and holy fear;

And let a precious Jesus be

Our song through all the year.

Samuel Medley, in Gadsby’s Hymns, No 499