There are two paintings of the fortuneteller by Vouet. In the first, the fortuneteller (to the left of the picture) captures the man’s attention while she tells his fortune by reading his palm. He is clearly enraptured not knowing that, while his intention is being diverted, the fortune teller’s accomplice is picking his pocket.
The tonal subtleties in this painting are handled with great mastery. The light fawn tones of the pickpocket’s shawl and the victim’s left arm dominate the right-hand side of the painting. While, on the left, the white shawl of the fortune-teller serves to highlight the tension between the fortune teller and the victim. His look of fascination is counter-balanced by her cool look of appraisal.
In the second painting, the situation is reversed. While the fortuneteller is reading the woman’s palm someone (again presumably an accomplice) is picking her pocket while waving an admonishing finger at her.
When we view these two paintings together, we are tempted to think that the male character from the first painting is the male character in the second and that this is part of an elaborate piece of payback.
In both pictures, one of the characters (the pick pocketing the first and the woman having her palm read) appear to be looking at someone outside and to the right of the picture as if someone, not in the painting, is in on the story and will appreciate the irony.
Certainly the viewer does. And the irony is intensified by the fact that the fortuneteller, with her powers of clairvoyance did not see this coming.
We are reminded of T. S. Eliot’s poem The burial of the dead
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards.