“Skin”: Roald Dahl Summary, Plot Synopsis

“Skin” is a short story by Roald Dahl, first published in 1952 and then appearing in his 1953 collection Someone Like You. It’s about a down-on-his-luck older man who discovers he’s in possession of a valuable work of art. Here’s a summary of “Skin”.

“Skin” Summary

Drioli, a sixty-one year old man in a filthy coat, shuffles painfully down the street in the cold. He’s hungry and passes the shops without interest. He comes to a picture gallery with a canvas in the window by Chaïm Soutine.

The name is familiar. Drioli knew this young man over thirty years ago. They met in a cafe and talked because they’re both Russian. They became friends and painted together in a small studio.

He thinks of his tattoo. After an unusually profitable day painting, Drioli brought wine for himself, his wife and Soutine. He and Soutine go out to get more. They slowly get drunk as they’ve done many times.

In this condition, Drioli has an idea. Soutine could paint a picture on his back and then tattoo over it, making it permanent. Drioli’s wife, Josie, will be the model. They discuss it a bit and drink more.

Skin Roald Dahl SummaryPlot Synopsis
“Skin” Summary

Soutine wants to simply paint the picture; it will last as long as Drioli doesn’t take a bath. Drioli goes and gets his tattoo supplies. He plugs in the electric needle and demonstrates how easy the process is on his arm. Soutine tries it out. Seeing how easy it is, he agrees to do the picture.

It will be a close-up of Josie brushing her hair. She stands by the dressing-table and Drioli takes off his shirt and pants and sits backwards on a chair. Soutine completes the picture in paint in half an hour. He then works until morning on the tattoo.

It’s beautifully done; Soutine thinks it’s good enough for him to sign, which he does, over Drioli’s kidney.

Eventually, they lost touch. Drioli returned from the war and Soutine was gone, hired by a dealer. Between the wars, business was good and they were happy. Josie was killed in the second war and the business was ruined. Drioli moved to Paris where things were difficult. He doesn’t have the energy to start up again.

Inside the gallery, there are many pictures displayed and people milling around. Impulsively, he enters the warm, beautiful room. He’s quickly approached by the owner and an attendant and asked to leave. While being ushered out, he breaks free. He runs into the gallery, yelling and pulling off his coat and shirt. He displays his back to the crowd.

After a stunned silence, the crowd recognizes the style and knows it’s genuine. Drioli tells a little of the story.

“Skin” Summary, Cont’d

The gallery owner wants to buy the picture and offers a large sum. Drioli, and the crowd, doesn’t understand how he can sell it. He implies that Drioli might not live long, which unsettles him. Backing away, he’s accosted by a man in yellow gloves.

This man owns the Hotel Bristol in Cannes. He offers Drioli a life of luxury as a guest in the hotel in exchange for showing off the picture on the beach.

The dealer tries again, claiming the picture could be removed by a surgeon and the skin replaced with a graft. The hotel owner convinces him he wouldn’t survive the procedure. He invites Drioli out to dinner to discuss it and they leave.

Only a few weeks later, a picture of a woman’s head by Soutine appears for sale in Buenos Aires. This, along with the fact there is no Hotel Bristol in Cannes, makes us wonder a little and hope that wherever Drioli is, he’s living in luxury as promised.

I hope this summary of “Skin” by Roald Dahl was helpful.