I’ve written an article on this before, but it continues to fascinate me, so forgive me if you read the piece I wrote for the Pre-Raphaelite Society Journal a few years ago. However, it still makes me stare…
What am I talking about? Well, here is a description of a painting, see if you recognise it:
A rural girl, in a flowery dress, falls to her knees when confronted by her bluff, farming-type sweetheart, a look of anguish on her face, her bonnet slipping from her hair. He looks down at her, holding her wrist, a complicated look of disbelief, love and disappointment on his face.
OK, how many of you were thinking of this ?
|Found (1854-81) D G Rossetti|
Hmm, me too. Well, actually no, I was thinking of this….
|Forgiven (1898-99) George Harcourt|
Hello, look familiar? Yet these two pictures are never linked, well certainly nowhere I’ve ever seen. I think George Harcourt may have some explaining to do, but I find the similarities and difference between these two pictures fascinating and enlightening. Let’s start with the similarities.
Both couples are rural in origin, but the woman has strayed into an urban mockery of simple pastoral innocence by the posh dress printed with flowers. The erring girls both have slipped bonnets to go with their slipped morals and have their eyes closed in shame at their fallen state, which is both literal and moral. The men are dressed in more straight-forwardly rural clothes, to the point of a smock in the case of Found, and both men hold their sweethearts more by the wrist than by the hand. Unless it is a startling co-incidence, I think Harcourt used knowledge of Rossetti’s picture as shorthand for his girl’s fallen state. Her sin may not have been prostitution but she got her fancy clothes from somewhere and it wasn’t from one man and his dog.
|The Hireling Shepherd (1851-52) William Holman Hunt|
Now for the differences. The location is different in Harcourt’s picture, with the errant young lady tumbling in shame on the doorstep of her sweetheart (no ring is visible on his finger), so she has repented enough to come back to him, he didn’t need to go looking. The countryside is lush and green, with a sheep visible behind her and a dog by his master’s side. If the animals are symbolic, as they are in Found, then the dog is presumably loyalty, the man remaining true to his love, despite her shame. The sheep and lamb behind her possibly speak of a family they have to come and maybe obedience on her part, with a vaguely Christian overtone. It could be that as the sheep is looking away from its lamb, the girl had looked away from her place in life, within the rural community, and had strayed, a word that is often used in connection with sheep. Sheep aren’t often seen as particularly bright animals, and if you think of the flock in the Hireling Shepherd, it could be that Harcourt is hinting at sexual straying, giving into temptation that will be your moral and physical downfall.
Found also has a symbolic farm animal, the poor netted calf. Unlike Forgiven the calf is a more innocent creature, caught in a net and off to market and presumably slaughter, hinting that Found’s girl is a more innocent victim of her fate. Unfortunately, she also seems to get the harsher punishment, as she cowers beneath the gravestones, uncertain of salvation. Found’s girl shies away from her man, almost attempting to escape his pull, certainly not the swoon of submission of her Forgiven counterpart.
Between the two pictures lies over forty years but the Pre-Raphaelite influence is apparent, especially that of Rossetti. The figure of the forgiven girl bears a striking resemblance to Beata Beatrix, accepting a heavenly reward as she is received back into her home. If only all straying women were so lucky…