Saturday 22 September 2012

The Long Weekend of Love: Make Your Mind Up!

Welcome, gentle reader, to The Long Weekend of Love!

Now, before any of you think this some sort of 'vests off' sordid affair, remember that it's September and getting a bit cold, so there will be less of that sort of thing, thank you very much.  A wise man once said to me 'Kirsty, keep your vest on if you want them to marry you' and never a truer word was ever said.  Anyhow, I'm more in the mood to examine three different aspects of Victorian romance in paintings.  Today we'll start with paintings with one gentleman and two ladies, or scenes of jealousy and thwarted love, or why you should never jilt the brunette (even if you prefer the blonde)...

Jealousy and Flirtation Haynes King
Away we go then - here we have two ladies and one gentleman; one lady flashes off her charming smile and red petticoat while the other one broods on how gentlemen like charming smiles and red petticoats.  There seems to be a lot of objects discarded around the room in a metaphorical manner:  our gentleman is a carpenter and his bag of tools is behind his chair.  Miss Popular appears to have been working on her needlecraft, in the basket on the table, but some knitting lies discarded on the floor.  Possibly it's our silent, brooding girl who is doing all the work while her sister chats up gentlemen callers?  Personally, I think he's eyeing up the exposed leg of the table, peeping seductively out from under the cloth.... he is a carpenter, after all.

Just as the Twig is Bent (1861) William Maw Egley
Again, one popular sister hogs all the men while her quiet sister looks on.  The complete phrase is 'Just as the Twig is Bent, the Tree's Inclined' meaning things that affect and influence you in childhood shape the adult you will become.  Well, in the first picture, blonde sister is very impressed by her boy-soldier playmate, as he swaggers around with his toy sword.  Her sister watches from the background, busy at her work.  Roll on ten years and Blondie is still admiring the length of a gentleman's sword, while Spinsterchops, reflected in the mirror mutters something unlady-like while completing her sampler which reads 'I hate my sister' over and over again...

Detail of Just as the Twigis Bent showing disgruntled sister...
The notion of two women competing for the affection of one lucky gent seems actually quite common in Victorian art, possibly a flattering notion for the art buying man.  It does rather say that men are worth fighting your sister for in a Darwinian show of strength, and that idly sitting waiting for your handsome prince will not work.  Come on girls, put a bit of effort into it!

The Two Roses Heywood Hardy
This one almost needs subtitling 'Oi!  I'm sitting right here!'  At first I thought it was his sister on the horse, but by the title, I'm judging her to be the girl who's really in love with our horsey chap, forced to look on as he offers a rose to the girl he's in love with.  Gosh, isn't romance complicated?  I wonder who the dog prefers?

Between Two Fires David Francis Millet

Well these two sisters aren't going quietly, it'll end in tears.  I almost feel sorry for the man in the middle, although despite his quite somber expression I reckon he's loving it.  By the look of that room there is very little on offer by way of entertainment, but that tablecloth will be a devil to get stains out of.  Mind you, who can resist a man in a collar that starched?  Not to mention that hat.  No wonder he's such a hit with the ladies...

Showing a Preference (1860) John Callcott Horsley
Well, this seems to be the story of my teenage years.  I'm the one of the right, in case you didn't detect my embittered tone.  Oh, is the path only wide enough for two? No, it's fine, I don't mind walking behind, seeing as you have already shoved me there, grumble, grumble, I shall have my revenge, grumble, grumble... Anyway, he only fancies her because he wants to share her parasol and not get freckly.

The Merciless Lady (1865) D G Rossetti
The dark haired one is thinking 'If he doesn't stop staring at her I'll break his chuffing fingers...'  Ahhh, Rossetti, this is an interesting picture if you consider the amount of time he spent unwittingly pitting one woman against another - Lizzie against Annie, Lizzie against Fanny, Fanny against Jane.  Ironically by 1865 it was the brunette he was paying attention to at the expense of the blonde, but maybe what he was thinking about with this picture was a certain 'murder ballad' called 'The Cruel Sister'...

The Cruel Sister (1851) John Faed
You know how I feel about a man in tights.  Anyhow, I digress.  The story goes that there was once two sisters and a handsome man.  Although the dark haired sister loved the man with all her heart, he actually fancied her blonde sister.  So dark haired sister drowned Blondie, thereby cancelling out the competition.  Blondie's body floated away and washed up on a river bank where it was found by some peasants who turned it into a musical instrument, with her hair as the strings.  Yes, I know, but go with it.  The musicians showed up at Brunette Sisters wedding to the handsome man and played a tune on the funny looking violin which just sounded like 'sister-killer!' over and over again and all was revealed.  You have to question the intelligence or morals of a man who is willing to marry the other sister with quite obvious murderous tendencies just because the one you liked 'went away'.  Mind you, look at those tights.  Where was I?  Anyway, the lesson today is don't cross a brunette, don't marry the sister, men look great in tights and big hats, and never underestimate what a woman will do to get hold of a man in tights and a big hat.

And if your sister suggests going swimming, politely decline...

Tomorrow's subject is Awkward Love!


  1. Dear lord, I'm still laughing! Thank you, thank you!

    I think nowadays these narrative paintings have been replaced by Reality TV. Which is a shame, really...

  2. Glad to have tickled you, and I'd much rather look at one of these than watch reality tv. These are far more sordid...

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Ohh! And in 'Showing a Preference' Miss Parasol is gently (seductively?) running her pretty fingers over a field full of red poppies and ripe, fertile, erect, (you see where I'm going, here?)golden wheat. Miss Pissed-off-in-a-bonnet is hitching up her skirts to keep it free of the rank and tangled undergrowth.

  4. That is just filth! Nothing gets gentlemen going like fondling cereal crops. I think by this point Bonnet Girl could haul her skirt over her head and he wouldn't notice. Not that I've tried that...

  5. You are so funny! A wonderful survey of jealous sisters in art. I'm afraid I was often the 'blonde' one... my hair isn't much lighter lighter than my older sisters', but they still said it was why I got more attention. Luckily we all have different tastes in men, or there could have been trouble. :D

  6. I think you had a lucky escape - you too may have found yourself as a violin at your sister's wedding. Having dark hair, I never worried about becoming a violin, or possibly a cello in my case...

  7. Piffle. Or stuff and nonsense, in the Common Tongue. Dark haired lassies are incredibly attractive and steal the show more often than not. They just do it more quietly... golden girl's incessant giggling and empty head begin to get on the young man's nerves, and before you know it, the dark lassie with her raven tresses and veiled eyes has stolen the golden girl's man, and golden girl is left fondling the 'ripe' wheat stalks into old age... :D


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx