Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Like a Prayer...

A very nice lady called Erica recently emailed me a very nice picture to identify.  It was a pretty Victorian lady apparently praying, but so far I have been unsuccessful in throwing any light on the artist.  Here it is, so if anyone can help Erica, that would be splendid...

Nice sleeves.  Anyway, in the course of my research I came across so many and various images of Victorian women praying that I felt I had to do a post.

The Children's Prayer (1888) Arthur Hacker
One thing you notice while looking at Victorian images of prayer is that only women and children pray.  Sure, you get the occasional saint or Mr Jesus, but the vast majority of those on their knees are women and predominantly female children.  There are a predictably generous quantity of little kiddiwinks doing the holy thing like these two above.  I'm hoping the one on the left is praying for some clothes that fit.  I'm drawn to her red hair and that unexpectedly red strip around her.  Does she have more cause than her sister to pray?  Has she been naughty?

Children at Prayer (1835) Thomas George Webster
More usually the children look all sparkly and innocent, like this pair of poppets.  The mother looks nice and smug at her angelic duo.  How lovely...

Prayer Time: Mrs Cope and her Daughter Florence (1854) Charles West Cope
The artist gets to be doubly smug with both angelic wife and little girl.  Florence was such a good girl she got a second praying picture...

Florence Cope Saying Grace at Dinnertime Charles West Cope
I really like this picture as it seems to echo previous eras beautifully.  The gold of her hair (like a halo) and her white pinafore emphasise her innocence, like a little angel in a nativity.  The glint of light on the silverware and the tablecloth are in stark contrast to how dark the room is.  Maybe little Florence prays in the light because the world is filled with darkness, with the unknown lurking beyond the certainty of her table and dinner.

Suspense Charles Burton Barber
'Dear God, please stop my pets from scoffing my breakfast.  It's eggy soldiers, my favourite.'  This is a testament to the power of prayer holding back the greed of a jack russell.  Very impressive.

Lord, Thy Will be Done (1855) Philip Calderon
It's not just kiddiwinks of course. More often it's mothers and their offspring, such as this rather interesting example.  There is a lot going on in this picture. A paper has been dropped on the floor, possibly giving news of the woman's husband.  An envelope is also on the floor.  Given the date it could refer to a wife of a soldier, awaiting news of her husband in the Crimea. Her dress looks rich and comfortable but her coal scuttle is empty, possibly hinting at hard times ahead.  Will the woman and her child be alright?  She puts her fate into God's hands.

A Prayer for Those at Sea (1879) Frederick Daniel Hardy
This poor woman is on her knees at what appears to be around 10.30pm, praying for her husband who is out at sea.  Will he return? There is very little to indicate his fate or what the ramifications would be for the woman, possibly reflecting real life.  It could be that the woman kneels each night and prays, rather than at times of crisis. It is her way of coping with the uncertainty of their life.

Song of the Shirt Anna Blunden
This seamstress prays for one more hour of daylight in order to (a) finish her shirt and make enough money to not starve and (b) not go blind from sewing in the dark, then starve.  There is a lot of not starving implied in this image, but you have to think that she stopped sewing in order to ask for more time to sew.  I think it would be rude to point out the problem inherent in that.

The Widow's Prayer (1864-5) Frederic Leighton
This is a woman in a moment of crisis, reaching out to God to help her.  Her child is bathed in light behind her, as if God is giving her the answer.  She might feel that her husband's death has taken all the light from her life but her child is there to give her the strength to carry on.

Prayer (1859) John Phillip

Prayer (1862) Thomas Brooks
There are a lot of nonspecific images of women just praying, looking perturbed or just concentrating a lot. The woman at the top of these two looks skyward, clutching her rosary in her patched up skirt.  She may be praying for an improvement in her state or thanking God for the blessings she has, it's hard to tell.  The woman at the bottom is even more mysterious.  She looks well dressed and calm but the figure beside her is very unhappy.  Nothing is implied about the cause of prayer or the reason for the nun's despair.  It's all in the hands of God now.

The Veiled Woman (1901) Guirand de Scevola
Maybe my favourite image of prayer has to be this one, mysterious and beautiful.  Most of the other paintings of women involved some implication of trouble and need.  There is a theme that children and women all rely on a greater power to sort out their troubles, that God is there to guide them through their passive lives in a very active way, getting them out of trouble.  The notion that women are in constant need of prayer, of forgiveness and guidence, harks back to Eve and Original Sin.  Scevola's wonderfully mysterious women are floating in a cloud of their own dignity.  Whatever she is praying about, it feels important and altruistic.  She feels like a queen, praying on behalf of her subjects.

I shall leave you all in peace now.  If you can throw any light on Erika's lady, give me a shout either in the comments or by email.  Only a few more days and we're into Blogvent so I'm off for a sit down and I'll see you on Monday...


  1. I really enjoyed this post. Growing up in America these kind of pictures were common, I think many of them were mass produced and could be bought cheaply. Some of these images are familiar to me, but sadly, not the one which Erica sent to you. I will keep looking and let you know should I find any lead.

  2. I parrticularly enjoyed the one by Philip Calderon (but you missed out part of his name - Philip Hermogenes Calderon sounds much grander). I was puzzled by the off-centre picture above the mantelpiece, until I noticed that there had been other pictures on the wall. The one on the right has been replaced by a bill spike.

  3. Hermogenes is such a fab name too. Well spotted, times are tough for that poor lady.

    Thanks for your comments.


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