|Leisure Hours by John Everett Millais, 1864, Detroit Institute of Arts. |
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The first item noticed are the sumptuous dresses the girls wear: the red velvet and Millais' handling of the material is exquisite; yet "red" is the color of the appetites, and taken with the young age of the girls--their postures and their gazes--we should be alerted that this is no ordinary portrait painting. The green carpet on the floor could represent "hope" (since green is the color of spring and rebirth), yet it looks more like artificial grass, and if we take a more likely understanding of the symbolism, the green means "envy," and that is the foundation of the girls' lives.
Victorian era which, for the two children in the painting, was going to be founded on greed and envy of others in their social class.
But it gets worse.
The very frontal, forward-looking gaze of the girl on the left resembles the gaze of Edouard Manet's 1863 scandalous painting Olympia which depicts a prostitute in her "place of business" looking at a customer who has brought flowers to her.
|The scandal by which all other scandals are measured is Manet's Olympia |
of 1863, today in Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.
The Ugly Face of British Imperialism: The Elephant Man for more on how "masks" work).
The flowers, of course, full of symbolism as always: will the girls grow to a maturation and individuation which the virtues of flowers symbolize, or will the training in virtue wither and die like the flowers scattered on the carpet?