William Quiller Orchardson – Le mariage de convenance

22 Jun

“Mariage de Convenance” and “The First Cloud” are two out of three painting that William Quiller Orchardson painted on the subject of an unhappy marriage.

Sir William Quiller Orchardson, Mariage de Convenance, 1884

A quiet family drama is taking place in these sumptuous Victorian interiors. Nothing is as it seems in the posh circles of the two-faced Victorian society. Secrets are hidden behind the red-brick facades, glass windows and thick crimson red damask curtains. A rich and disillusioned old husband is sitting at the head of the table in an elegant dining room. His bored and miserable young wife is sitting across the table. While the servant is serving the husband, the wife seems uninterested in the dinner. Her pose makes her seem wistful and emotionally distant and her thoughts are far away from the content of that fancy porcelain plate. The table is filled with food and drink, she is dressed in the latest fashion, her husband is clearly wealthy and she could have anything her hearts desires, but she is not happy. No laughter or chatter colour the evening, no smiles or traces of intimacy. Boredom is hanging like a cloud over their dining room table and neither of the two know how to connect with the other.

The allegorical cloud I just mentioned shows up in the title of the next painting, “The First Cloud”, painted in 1887. Once again we see the perfectly elegant and sumptuous Victorian interior with two elegant figures; the husband and his young wife. But the evening must be a miserable one indeed, for they are as distant emotionally as they are on the canvas. He is standing on the carpet by the fireplace, gazing out longingly at her, as if he is hopeful for some kind of connection, a glance from her pretty eyes, a sweet word or two. But the lady in an elegant evening gown isn’t the least bit interested in him; she is standing by the window and looking out, at the world, at the bustle of the streets, at the passing carriages, for everything is more interesting than day to day life with her husband. Her silhouette in that pale pink gown looks graceful, but instead of a sensual mood she seems cold. The fancy chambers feel like silk cages and a captive bird does not sing.

It’s hard not to sense a certain tension and unease between the pair. The dull palette of beige, rusty red and brown colours seems to mirror the dullness of their lives, and the vastness of their elegantly decorated rooms and the empty space between them is purposefully here to accentuate the loneliness and distrust that has grown and is growing between them. Orchardson used his friend, a fellow artist, Tom Graham, for the figure of the man. Orchardson painted many scenes set in Regency era and some previous eras, but the canvases on which he depicted his own time have proved to be his most popular works because they reflect the spirit of the times and the contrast between the outward appearance of things and the true essence; loveless marriages and unhappiness behind a facade of wealth.

Sir William Quiller Orchardson, The First Cloud, 1887

8 Responses to “William Quiller Orchardson – Le mariage de convenance”

  1. alan 22nd Jun 2020 at 3:34 pm #

    Excellent post with fine descriptive discussion

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lautreamont 23rd Jun 2020 at 7:48 pm #

    Looking at these pictures has reminded me how much I loathe Victorian furniture.After the gorgeous gilt examples of the early 18th century the decline began,and after Chippendale and Vile accelerated into the ugliness of Hepplewhite and all. After about 1820 we had nothing left to offer.Anyway when I’m recommended to listen to or read this or that,I very rarely do-you may be the same? However I do recommend you try Against Nature by Huysman-s’great,you might enjoy it. Always enjoy your posts. Best A


    • Byron's Muse 24th Jun 2020 at 8:03 pm #

      I read Against Nature years ago and I enjoyed it, I’d like to retreat from the world like that. I am reading John Fowles’s The Collector at the moment, it is very thrilling.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Isa 26th Jun 2020 at 10:24 am #

    Hi! I need to tell you that I absolutely love your blog. It’s been an inspiration and a source of comfort through out the last months. Thank you so much for your beautiful posts ♥

    Liked by 1 person

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