Tag Archives: Sadness

You’ve been reading some old letters, You smile and you think how much you’ve changed

29 Dec

The end of the year approaching, my thoughts naturally tend towards reflection. Bouts of a bittersweet wistfulness overwhelm me often these nights. So many different feelings mix and mingle in my soul, to quote Morrissey, “I’m not happy and I’m not sad”. Night after night, when everyone is asleep, I found myself alone in the quiet stillness of the night, flipping through the pages of my many diaries written throughout the years. I don’t even know why I have the habit of doing it, for it only leaves me shattered and in tears, but at times there shines a smile on my face and this song, not originally written but covered by the Welsh band the Manic Street Preachers comes to mind. I love how the video for the song captures the highlights of the band’s early years, especially moments with Richey who looks just stunning with his eyeliner and cool hairdo. I really love how the song combines both sentiments; the looking back at the past and all the wonderful moments that no money in the world could bring back, but also stating ‘this is the day your life will surely change’ so it’s looking cheerfully into the future and what goods things it might bring. It’s almost like the Roman God Janus who represents things such as duality, gateways, passageways, transitions, endings, beginnings, and whose face looks both ways; into the past and into the future. To be able to simply appreciate the beautiful moments of the past days without the ache of yearning in your heart, now that would be a true gift.

William Turner, Moonlight, 1841

You didn’t wake up this morning
’cause you didn’t go to bed
You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red

The calendar on your wall is ticking the days off
You’ve been reading some old letters
You smile and you think how much you’ve changed
And all the money in the world
Couldn’t bring back those days


You pull back the curtains
And the sun burns into your eyes
You watch a plane flying
Across a clear blue sky

This is the day, your life will surely change
This is the day when things fall into place

You could’ve done anything if you’d wanted
And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky
But the side of you they’ll never see
Is when you’re left alone with the memories
That hold your life together, together like glue


You pull back the curtains
And the sun burns into your eyes
You watch a plane flying
Across a clear blue sky
This is the day, your life will surely change
This is the day when things fall into place
This is the day, your life will surely change
This is the day when things fall into place
This is the day
This is the day

Egon Schiele – Autumn Trees

9 Nov

When one sees a tree autumnal in summer, it is an intense experience that involves one’s whole heart and being; and I should like to paint that melancholy.”

(Egon Schiele)

Egon Schiele, Four Trees, 1918

Austrian painter Egon Schiele, at once demonised and celebrated as a genius, is mostly remembered for his provocative art infused with eroticism and his watercolours and gouache paintings of nude or semi-nude girls appear dangerous even today. Still, many of his paintings of nature and townscapes reveal to us that it wasn’t only the human figure that fascinated him so. Indeed, Schiele found trees and flowers to be equally as good mediums to capture the many emotional states. His persistent dedication to capturing the state of the soul led him to many different motives to paint. In this post we will take a look at three paintings of trees in autumn, all painted by Egon Schiele, but in different times of his life. The first one in this post which you can see above was painted in 1918, near the very end of Schiele’s rather short life – he died on the 31st October 1918 – and the other two were painted in 1911 when Schiele’s artistic career was practically just starting out and he was at the verge of breaking with the style of his teachers and idols and at the point of finding his own way of expression.

Schiele’s oil on canvas painting “Four Trees” painted in autumn of 1918 – the last autumn of his short life – shows a departure from his earlier style of portraying nature and trees. The scene shows four trees in the dusk of an autumn day. This painting is the month of November encapsulated, to me; the trees with red leaves and one almost with branches almost bare, a sense of decay, finality and a sense of inevitable ending, sky descending from warm yellow to deep red tones, and then there is the ominous red setting sun. This is how November feels to me. The setting sun in the sunset of Schiele’s own life. A bloody red sun signifying the death of the day, death of nature as autumn starts to slowly give way to winter’s coldness and desolation. Everything feels so final in November, as if it is happening for the last time because many months of cold, grey weather are before us. The leaves falling down, chestnuts hitting the pavements, evenings coming sooner, wet pavements glistening in the yellow light of the streetlights, dried cornfields seen through the morning fog; just some November imagery that comes to mind.

Egon Schiele, A Tree in Late Autumn, 1911

The two paintings of autumn trees painted in 1911 are very different from the one painted in 1918. A small oil on wood painting “Tree in Late Autumn” painted in 1911 when Schiele was only twenty-one years old is a great example of his ardour for portraying the different states of the soul through the motif he paints. The portrait of this tree is a portrait of isolation; human isolation expressed through the motif of a tree. Some have even called this series of Schiele’s painting “antrophomorphic” and that term may well be applied. The image of a lonesome tree in the middle of nowhere, all alone in the white canvas, painted in dense and heavy brushstrokes, really speaks to the viewer. The twisted, naked branches of the tree are like the arms of a skeleton protruding from the dark, barren soil.

Schiele’s main obsession were portraits and even when he paints trees, flowers or even houses and towns he is always painting portraits, not of people, but of things. Take a look at his sunflowers or his autumn trees here and you will see that without a doubt they are portraits. Schiele was fascinated by death and decay and sought it everywhere he went; in faces of his lovers, the urchins from the streets of Vienna, the roofs and facades of small town of Krumau, the heavy-headed sunflowers, and in the naked and twisted tree autumn trees. Gustav Klimt, Schiele’s early idol, also painted landscapes but they were always decorative and ornamental and their aim was not to capture moods and states of the soul, but rather Klimt painted flowers, trees and gardens as a way to relax on holidays and also to use up the left over paint he had.

These two paintings painted by Schiele in 1911 shows a distinct departure from Klimt’s influence. Schiele isn’t hesitant to leave the background almost bare and he is not eager to use colour and make the painting overflowing with detailings as if it were a Persian rug. Schiele is content with sleek simplicity here and that is the way he was convey the mood of these paintings better. The lack of colours and details allows us to focus solely on the tree and what it stands for, and if you look at it longer you will begin to feel the loneliness and coldness deep in your bones. These are not merry pictures.

Egon Schiele, Autumn Trees, 1911

The painting above, “Autumn Trees”, also from 1911, shows three little trees with leaves still on their branches. Compared to the previous painting this one is a bit more colourful. The brown-green colour of the ground and the pink tinted sky in the background may suggest playfulness, but in the end we still know that these little brown leaves will fall anytime soon and that these thin black branches will be naked and unshielded from cold winter winds. Poor little trees, so weak and frail, and so alone.

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Summer Sang In Me a Little While, That In Me Sings No More

9 Sep

One of my favourite poems these days is “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why” by the American poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay, originally published in November 1920. In this poem Millay looks back at all the “lips her lips have kissed” and she tries to remember where and why those kisses have occured. She compares the beating of the rain against the window to the ghosts of her memories, or ghosts of her dead (failed) love relationships, haunting her. In her heart “there stirs a quiet pain” when she realises that she cannot remember the names or the faces of the “lads” who will not shout out for her at night. The loves, just like summer, were vibrant but transitory and fragile, and unlike summer will not return next year. I feel like this is a moment of sobering up. After being drunk on life and drunk on love, she is alone and in a wistful, reflective mood, the rain outside her only companion. Now, summer has passed, love has passed, and she compares herself to a lonely tree in winter which used to be full of birds chirping and is now solitary, with no leaves or birdnests, utterly forgotten… Where does love go when it goes away? Were the kisses, now nought but pale memories, worth it in the end?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, 1854, watercolour

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Charles Burchfield – In a Deserted House and Bruce Springsteen’s Downbound Train

7 Jun

In the moonlight, our wedding house shone
I rushed through the yard
I burst through the front door, my head pounding hard
Up the stairs, I climbed
The room was dark, our bed was empty
Then I heard that long whistle whine
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head, and cried…”

Charles Burchfield, In a Deserted House, ca. 1918-1939

I find myself listening to Bruce Springsteen’s song “Downbound Train” a lot these days. It was in June five years ago that I first discovered it and it also happens the song was released on the 4 June 1984, so with all these little “anniversaries”, I thought it would be nice to write a little tribute to it, in a way. What instantly attracted me to the song was its sad tune and Springsteen’s wailing voice while he is singing about a love that is lost… The song’s opening lines instantly struck a chord with me: “I had a job, I had a girl/ I had something going, mister, in this world/ I got laid off down at the lumber yard/ Our love went bad, times got hard” because they express contrast of good times versus bad times; he had something good and now it’s gone. The protagonist, having lost his job and then a woman he loved, also lost a sense of security and stability. The dream is gone and now there’s a dark, rainy cloud that seems to follow him everywhere. Now he single; alone and lonely, working at miserable jobs where it always seems to rain.

After reading the lyrics, carefully, as if they were a poem, I was struck by this little tale of misery. It almost feels like a short story and not a song because it tells a tale, as Springsteen’s songs often do. The song’s protagonist, a lonely working class guy, is telling us a story of his life and its troubles from the first person; he was working at the lumber yard, then at the car wash and in the end of the song he’s “swinging a sledgehammer on the railroad”. This day to day realism is interwoven with his longing for the woman who one day “packed her bags”, bought a train ticket and left him behind. The culmination of the poem is a wonderful, nocturnal, moonlit scene where the guy hear the voice of a woman he loves calling out to him and he returns to the scene of their marital bliss, a house which is now empty and sad; “the room was dark, her bed was empty” and then he drops to his knees and cries, and later we find out he is working at the railroad now, the very same railroad where the train passed by; the train that his wife took to leave him behind.

“I had a job, I had a girl
I had something going, mister, in this world
I got laid off down at the lumber yard
Our love went bad, times got hard
Now I work down at the car wash
Where all it ever does is rain
Don’t you feel like you’re a rider on a downbound train?
She just said, “Joe, I gotta go
We had it once, we ain’t got it anymore”
She packed her bags, left me behind
She bought a ticket on the Central Line
Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining
I feel her kiss in the misty rain
And I feel like I’m a rider on a downbound train
Last night I heard your voice
You were crying, crying, you were so alone
You said your love had never died
You were waiting for me at home
Put on my jacket, I ran through the woods
I ran ’til I thought my chest would explode
There in a clearing, beyond the highway
In the moonlight, our wedding house shone
I rushed through the yard
I burst through the front door, my head pounding hard
Up the stairs, I climbed
The room was dark, our bed was empty
Then I heard that long whistle whine
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head, and cried
Now I swing a sledgehammer on a railroad gang
Knocking down them cross ties, working in the rain
Now, don’t it feel like you’re a rider on a downbound train?”
*

This scene made me think of Charles Burchfield’s delightful watercolours of houses and abandoned places such as the room in the watercolour above “In a Deserted House”. The grey colour scheme of the watercolour gives it a gloomy, lonely mood that is further expressed in the details such as the tattered wallpapers, torn at parts, a cold fireplace; there’s no one to sit there and enjoy the fire. Now only a cold breeze visits the house and passes through it as a ghostly breath of the past. In the song there is a reference to the bed which isn’t painted in the watercolour but I feel like the mood of the watercolour matches the mood of the scene. Burchfield’s paintings are described as the “catalogue of tattered dreams: abandoned towns with their false-fronted ramshackle facades, sitting on the edge of vast prairies, decrepit Victorian rowhouses, resembling tooth-less old women, the barren wastes left by industries once robust.” (American Encounters: Art, History and Cultural Identity) Abandonment and decay, a poetic sadness, are some things that linger through Burchfield’s artworks, mostly watercolours, and I feel the same vibe from some of Springsteen’s songs such as the “Downbound Train”, “The River” or “The Stolen Car”. Watercolour “In a Deserted House” and the song “Downbound Train” both deal with the motif of what-could-have-been; the house now empty, desolate and cold could have been warm with sunlight, laughter and a fireplace, just as the dark room in the wedding house in the song could have been a place of happiness and love. Both express a sense of something lost, something gone that cannot be recaptured.

I believe every promise I hear. I’ve never achieved anything. I’ve never been useful or precious to anyone…

3 Jun

Part of Adele’s monologue from the film “The Girl on the Bridge” (1999) starring Vanessa Paradis as Adele.

Natalia Vodianova as Jean Shrimpton, The Great Pretender, Vogue US, May 2009 by Steven Meisel

“Some people are born to be happy.
I get conned every day of my life.
I believe every promise I hear.
I’ve never achieved anything.
I’ve never been useful
or precious to anyone, or happy,
or even really unhappy.
I guess you’re unhappy
when you lose something
but I’ve never had anything
except bad luck.
How do you see your future, Adele?
I don’t know.
When I was little,
all I wanted to do was grow up.
As fast as I could.
But I can’t see the point of it all.
Not anymore.
Getting older.
I see my future like a waiting room
in a big train station,
with benches and drafts.
Outside, hordes of people run by
without seeing me.
They’re all in a rush,
taking trains and cabs…
They have somewhere to go,
someone to meet…
And I sit there, waiting.
Waiting for what, Adele?
For something to happen to me.”

Alexander Pushkin: All that is left is apathy and grief…

17 Nov

Julia Margaret Cameron, Sadness, 1864

Don’t Ask Me Why

Don’t ask me why, alone in dismal thought,
In times of mirth, I’m often filled with strife,
And why my weary stare is so distraught,
And why I don’t enjoy the dream of life;

Don’t ask me why my happiness has perished,
Why I don’t love the love that pleased me then,
No longer can I call someone my cherished–
Who once felt love will never love again;

Who once felt bliss, no more will feel its essence,
A moment’s happiness is all that we receive:
From youth, prosperity and joyful pleasantry,
All that is left is apathy and grief…

Vincent van Gogh – Die in the Summertime

29 Jul

“Every time I stare into the sun
Trying to find a reason to go on
All I ever get is burned and blind…”

(Chris Cornell, Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart)

Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, July 1890

Exhausting heat of summerr day. Golden wheat against the electric blue sky. A crooked, brown path through the wheat that leads to nowhere. Crows flying aimlessy, low above the wheat field – without direction, without control. Their hoarse cawing disturbs the otherwise heavy silence in the field. No trace of wind. The sky is turning a darker shade of blue with each passing moment. This is not the tender, soft baby blue sky from a Monet painting. This is not a tame wheatfield. These wild, energetic, passionate brushstrokes are not for the faint of heart. Thick, quick, short strokes are a work of an artistic maniac who is led by emotions that arose from a soul as troubled and dark and deep as a waterwell. Dark clouds are pressing down down to the ground and it all feels dense and claustrophobic.

This very dramatic painting was painted on the 10th July 1890, and is, unfortunately, not the last painting Vincent van Gogh painted, although it is one of his best and one of his most emotionally raw. Vincent died on the 29th July 1890 and there is a tendency to see this painting as Vincent’s suicide note because of the obvious ominous, disturbed mood, and while I agree with that I think it also shows the very thing that Vincent strove to capture on his painting; all the life, energy and vibrancy that was inside him, despite the depression, in his own words: “What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. (…) Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners…”

This brooding wheatfield was a visual expression of a huge stream of feelings swelling up inside the artist; the feeling of enormous, incurable loneliness and immense sadness. It might be unusual to use yellow to portray sadness, but this is not the cheerful, harmless yellow we might find in a painting by Fragonard. The ripeness of the field may also symbolise the ripeness of the artist’s life and after ripeness comes either death or decay. The crows add to the ominous feeling of dread and the arrival of death, or the end. As is typical for the paintings he made in the summer of 1890, he used a double-canvas and this horizontally elongated canvas helps in creating the dramatic mood because the sky is pressing down to the field whereas in a vertically elongated painting the sky would have much more space to breathe and shine. It is also important to note that the unusual long form of a painting was typical for the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints which Vincent loved, admired and took inspiration from. This form was just one of the many ways in which he experimented with his art and used the Japanese influence. The final days of Vincent’s life were days of extreme sadness and extreme creativity and this painting, although not his last one, is the explosion of this creativity.

The title of the post comes from the Manic Street Preachers’ song “Die in the Summertime” from their third album “The Holy Bible” (1994):

“Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals
Colour my hair but the dye grows out
I can’t seem to stay a fixed ideal
Childhood pictures redeem, clean and so serene
See myself without ruining lines
Whole days throwing sticks into streams
I have crawled so far sideways
I recognise dim traces of creation
I want to die, die in the summertime, I want to die”

Different Faces of Autumn; Groovy Landscapes and Wistful Faces

13 Oct

I love autumn for its richness, warm colours, falling leaves and its mystery, at the same time I loathe it because it’s the doorway to months of quiet, grey dreariness and winter’s misery. Whether you love autumn or hate it, I feel that no other season of the year has the power to touch us in such a peculiar and poignant way. Anguish of transience weighs on my soul as I gaze at the leaves falling down and the trees becoming more bare as each day passes. There’s something final about it, a sense of ending… No other season has such bittersweet duality; golden afternoons and dark overcast days, leaves rustling under foot and morbid silence of a hard, dry soil; the last ecstasy of colours and sights, and the most dreary sense of an end.

George Bellows, Romance of Autumn, 1916

George Bellows is mostly remembered in relation to the Ashcan group of artists and he was known for portraying the grim reality of the big city, but his painting “Romance of Autumn” is intensely vibrant and groovy and brings out this whimsical, warm side of autumn. The painting shows a woman in white and a man in blue climbing over the rocks and in front of their eyes a magical landscape painted int the most exquisite, intense, uplifting, electrifying magical colours; purples, electric blue, pink, orange and blue. Each colours shines and smiles as in a dream. The gesture of the girl holding the man’s hand seems symbolic; she is helping him climb up the rocks and see for himself the fantastical landscape that she is seeing, she is inviting him to step into the autumnal fantasy with her. This is the dream, this is the autumn seen through rose-tinted glasses.

O. Louis Guglielmi, Connecticut Autumn, 1937

Guglielmi was born in Cairo, spent his early childhood in Milano and Geneva, and in 1914 destiny took his over the ocean. His painting “Connecticut Autumn”, painted in the depressing decade of 1930s, shows a very different face of autumn; the face of desolation, decay and poverty. Despite of their warm orange and yellow colours, the buildings beside the road look desolate and abandoned. The whole scene reeks of alienation, as if no human foot had stepped there for a long time. Unused blocks of marble lie around idly, useless and forgotten just like the town itself. No one needs monuments any more, nothing to celebrate and glorify. The figure of the angel is the only figure out of all the marble blocks. The thin trees in the distant edges of the painting look dead and unreal, and the young boy is the only living thing in this desolate landscape. His childhood innocence and naivety are a shield from reality. Decay and depression of his surroundings cannot touch him. He is flying his kite under the mournful gaze of the forgotten marble angel. But again the hope and optimism are crushed, for his kite gets tangled in the power lines. The sky is darkening and the angel is motionless and silent.

Marco Calderini (Italian, 1850-1941), Gardens of the Palazzo Reale, Turin, c. 1890-1910

This painting by an Italian painter Marco Calderini quite realistically portrays the loneliness of parks in autumn; when rains descend, the trees are bare, the skies are grey, and you can’t even sit on a bench because it’s wet so you linger around the desolate park, like a ghost, circling the statues and avoiding the puddles, and you cannot help but fantasise of the days, not so long ago, when the grass was green, the flowers bloomed and golden sunlight was coming through the lush tree tops. You cannot help but think of mortality and transience when you see that the trees are wet, dark and bare and the air is cold as the grave. Born, lived and died in Turin, Calderini’s oeuvre is filled with romanticised landscapes with poetic moods. Painting “Gardens of the Palazzo Real” is at once realistic and poetic. This is exactly how parks and gardens look like after autumn rains, and yet no one can deny the romantic wistfulness and loneliness that the scene shows.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Autumn Regrets, 1882

John Atkinson Grimshaw was a master of portraying cold, lonely autumn streets where golden light of the street lamps falls on the damp pavements, wetness and mists. The painting “Autumn Regrets” perfectly portrays the wistfulness of autumn and that “what’s done is done” feeling. The woman is sitting on a bench, she is dressed in black and both her clothes and her pose speak of her deep thoughts and regrets. All around her the soil is being transformed into a golden-orange carpet of chestnut leaves. The wind seems to be whispering “This is the end, beautiful friend…” Regrets flood our hearts and minds so easily in autumn; we could have done more, and we could have done things better, or at least differently. But what is done is done, now the flowers bloom no more and every new leaf which falls from the tree is like a confirmation of the ending. Autumn has a way of getting under our skin, whether we like it or not. Autumn is a feeling, a state to be in, not just one of four seasons. And to end:

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!
Fly away! fly away! —
The sun crawls along the mountain
And rises and rises
And rests with every step.
How the world became so withered!
Upon worn, strained threads
The wind plays its song.
Hope fled…

(Nietzsche, In the German November, 1884)

Karl Nordström – Field of Oats

29 Aug

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

(Shakespeare, Sonnet 18)

Karl Nordström, Field of Oats at Grez-sur-Loing, 1885

Something about this landscape by a Swedish Impressionist painter speaks to my soul. A field of oats is a seemingly simple, almost humble motif, but this landscape has a poetic and gentle beauty which speaks of deeper feelings. I love the vastness of the field, painted in soft shades of green and yellow, and the way nearly the entire canvas is the field itself; it makes me feel as if I am a part of the oat field, in their embrace. Nordström beautifully captures the oats that have soaked in all the summer sun and are now ripe and ready to be harvested. Touches of vibrant blue and red add a playful touch to the gentle greenness. It is pleasant to think of blue cornflowers and crimson poppies growing among the oats and enjoying the sunny, carefree, summer days. Larks are flying in the upper right corner and a small figure of a reaper with his scythe appears to be harvesting the oats; how tiny he is compared to the vastness of the field and nature.

Nordström painted this oat field in a commune Grez-sur-Loing in north-central France which was a popular hot spot fir many artists at the time; Nordström met his wife Tekla Lindeström, who was an engraver, there and a fellow Swedish Carl Larsson also met his future wife there. Even though this painting precedes Vincent van Gogh’s painting “The Sower” (1888) by three years, I see it as a sort of closer to Van Gogh’s painting where a farmer, with a rising bright and shining yellow sun in the background, is planting the seeds and in this painting they are ripe and ready to be harvested. In Nordström’s painting, the farmer’s scythe is almost symbolic of death, for the summer is nearing its end and very soon the very fields where the oats grew and danced in the wind will be nothing but a vast muddy nothingness, only a few broken stems will rise from the autumnal mists. These days my thoughts are tinged with sadness; one more summer is passing and I know that once gone, it will seem like a distant dream. I know that, in winter dreariness, I shall scarcely be able to imagine the sun’s warm touch on my skin. I feel like I spend a thousand years waiting, yearning, craving summer, only to enjoy it for a second until it quickly vanishes. Persephone must feel the same way, sighing longingly, as she descends again to the darkness of the underworld…

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