Mariage de Convenance, 1907 by John Collier(English, 1850–1934)
Unhappy marriages have been around forever, so much so that they have a whole painting genre devoted to them. One must remember that many marriages during the 18th-century had very little to do with love, but more to do with economic and social advancement. Women and girls were traded like cattle to benefit their father’s or brother’s bank account and to settle business and trade deals. Often younger women were married off to much older men, with many having absolutely no clue as to what was going to happen on their wedding night.
The paintings I am about to show you tell the stories of bad marriages, abusive husbands, and unhappy people.
The Waning Honeymoon by George Henry Boughton, 1878.
We can obviously see that the marriage depicted in George Henry Boughton’s “The Waning Honeymoon” is off to a rocky start. The woman looks completely abandoned while the man seems to care far more for his dog than he does for her. The painter has added to the feeling of abandonment by leaving the huge space between the sitters.
Cecilio Plá y Gallardo gives us the impression that the new bride just wants to leave and go back home to her mother. She is sitting at a writing desk crying while her husband looks on. This domestic scene feels awkward as if the two people are still strangers. There is no gesture on his part to comfort her, he is just sitting there waiting for her to finish crying. He doesn’t seem to know what to do, and quite frankly his side glance gives us the impression that he really doesn’t care or is embarrassed by the situation.
Luna de miel. Cecilio Plá y Gallardo (1860-1934)
Belmiro de Almeida, Lovers’ Quarrel, 1887
What happened to women who entered into an arranged marriage contract? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that often there was significant physical and sexual abuse involved. In Belmiro de Almeida’s “Lovers’ Quarrel” we see more of a quarrel than we see love in this chilling domestic episode. The husband has a glove removed on one hand, while the woman lies on the floor amidst scattered items.
In “Return from the Ball” by Henri Gervex we once again see an ungloved older man and a woman obviously in some kind of distress. As a viewer, we feel the aggressiveness in the scene. The man is looking at us as if to say mind our own business. He isn’t a nice man and there is obviously an age difference between them. Did the man strike the woman in a fit of jealousy after the ball?
After the ball.Henri Gervex, 1879
Off. Edmund Blair Leighton, 1899
Not every woman entered into a forced marriage. Some were able to choose, accept or decline marriage proposals, as depicted in Edmund Blair Leighton’s “Off” of 1899 which tells the story of the aftermath of a failed marriage proposal. The man is obviously upset as he walks away, flowers tossed violently on the ground. The woman’s face tells us that she wasn’t pleased by the offer of marriage from this man. Personally, she looks annoyed. Perhaps she is hoping for a proposal from someone else.
I hope you have enjoyed looking at these paintings. As I have always said, art reflects the society in which they were created. These paintings do reflect the period in which they were created. The stories these paintings tell are truths. The truth about women, truths about men, and truths about society in general.