Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Story Is This 18thc Painting Telling?

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Susan reporting,

Earlier in the year, I posted this painting on Instagram along with close-ups of various details. The painting is so intriguing that I'm going to assemble my rambling observations here as a blog post as well - please feel free to offer your own interpretations! (And, as always, click on the images to enlarge them.)

The artist is Louis Rolland Trinquesse (c1746-1800), a Frenchman who specialized in creating titillating scenes like this that his wealthy patrons craved. With that in mind, I doubt that the title the painting has now - An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman - was what it was originally called. I'm sure it went by something much more suggestive and saucy; that's just the kind of picture it is.

The gentleman is clearly a good "friend," and has been granted the intimacy of being here in the boudoir of the woman in pink while she dresses. We'll call her the mistress of the house, and I'd guess that she may be (or has been) his mistress as well. This could be an expensively appointed room in their love-nest, or it could be the house she shares with an absent husband. She's wearing a sheer white dressing robe to protect her gown as she arranges her hair and make-up - another sign of intimacy.

But while the man is doing his best to press his advantage - he's leaning into her, his foot nearly touches hers, and his hand is almost on her knee - the  mistress doesn't seem entirely pleased that he's there. She's paying more attention to repairing her somewhat mussed hair and cap than to him. Her tiny feet in seductively high-heeled mules do point towards him, but her legs are firmly crossed at the knee.

Meanwhile, the maidservant (and despite the painting's current title, she is definitely a servant from her dress) seems to be watching the other two with sly interest. She definitely Knows Things, and has probably Seen Things, too, and she'd be perfectly happy to tell them. Note how familiarly she's leaning on the back of her mistress's chair. She's probably wearing her cast-off clothing, as was a common practice among lady's maids, and her cap is nearly as impressive as the one her mistress is wearing. But the front of the maid's pinner apron seems loose, even rumpled, and without that flat, straight front that 18thc stays gave to every woman's torso. Has she left off her stays? Is her body uncorseted, and agreeable available beneath her gown? Maybe she's plotting to take her mistress's place in the man's attentions and his bed - or perhaps she already has.

Outside the window, the sun is either setting, or rising. Does it signify the beginning of an affair, or the end of it? Is the the aftermath of a nigh-long dalliance that the mistress is already regretting, or is she wrestling with her consciences, and wondering whether to give in to the man's persuasive seduction? Consider how she's holding that elaborate cap on her equally elaborate hair with one hand, while taking a pin from the pin cushion with the other (she would have used ordinary straight pins to anchor the cap to her hair.) Would she use one of those pins to jab his wrist if his hand creeps too close?

The fluttering pages of the open book in the background imply an unfinished story. It also appears as if the green drape around the mistress's looking glass on her dressing table has been pulled to cover the glass entirely. Is her conscience so unsettled that she doesn't want to confront her own reflection?

One final thing to note: the large incense burner (the peculiar item on the tripod stand in the foreground) is smoking: richly, luxuriantly, fragrantly. And where's there's smoke....

So what story do you see when you look at this painting?

Above: An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman by Louise Rolland Trinquess, 1776, The Wadsworth Atheneum.


Lucy said...

If Georgette Heyer is to be believed--and her research was generally meticulous--it wasn't unusual for a little elegant flirtation to occur in dressing rooms, with beaus gathering around to instruct the lady on the placement of her patches and the choice of her ornaments. Thus, the gentleman's presence as mademoiselle prepares for an evening ball or party may not be exceptional, but she would seem to be less interested in him than her maid is. Possibly she may even be tired of him.

Liv Rancourt said...

I should have paid more attention in history class. What a fascinating interpretation!

Unknown said...

She's not wearing a wedding ring, if that means anything. Her left hand is made quite prominent by that awkward pose, so I'll guess that the artist wanted that detail to be noticed. Both the man and the servant are behaving in a very familiar manner, and the young woman appears to me to be fiddling with pins rather than getting ready to use one. There's a glass bottle half visible behind her right arm. It doesn't look to be a perfume bottle. I want to think it's absinthe because that would be so decadent, but there are no drinking glasses anywhere in the picture, so that idea's out. She looks so young to me and a little bit out of her depth.

Tegan said...

It doesn't look like that mirror is covered. It looks like the fabric is attached to the frame and DESIGNED to be thrown over the mirror (to protect it? Maybe from powder), but there are clearly two layers of green fabric under the swains arm from where the fabric is folded back.

And she's super unimpressed and/or done with him. I think he screwed up and he's trying to tell the amusing story of how he definitely rescued a runaway carriage last night and that's why he didn't come to her dinner/cards party last night. "I'm so funny and so self deprecating and I'm such an obviously awesome person you'll forgive this tiny contretemps "

Lucy said...

"I'm such an obviously awesome person...."

I think we have a winner for the caption. :D His self-satisfaction really does reek. It reminds me of the most devastating comment I ever read on a celebrity's dance performance: "Likes himself pretty well, doesn't he?"

Gayle said...

His posture does seem somewhat cajoling, doesn't it? I agree with Tegan. Either he screwed up or she's done with him--or both! Looks like the ladies maid is still interested, though!

Lucy said...

"Dude, she's just not that into you."

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