Monday, March 7, 2011

Week 6 Blog Post

This is Leisure Hours a Pre-Raphaelite painting by John Everett Millais, who lived from 1829-1896. The girls in the portrait are Anne and Marion Pender. Their father John Pender commissioned the painting.

While I can’t find much information on the painting, it seems to be a portrait that the girl’s family might put in their home. The painting has a fairly subdued atmosphere.  The girls must be wealthy, since they’re wearing velvet dresses and posed before an ornate background.

One of the girls is holding a small bouquet of buttercup flowers; they symbolize humility, neatness, and childishness. The white flowers resemble jasmine, which symbolizes modesty, grace, and elegance. The red flowers in the hands of the girl on the right seem to be pansy flowers, which represent merriment and “you occupy my thoughts”. All of this describes the painting well, so I’d like to think this was intentional on the part of the artist.

I usually don’t think of goldfish being in a portrait; I know dogs typically symbolize fidelity, but what do the goldfish symbolize? They don’t live very long, and spend their lives in tiny bowls. It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the portrait on those terms, but perhaps they just wanted to commemorate their family pets.

Also, I’m assuming the girls are supposed to have regal or well-behaved expressions on their faces, but they look bored to me. The one on the right is leaning over; almost like she’s so bored she can’t sit up.

Another thing that bothers me is that the girls are looking away from each other; they don’t interact despite their close proximity. It doesn’t seem to convey any family unity or sisterly love. And while blank expressions are common in portraits, it seems particularly cold in this instance.


  1. Very observant description here. Piggybacking off what you've mentioned, perhaps the goldfish works as a metaphor for mortality, thus reminding us to enjoy life while we have it. The way they seem to be expressing themselves contrasts in an interesting way with the flower symbolism you mentioned.

  2. After the observation you made about the goldfish, I thought they might stand for the girls themselves - the sheltered, protected lives that the young women of this particular class might live.. and like those goldfish, they would be unlikely to be able to survive outside the life they are accustomed to. I dunno, just a thought.