Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Flower Seller

From Under the Gables:
In this painting, Hassam highlights the relationship between the two girls in the painting: the flower seller and the girl walking with her mother. The flower girl looks imploringly at the younger girl, and one assumes that she wants the child to ask her mother to buy her flowers. The younger girl meanwhile is fascinated by the flower seller. Either she is looking at the flowers, but more likely she is apprehending the flower seller as a young girl, like herself, but in a startlingly different position than herself; the flower seller has no childhood, having been hurled into adult activities for reasons of family poverty or even loss of family. The mother meanwhile ignores the flower seller and is hustling onward. I find it noteworthy that in the painting Hassam's shadowing of the heads of all three figures makes it appear almost as if each has a nimbus. In the left middle ground is the figure of a mother and child, the mother clearly from the working class. "There but for the grace of God go I."


Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, Elena, I see this all the time. =( Sometimes I am the little girl and sometimes I am her mother. There are so many young flower sellers where I live that it is impossible to help them all.

Leah Marie Brown said...

Ooops, forgot to give you the link.

Leah Marie Brown said...

What a lovely post! Thank you for explaining the meaning behind this painting, which so nicely captures a forgotten era.

As usual, I love your blog posts.

I have launched my new 18th Century Blog and would love you to take a look. Granted, it is not nearly as comprehensive as your lovely blog.

All the best.

elena maria vidal said...

E., That is an intriguing detail. I love to hear about life in the Philippines from you.

Thank you, Leah, what a great new blog!

Foxglove said...

I have been journeying through your site and have truly enjoyed my visit, thank you.
I love the interpretation of this painting, its wonderful to discover the hidden truths which lay within.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Foxglove, please do visit again!

Julygirl said...

..and then Henry Higgins may happen along and turn her into a cultured lady and she will get married and live happily every after.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with "I love that Hassam has painted the very young flower sellers wrapped in the same white as the flowers themselves." the symbolism of virtue and the color white doesn't escape us, right? Purity.

Re: E's comments about the abundance of floral merchants in modern day Phillipines, compare and contrast to the complaints re: the relaxation of the monarchy's mercantilist policies leading to accusations of licentiousness and debauchery ("The supplicants' cause is also that of morality.") Perhaps Hassam is making a similar point - that the immature flower sellers fate hangs in the balance: her economic security is not a given, until she secures a 'protector' (in the form of a spouse - or as in the case of the earlier centuries the protectionism of a government mandate).

Note also the placement of the Madonna-like "intercessor" between the events in the foreground and those in the background - the painting's symmetry is deliberate. Folded in half on the vertical axis, the seller and the prospect are stage left (classically the 'female' side in a painting) and the iconic mater dei figure stage right (classically the 'male' domain in a composition).

See a Roman Catholic sculptor Hamilton Reed Armstrong discuss use of such symbolism here:

In particular the elevation of the figures on the horizonal level evokes the escatalogical sense - the higher up the closer to Heaven. The young flower seller is seated lowest of all, the domestic pair alight down the steps, while the Madonna figure is arriving with the intent of going up them. The mandated use of fresh flowers for liturgical celebrations evokes an ecclesial structure to the painting, ie life outside Church mirrors life inside the Mystery of the Sacrifice of the Altar. The anonymous figures along the park railings could be interpreted as souls in purgatory perhaps awaiting the beatific vision, dependant on the sacrifices and acts of kindness of the "living" ie those who know God and are 'reborn' in the Light of Divine Wisdom.

I'm not an art expert, but beauty is always a reflection of the divine gift, we need only seek it out. The artist may not be as polemical in the social justice sense as the blog author seeks to make out, rather he is celebrating the perishable beauty of all creation and appealing to the beholder to revere what is revealed and render thanks to God (by supporting a starving artist, and a diligent flower seller perhaps - our economic choices are all moral acts!)

elena maria vidal said...

Excellent interpretation, Clare! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I will look at it differently now!

Anonymous said...

Note also the position of the Tree truck (think Cross & Calvary) in the market stall painting featured by the blog author. Classical symbolism composes human life as a journey, descending from our Maker (light from upper left floods lower portion of canvas, ie the earthly realm, our mortal coil) and back to him (disappearing horizon. upper right). Note the upper class lady is moving away from the tree, ie in the 'wrong' direction or with a 'disordered' disposition of will (think 'camel and eye of needle').

In the third painting, the Riverside scene, the distant horizon is deliberately vague, yet is imbued with hopeful gentle light hues where the rain clouds have already cleared, compared to the highly dramatic contrasts of light and dark in the other half of the composition. All the human figures are "squashed" onto the embankment - and are all facing away from the happier scenery across the River, symbolizing the Jordan of baptism perhaps? Sacramental grace flowing down from the hill with indistinct protuberances - three crosses perhaps? The morbid puritanical black garb evoke for me JPII's culture of death references, but my fervor for Revelation may be misleading me with that rather stark analysis! The distinct spires of the city skyline are majestically Gothic but not obviously ecclesiastic in origin, illusory temples to Mammon perhaps? The vertical axis pivots (ie the crux of the matter) around the purity of the perishable flowers making an almost imperceptible appeal to our nature's appetite for beauty, our universal call to holiness!

Thank you for posting and indulging my penchant for the visual art form (as opposed to the narrative one of our Host!)

God Bless
Clare Krishan

elena maria vidal said...

Clare, I love it when you comment and I learn so much from you!