This is a Good Picture

Actually, it’s a painting titled “Flirtation,” by Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

I like this painting for many reasons (not simply because its discovery justified an afternoon I wasted on social media).

Great paintings mean different things to different people. When I look at this painting, I immediately see in my mind the story I think the artist is telling.

Here’s the story:

Our fair young lady is a daughter of privilege and wealth. She is probably the daughter of a peer; not a duke, but very possibly a marquess.

She’s used to the very best in life. Her home is lavishly, but tastefully, furnished; she spends a good deal on clothes and hair powder; and the family budget for the daily delivery of fresh flowers (see the big spray of pink and white roses on the left) is enough to support a working-class family of four for a year.

Our young lady has been properly raised, hence the chaperone. But the chaperone has been employed by the family for years (she may even have begun her employment as nurse when the lady was a child), so she is a little lax (but not too lax) in her responsibilities.

That’s why the gentleman has been allowed to creep ever closer to where my lady is reposing on the chaise.

The lady’s attire looks like riding habit to me, although I must say that white is a daring choice for a riding skirt.

She’s been outside earlier in the day. Before her gentleman suitor arrived she picked a few wild flowers; but in her pleasure at seeing him, she forgot all about those wild flowers and discarded them at the foot of her chaise.

Or, perhaps he brought the wild flowers and gave them to her as a token of his love; but being a thoughtless young woman (Seriously, why would she want someone to bring her wild flowers when she has bushels of beautiful roses to look at?), she tossed them aside, and a few of them landed on the floor. Is it possible she could be so hard-hearted?

Suspended among the draperies directly over her head is a mirror, which makes me wonder if the artist is trying to tell us a little something about the young lady’s vanity.

What I find most intriguing about this painting is the manner in which the young lady is looking at her suitor. She’s holding up one finger, as if she is about to make an important point.

Or maybe she’s just begun to count off the reasons she cannot consent to marry him.

Or perhaps she intends to teasingly scold him for being so persistent.

Our couple’s body language is very intriguing—His is eager; hers is poised, even a little languid. And though they are looking into each other’s eyes, their facial expressions could not be more different.

There are probably a lot of ways to interpret this painting. In fact, the possibilities are endless.

But that’s the beauty of a really good painting; it tells a different story to each person who views it.

What do you think? What story would you tell about this painting?

Have you ever come across a painting or photograph that really spoke to you or touched your heart? I’d love to hear about it!

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