Thursday, July 15, 2010
It represented a woman, considerably larger, I thought, than the life. I calculated that this lady, put into a scale of magnitude, suitable for the reception of a commodity of bulk, would infallibly turn from fourteen to sixteen stone. She was, indeed, extremely well fed: very much butcher's meat--to say nothing of bread, vegetables, and liquids--must she have consumed to attain that breadth and height, that wealth of muscle, that affluence of flesh. She lay half-reclined on a couch: why, it would be difficult to say; broad daylight blazed round her; she appeared in hearty health, strong enough to do the work of two plain cooks; she could not plead a weak spine; she ought to have been standing, or at least sitting bolt upright. She, had no business to lounge away the noon on a sofa. She ought likewise to have worn decent garments; a gown covering her properly, which was not the case: out of abundance of material--seven-and-twenty yards, I should say, of drapery--she managed to make inefficient raiment. Then, for the wretched untidiness surrounding her, there could be no excuse. Pots and pans--perhaps I ought to say vases and goblets--were rolled here and there on the foreground; a perfect rubbish of flowers was mixed amongst them, and an absurd and disorderly mass of curtain upholstery smothered the couch and cumbered the floor. On referring to the catalogue, I found that this notable production bore the name "Cleopatra." (Ch. 19)
Lucy makes fun of the portrayal, calling the subject "extremely well fed" and having an "affluence of flesh." However, Lucy also makes a sociological observation, commenting on the recumbent pose of the subject, who chooses to "lounge away the noon" while surrounded by "wretched untidiness." While "Cleopatra" may be beautiful, Lucy considers her lazy and lacking in her duties: "There could be no excuse." Lucy finds the painting silly and not ideal.
Her language is light-hearted, calling the work "an enormous piece of claptrap." Nevertheless, while Lucy views and dismisses the work, men begin to fill the gallery to look at the painting, including M. Paul, who opposes Lucy's viewing of such a work, though he himself takes a moment to observe it. This growth of interest in the artwork causes Lucy to give it a second look. She is not interested in the artistic value but in the aspect which causes men to be interested in such a work. As a woman, she sees silliness when she views it, but men are captivated by the portrait and are drawn to the work. Lucy, who is almost obsessive in her desire to be looked at, observes "Cleopatra" to see the beauty that men are drawn to. Nevertheless, M. Paul does not want her to look at the painting and possibly get ideas and explains to her that while the subject is beautiful, it is not the type of beauty he would want in a wife, daughter, or sister. It is a beauty to be observed but not to be obtained. Lucy realizes this and decides that is not the beauty she desires for herself.
The above painting is not the portrait on which Bronte based her description, as her description was not based on an actual portrait of Cleopatra.