The saddest little girl

“Look at her”, said my companion, “this must be the saddest little girl in the world!”
“He is right”
, I thought, captivated by the palette, contrasting colours, their facial expressions and composition of the painting.

Until I read the description on the wall and, for a moment there, it was I who seemed to be the saddest little girl in the world…

Unknown Artist
A Family Group, ca. 1850
Oil on canvas

{”This painting of an unidentified family bears the hallmarks of high-style portraits produced in New York during the antebellum era: saturated colours; attentiveness to details of costume, coiffure and jewellery; accurate facial depictions. The setting is a richly appointed Rococo Revival parlour. Seen through the window is a castellated Gothic Revival villa, possibly the family’s home, perched on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River. While it is similar to many designed by architects such as Alexander Jackson Davis during the period, it may be the home they aspired to, rather than their actual house. Details suggest that the child is deceased: the woman wears a cameo brooch carved with Orheus holding his lyre, a reference to the myth of Orpheus’ attempt to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the underworld; the possibly phantom house (a castle in the sky?); and the adults are wearing sombre black clothing.”}

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

July 2nd, 2017

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