This is a painting which depicts a scene in ancient Rome. Three women are pictured on a wide stone balcony; one stands holding a tray of food from which she feeds fish in a pond, another lies along the balcony, and the third sits, looking down with flowers beside her. The very dark blue sea is in contrast to the pale sky in the background. The verse on the frame is from Wordsworth's poem 'Gold and Silver Fishes in a Vase'. He wonders what captive life must be like for the fish yet cannot help taking pleasure in their loveliness. The women 'trapped' in this painting are admired by the viewer for their beauty and, like the fish, seem indolent and slightly bored.
Gallery text panel In Pursuit of Beauty Late Victorian Art and Design Improving the quality of British art and design had been a concern since the 1850s. The British Empire had expanded into new continents but it was the classical ideal of beauty, based on Ancient Greek and Roman culture that was still considered the model for serious art. The pursuit of beauty was a form of escapism from the mass-production of industrial Britain. As well as looking to the ancient world, artists and designers were delighted and inspired by the arts of Renaissance Italy, the Middle and Far East. Many of the paintings here feature a beautiful woman. Sometimes she is a passive, decorative form, but often she is a dark and brooding femme fatale, a symbol of seduction, deception and destruction. The 'fatal woman' may reflect late Victorian male fears as women campaigned for equal rights and new roles. The emphasis on colour, harmony and rhythm and simplifying the form of an object would become major concerns in the 20th century. They can be seen emerging here in the work of late Victorian artists and designers.