Manchester Art Gallery

Birds of the Air

Object description

A classical figure subject of a young woman in a yellow Grecian robe underneath sheer white drapery, several strings of beads around her neck, her hair covered with a peach coloured headscarf. She stands gazing upwards to the left, with her hands resting on her hips. A tall glass vase stands behind her on the ground, holding a bunch of flowers. A yellow canary eats a crumb next to her bare feet, on a striped woven rug which covers part of the green and white tiled floor. Ornate green embroidered drapery hangs behind her with a differently patterned fabric gathered in the top corners.

Display label

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.