Part the first: There is a wonderful exhibition on at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, running till the 22nd November, titled Photography: A Victorian Sensation. I highly recommend it if you find yourself within striking distance - but beware - we were there for 1 1/2 hours and only got half way round before being politely booted out at closing time. (I'll try to go again.)
It was dimly lit and the photographs were small in their beautiful cases, but the curators had cunningly provided electronic display thingies where you could enlarge each portrait to your heart's content. And that was where the time went. Being able to look closely at the faces, read the stories behind the lines and the expressions. The majority were full face and because they had to hold their poses for so long, it wasn't possible to hide behind created persona smirks or "Everything's fine!" animation. They were vulnerable and open.
Now, a good number of the men's portraits had them with a finger in a book, but very few of the women were shown this way. As we weren't allowed to take photographs of the photographs, I found this one of the fabulous Julia Margaret Cameron elsewhere in that pose (she is a heroine of mine and, irritatingly, in the part of the exhibition I got "encouraged" out of. It was my own fault, of course.)
But what those images made me think of was ...
Part the second - paintings of women reading. There is a similar stillness and lack of defence - the viewer sees the reader's face in repose, but this time without making eye contact. You will not be surprised to learn I've never been an artist's model, but if I were, I've always thought the best pose to go for would be reading. With all my clothes on. This would help with the boredom and goosebumps. And here are some that I like a lot -
Woman reading a letter by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
Reading “Le Figaro” by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Woman Reading by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861)
La Lecture by George Croegaert (1848-1923)
Elisabeth Allan Fraser by Patrick Allan Fraser (1812-1890)
(She is reading in the dining room at Hospitalfield House, just up the coast from where I live - an amazing place.)
Do you have a favourite portrait of a woman reading? If so, I'd love to see it - share a link to it in the comments. Thank you! (And go to that exhibition if you possibly can - )
Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.