What appeals to me the most about Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta’s The Bouquet is the young woman’s pose as she leans back on the piano. It’s such a subtle expression of body language, but here it signifies so much to me. Rather than comfortably lounging back, she seems outwardly pensive and exhausted. She’s obviously in deep contemplation after having received the letter in her hand and the accompanying bouquet of flowers seen casually placed on the stool. While making the universal thinking pose, perhaps she’s conspiring against an old flame, pondering an ongoing affair, or simply trying to figure out the identity of a secret admirer. The open sheet music situated on the piano operates as a template for her thoughts, whatever they might be, and given her expression I imagine I’d be particularly sinuous score which I’d love to hear performed, however unpleasant it might sound.
The execution of this piece lends the scene particular urgency. For instance, the lighting seems very flat, as if it were originating from somewhere around our vantage point, and the lack of shadow makes the scene feel very direct and confrontational. I must also note the palette’s bright yellow and reds, as well as the sharp contrast of the white dress against the dark wood of the piano, all of which seem tailored to command the viewer’s attention to the situation at hand. Visually, these variables do not make for a comfortable viewing experience but instead emphasize the importance of this scene and the events which might commence afterward. In The Bouquet, we’ve definitely reached a turning point in our undisclosed story.
On a humorous note, either our subject is a really messy individual or the letter contained information so jarring that she was immediately plunged into thought, thus causing the envelope to fall from out of her hand and onto the floor! Wow, that must’ve been some note! If only my life was that exciting. I mean, who casually discards envelopes in such a manner? And if you received a letter which contained dire information, you’d at least make effort to properly dispose of its packaging, right?
The answer would be that our envelope in The Bouquet is represented as such purely for theatrical effect. I love these nuances, however unnatural and silly they might seem, and to me they exemplify the narrative tradition often found in 18th and 19th century painting before everything turned self-aware and modern. Many contemporary artists seem to have abandoned this particular language for something more sophisticated. It’s a shame.