Philip Hermogenes Calderon - Broken Vows (1856)
Charles Haigh Wood - Love Will Triumph (n.d.)
Today's December Double selections both exhibit romance in distress. ‘Broken Vows’ by English painter Philip Hermogenes Calderon and ‘Love Will Triumph’ by fellow English painter Charles Haigh Wood each depict subjects struggling to cope with the drama unfolding in their respective scenes. It’s fascinating to watch how Calderon and Wood present their stories for the viewer, offering clues—some subtler than others—about what is transpiring. I prefer Calderon’s painting for his wonderful use of light and shadow, however I would say Wood’s work offers a more nuanced scene, providing more room for conversation.
One element I admire in 'Broken Vows' is how Calderon urges us to sympathize with the young woman, placing us on her side of the fence as she overhears to two people on the other side, presumably her lover and another woman he appears to be courting. Given this visual perspective, we see only scant details of this man and woman behind the fence—just enough to convey affection between the two. While we observe the man’s alleged betrayal with our eyes, the woman in the foreground can hear their flirtations, which is surely no less painful for her. I would presume she stumbled upon this scene by accident, perhaps while strolling through the garden. The entire painting is framed around her figure, making her the central character whom we are to identify with. Her overall body language is that of both disappoint and discomfort and I must note how her right hand fingers are resting pensively against the brick wall. Effective.
Unlike Calderon’s painting, the visual narrative in 'Love with Triumph' pays equal weight to all the subjects, laying them out in a fashion which resembles a stage play, lending a theatrical quality to the work which emphasizes its dramatic elements. In this scene an overbearing father is forbidding the young man to see his daughter, seated at the far left right and looking appropriately distraught. I would presume the woman by the father’s side is his wife, perhaps urging him to reconsider his order, or at least mind is temper. Visually the father provides the strongest figure in the room, towering over all the other characters in the scene, and there is a stately quality to his profile which commands him authority. The young man, though not as dynamic of a figure, nevertheless seems composed, with his eyes fixed on his sweetheart’s father in a way which leads me to believe that he will not easily back down from this challenge. Furthermore, the title ‘Love Will Triumph’ guarantees that he will succeed and be united with his partner.
That said, I find ‘Love’ a more intriguing scene than ‘Vows’ simply because how Wood’s subjects are situated throughout his handsome interior compared to Calderon’s quaint garden. In ‘Love’ it’s also interesting to observe their body language with one another, which could lead to different interpretations about the story taking place, while our young woman in ‘Vows’ is central to herself.