(click image to enlarge)
Has the young pretty mistress of the house really invited these austere middle aged ladies to tea? A solitary cup suggests that their presence is not being encouraged. She sits dressed in white with a set determined look on her face and a posture of self-confidence, closed off to the enquiring crowd of speculating neighbours. One lady leans forward to make maternalistic contact, one leans back against the mantelpiece disengaged by envy of the young bride, and one, widow black, sits back, a slight tight rictus of disapproval on her matronly features. No picture of ours has caused so much discussion and disagreement. When we first displayed Claude Andrew Calthrop’s masterwork at the Summer Show Preview visitors crowded scrum-like around arguing about what it showed and what it meant. This is Victorian narrative painting at its best; intriguing, enigmatic and involving with period authenticity of interior decoration, historical dress and architectural detail. Claude Andrew Calthrop painted it in 1877; a monarch had ruled the Empire for 40 years, a new bride could decide whom she invites into her home, but universal suffrage was still 41 years away.