I’m getting married this week!
This means you, my loyal fans and readers, must exercise some patience while I take a brief hiatus. I promise to be back soon, and I’ll be so excited to get back to exploring and learning together.
… But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The wedding isn’t for a few days, which means I have plenty of time to investigate “The Wedding Party” by Philip Richard Morris from our European Collection. I took full advantage of our Collections Database to zoom in and meditate on this painting (you can do the same, with most of the works we house, which is convenient for works not on view, or for when you can’t make it in– of course you know it’s best to see it in person).
I had the chance to talk to Stephanie Hohlios, a Curatorial Assistant here at the UMFA, who explores this painting regularly with her students.
“There is a definite class difference between those passively riding in the boat, and those actually doing the rowing,” Hohlios points out. Their clothes are worn, drab, and utilitarian, and are in sharp contrast to the finery of the wedding party.
This class difference extends to the shore, where villagers have gathered to watch the wealthy wedding party pass.
The scene inside the boat is also rich with detail:
“The bride in particular seems to be restrained or trapped by the figures around her, and the boat’s position away from the shore. She has no control over this situation, and looks out at the viewer as though asking for a response,” Hohlios says. “My students have suggested that maybe this is an arranged marriage, which is not illogical to consider, stating that she is the most unfortunate one in the scene, even though she enjoys a level of luxury far above that of the poorer figures on the shore.”
As a Utahn, I won’t be rowing to the wedding venue, and though I will be hemmed in on all sides by loved ones, there is no question that as a working woman in 2013 I have more agency than even the most graceful woman of leisure in any other era. But more than the differences, it’s the commonalities that most fascinate me: for example (spoiler alert!) I will be in a white dress, just as this bride was.
It’s moments like this that are my favorite argument in favor of art museums: they present a chance to bear witness to the enduring and romantic humanity we share with our past.