“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”*

*painting of 1885-6 by John Singer Sargent

From: The Family From One End Street (1937) by Eve Garnett:

“Amongst other places they visited the Tate Gallery where they saw a picture – “Lovely “, to Rosie’s way of thinking, and “That Real”, though at the same time confusing. It was called, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” and it showed two children among the flowers at dusk engaged in hanging up Japanese lanterns. Rosie was undecided whether the title referred to the flowers or the children; each was spelt with a capital letter, but the actual flowers were rather vague whereas the children were solid enough; but then, why was Lily there twice over and could one call a child Carnation? ”

Harriet Baker on Tate Britain exhibition of 2004, Art of the Garden:

“In 1884, a scandal forced the painter John Singer Sargent to leave Paris, but a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy three years later helped to revive his career. Sargent’s portrait of Amelie Gautreau, the famous Madame X, was first exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1884 and was met with outrage, permanently damaging his reputation as an artist. He had painted his subject with wantonly exposed shoulders and deathly pale skin, much to the disapproval of the critics. Seeking restoration, Sargent moved to England and spent summer seasons in an artist’s colony in Broadway, Worcestershire. It was here that Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose was completed.

Sargent’s first inspiration for the painting came from an evening boating trip along the Thames at Pangbourne in 1885, when he saw Chinese lanterns hanging in the trees. He began Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose while staying at the home of the artist Francis David Millet, although the models for the two little girls, Polly and her sister Dorothy, were actually the daughters of the artist Frederick Barnard…

…As the curator of the exhibition, Richard Ormond, explains: “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose was painted entirely out of doors at this magical twilight time of day and it’s wonderfully complicated. It’s a kind of Garden of Eden, an invented garden dense with flowers and foliage. It combines the en plein air technique with pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic impulses. With the two little girls lighting the lanterns, it’s an image of childhood innocence…

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose was first exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition of 1887…The Pall Mall Gazette (a paper widely read by the middle classes) featured Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose in the category “Pictures You Would Least Like to Live With”, as voted by the readers…”

From the novel What I Loved (2003) by Siri Hustvedt:

“It took me about a minute to understand that there were actually three people in the painting. Far to my right, on the dark side of the canvas, I noticed that a woman was leaving the picture. Only her foot and ankle could be seen inside the frame, but the loafer she was wearing had been rendered with excruciating care, and once I had seen it, I kept looking back at it. The invisible woman became as important as the one who dominated the canvas. The third person was only a shadow. For a moment I mistook the shadow for my own, but then I understood that the artist had included it in the work.”

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