Evelyn de Morgan's Hope in the Prison of Despair depicts an allegorical scene through a simple arrangement symbolic details in a style reminiscent of Burne-Jones, but divorced from literary and historical sources. The upright, illuminated figure of Hope stands, holding an ornate lantern, behind the crouched figure of a despairing woman. The latter is bent over, holding her head with one bare arm, unaware of the figure behind her. A feeling of imprisonment is created by the barred doors and windows, which are echoed by the prominent rectangular patterns of the stone walls and floor, and, more obviously, by the chain in the corner. The painting does not situate the scene within any longer narrative, instead focusing on the emotions of the immediate situation.

Questions

1. In contrast to the vast majority of Victorian painting, Hope in the Prison of Despair does not depict the face of one of its major figures. What is the significance of this? How does it compare, for instance, to Burne-Jones' King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid?

2. Is the illumination of the scene realistic? What does the illumination tell us about de Morgan's idea of art?

3. What is the significance of de Morgan's decision to depict an apparently narrative scene without a source, particularly given her artistic relation to Burne-Jones, who was known for his depictions of classical and medieval legends?

4. Can Hope be considered a contemplative woman? Why or why not?

5. What is the significance of the ornate lamp that Hope holds? Is it an allegorical figure, or simply an aesthetic design?


Victorian Web Overview Visual Arts Evelyn de Morgan (1850-1919) Painting Discussion questions for Burne-Jones

Last modified 21 November 2006