Portrait of a Girl

Portrait of a Girl by Emma Sandys, 1843-1877

Caught in a moment of meditative contemplation, the young girl shuts her eyes as if preventing a particular memory from escaping her mind. Her expression is relaxed and at ease, but not self-consciously so; she has forgotten all else. Intertwined with blossoms and foliage, the girl seems to have conjured them with her thoughts. Falling into a dream state, the young girl becomes indistinguishable from the reality of her reflections.

At first glance, Emma Sandys' Portrait of a Girl appears imaginative and romanticized. The girl's flawless appearance coupled with a tame and idealized natural setting suggests that the painting is purely fictional. Nevertheless, the painting is a portrait and thus we understand the subject to be real. The portrait's overarching idealization and ambiguity suggest that Sandys depicts the sitter in a personally meaningful way. Sandys painting leaves much to the imagination. While the viewer feels ultimately lost in his interpretation, the painting still offers a sense of hope that its secret may be decoded.

Discussion Questions

1. How does Emma Sandys' Portrait of a Girl differ from the generally male PRB depiction of women?

2. Does the paintings ambiguity serve to push away or draw in the viewer?

3. In what ways does Sandys employ traditional elements of portraiture?

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Last modified 19 November 2006