The Dreamers. Oil on canvas. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery. 70 x 121 cm. Presented by Richard Tangye and George Tangye, 1884. Accession Number: 1885P2467. [Online source]

According to Sidney Colvin, Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893) excelled in capturing "beautiful people in beautiful situations." His 1882 painting The Dreamers a picture of three women lost in reverie now in the collection of the Birmingham Museum and Gallery, exemplifies this tendency, Moore's consistent aesthetic, in terms of color, texture, and composition, makes his painting a visually harmonious work evoking the weightless quality of a dream.

The painting depicts the same model three times over. This lack of physical variety causes the eye to skim the canvas, for no one figure pulls attention from another. Their robes dissolve into the fabric of the background, creating an expansive study of drapery and its physical idiosyncrasies. This apparent monotony actually creates a dream-like quality to the work, enhanced by the consistent color palette Moore employs.

Moore's only deviates from the cream-colored tone of the work in the decorative objects of the piece: both the rug in the very front and the wallpaper behind the seated women. This subtle emphasis reflects two of the larger themes of Victorian culture, both Orientalism, and the general craze for material goods. Moore hints at the former through his inclusion of the screens behind these women, a decorative element inherent to the harem, and through the obviously non-English quality of the pattern of the rug. The wallpaper behind the women resembles the patterns of William Morris, representing the Arts & Crafts Movement quality of repetition, natural motifs, and elaborate detail. That Moore dwells on the material decoration of this setting suggests that he also chose the women's outfits, which are reminiscentof the toga, to refers to classical dress.

While each material element of the piece possesses meaning, Moore's overall constancy of hand, texture, and color renders each insignificant when compared to the larger dream-like quality of the piece. While a deeper reading of Moore's work is certainly possible, the piece likely depicts nothing more than "beautiful people in beautiful situations."

Discussion Questions

1. Compare this piece with Delacroix's Women of Algiers (a nineteenth-century representation of three women in a harem). Discuss the significance of material objects in both.

2. Compare this piece with Alma-Tadema's Women of Amphissa. Is there any suggestion of sin or indolence with these dreamers? Or do they actually do as their title says?

Do the robes the women wear hold any significance? How would the painting change if these figures were nude?


1. Birmingham Museum and Gallery, UK.

Sidney Colvin, Portfolio, 1970.

Last modified 23 April 2007