Love's Young Dream by Flora Macdonald Reid (1861–1938). Oil on canvas. Undated. 23.5" x 17.5"; with frame, 32.0" x 26.0". Source: James Alder Fine Art. Reproduced here with kind permission. [Click on the inmage to enlarge it,]

The title of this work, which was shown at the 1886 annual Autumn Exhibition in Liverpool, comes from the enormously popular repertoire of parlour songs written by Irishman George Moore in the middle of the century, and was very well known to the late-Victorian gallery-goer. It was frequently used for just this scene, replayed in countless guises and versions by a wide variety of painters from the mid-century on. Although Moore's verses recollect in a melancholy tone a past love, artists tended to utilise the well-known phrase for depictions of any stage of romance; and the expression, current even now, tends to be used to imply an anticipated or hoped-for amour rather than one that is over and gone.

Reid's romantics are young people scarcely out of childhood, pausing in their fieldwork to relish the intimacy of their situation. Their allotted task seems to be gathering apples, although they pursue the job in rather desultory fashion, as befits the mood invoked by the title – her apron is not yet full, while his basket seems to be empty as yet. Although the light falls on their figures, allowing Reid some luscious use of whites, the young people's faces are more or less obscured, making their expressions ambiguous to the viewer. While nothing is known of Reid's models, these two resemble the type that she would continue to use, even when her territory shifted from the Bastien-Lepage-ist/Newlyn ground to the terrain of picturesque urban anecdotes set in Continental cities.

This little painting evokes the work of James Guthrie, George Clausen and Elizabeth Forbes, as well as Reid's contemporary James Nairn, whom she would have known as a Glasgow artist but whose most enduring work was done after his emigration to New Zealand at the end of 1889 (see Tess, 1893, Noon, 1894 and A Summer Idyll, 1903 in Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa).

Readers might like to visit the James Alder Fine Art website, which has an extensive and well-organised display of Victorian paintings. The site, of course, retains copyright on its text and images. [JB]

Created 21 July 2022

Commentary added 25 July 2022