In 2011 Cartwright Hall joined 30 museums and galleries in the region to launch an online project called ‘Yorkshire’s Favourite Paintings’. A website, funded by the Yorkshire Regional Museums Hub, was created containing 100 of the region’s best-loved paintings, as chosen by the public, with opportunities for leaving comments on the works favoured.
Although the website is no longer operational, one of the paintings in the Cartwright Hall permanent collection that attracted the most attention and comment was ‘The Marriage’, painted in 1886, by the French artist, Jean Paul Sinibaldi. It is an example of a 19th century narrative painting and it attracted a great deal of speculation on ‘Yorkshire’s Favourite Paintings’ about its meaning.
The main focus of attention is a woman dressed in black in the foreground who has screened herself off to the side away from a wedding taking place in the main body of a French church. An earlier painting by Sinibaldi, and used as a preparatory work for ‘The Marriage’, identifies it as the Saint Augustin Church in Paris (see below).
There are three layers of interest in the painting.
At the front of the church are the bride and groom and their guests; their fine clothes indicate their affluence and social status. Although the figure of the groom is indistinct, a French soldier can be seen at attention to the side of the marriage ceremony and officers in uniform can be seen among the guests, suggesting the groom has a position of importance in the army. The bride, groom and guests are bathed in the natural and artificial light sources at the front and sides of the church. It is interesting that in the earlier interior church painting (above), the three-lamp artificial lights are missing and the artist may have included these to draw the eye to the front of the picture and to increase the symbolic effect of light on the celebratory scene.
The second layer of significance is suggested by the three figures in the middle area of the painting characterised by their poor clothing, which strikes a contrast with the opulence of the marriage. Their isolation from the wedding guests is emphasised by the wooden barrier separating them from the wedding guests and rows of plain cane-woven chairs, that also serve as a way of adding perspective to the scene and drawing our eyes beyond the woman in black to the ceremony.
The third level to the painting, and its centre of interest, is the woman in black. The sharper delination of this foreground figure and adjacent chair, in comparison to the more distant images, both gives perspective to the painting and focuses our attention to the woman. Who is she? Why is she there? This presents the viewer with a mystery – and hence the speculative attraction of the work.
She does not wear a wedding ring, so was she jilted at the altar by a soldier, and wears black to make a point about the loss of love? Or does the black symbolise the death of a loved one, perhaps a soldier? Her clothes and jewellery suggest a woman of some affluence and she appears to be in her twenties, or early thirties. She leans on the chair, a black glove draped over it, her expression is dazed, or in shock, suggesting that what has happened to her is quite recent.
Or is the wedding a real event at all? Could it be that she is imaging the scene; thinking about what might have been for her?
See also Films: ‘Talking About Art’ – Yamina & Lillian