This painting has two secrets. One is hiding in sight. The other is much deeper


Appointments have taken on a new meaning. BC always referred to something that happened “before Christ”, now people often talk about an activity they did “before COVID”. A new meaning from BC

This virus has had a major impact on our lives. Gerry and I love going to museums and our last visit was BC so we had a great pleasure recently returned to one of our favorites, the Worcester Art Museum, and I have looked at the artworks with more appreciation than ever – but I have to say that I will be even more grateful if I can see them without the mask being part of my clothes.

I was particularly drawn to the portrait of his daughters by Thomas Gainsborough, and since COVID I have looked at this painting with new eyes. It’s amazing how our life experiences affect how we see things.

The finished portrait of the painter Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters, Margaret and Mary.

Thomas Gainsborough was a successful 18th century English artist. The elite liked his romantic style of painting and the way he could capture their aristocratic status. He was even commissioned by the royal family to do their portraits. He showed off her high fashion and made her look glamorous with artistic freedom.

Now back to the portrait of his daughters. I took two pictures of it, one showing the whole painting and one showing a close up. The painting was painted in the early 1760s and has become a bit more transparent over the years.

Close up of Gainsborough portrait showing the original placement of daughter Margaret on the left.

Close up of Gainsborough portrait showing the original placement of daughter Margaret on the left.

If you look closely you can see that Gainsborough originally painted daughter Margaret standing on the left, facing her seated sister Mary, and then he decided to paint over it and change her position to be next to her sister. If I look closely at Margaret, I see her as a child in need. Perhaps she had special needs and the artist wanted to convey the message that she is dependent on her sister and feels safest around her.

Touching reminder that we need people

The change in this portrait touched me and made me aware of how much we all need other people. COVID made me think about things I never thought about BC

I think of all the people we depend on, all the people we need support from – the medical professionals and how they keep going, taking care of themselves and doing their best even when their own lives are in danger; the people who work in grocery stores who continue to deal with the public to make a living; the truckers who bring our supplies to us; the postmen; the editors who prepare the exact paper you read; the news anchors, the performers who entertain us on television and in films; the athletes we watch; our city officials; the mechanic who maintains our cars; our clergy, our neighbors, friends and family. We need them all.

As independent as we may think, we are not. We don’t go through this life alone. We all need others and we need to value them.

We grow with every experience, even COVID. It made me think about Gainsborough’s work of art in a new way, in a deeper, richer, more important way.

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Carole Gariepy is a Phillipston resident and author of In Isolation.

This article originally appeared on Gardner News: Gariepy Column: Gainsborough Painting at WAM Reveals Key Lesson

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