O Swallow, Swallow, John Mehuish Strudwick at Sudley House, Liverpool

O Swallow Swallow by John Melhuish Strudwick

O Swallow Swallow by John Melhuish Strudwick - Credit: not Archant

A beautiful maiden is lost in thought in John Melhuish Strudwick’s O Swallow Swallow

On February 14th romantics all over the world will have penned sweet missives to their loved ones, hoping that their sentiments will be reciprocated. A similar circumstance is represented by John Mehuish Strudwick in the painting ‘O Swallow, Swallow’ currently on display at Sudley House in Aigburth, Liverpool. It is loosely based on part of the poem ‘The Princess’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson whose words inspired many painters working in the latter half of the 19th century.

Strudwick was an unpromising art student until he met Edward Burne-Jones to whom he became a studio assistant. The influence of Burne-Jones, who had close links with the pre-Raphaelite movement and the decorative arts of William Morris, is clearly evident in this painting.

Strudwick painted in a flat, linear style, but with great accuracy, especially in the draperies and accessories, using rich and glowing colours. The effect is sometimes rather lifeless and static, but always highly decorative. His meticulous attention to detail meant his output as an artist was limited. Indeed he was fortunate to have the shipping magnate George Holt, to whom Sudley House once belonged, as a wealthy benefactor.

The painting depicts a beautiful maiden who, having sent a message via a swallow to her distant beau, impatiently awaits its return. She is lost, deep in thought and plays idly with her necklace, a memento of her love. The humble swallow is often used in art and literature to symbolise love and if we look closely we can see it through the window. Two books to her left allude to the literary origin of the scene. The red and white roses scattered liberally around represent both love and passion or virginity depending on their hue. The lute, in common with many musical instruments, was frequently used by artists to show the harmony of true love. In his bittersweet poem, Tennyson’s narrator asks the swallow to tell his love ‘brief is life but love is long’. Will the maiden’s absent love ever reappear?

Sudley House, Liverpool, L18 8BX, is open daily from 10am to 5pm and admission is free.