The Convent Garden, Sudley House

the Convent Garden, by George Dunlop Leslie, at Sudley House, Liverpool

the Convent Garden, by George Dunlop Leslie, at Sudley House, Liverpool - Credit: not Archant

The Convent Garden by George Dunlop Leslie (1835 – 1921)

‘It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.’ Charles Dickens’ words, found in Great Expectations, are beautifully encapsulated in this painting.

We are presented with a beautiful maiden, dressed elegantly in medieval costume, sitting inside a walled garden. Medievalism was a popular theme in Victorian art; tales of chivalry and romance were regular sources of inspiration for writers and painters of the era. The luxurious fabric of the dress gives the artist the opportunity to demonstrate his skill and imbues the painting with a timeless, ageless quality. The young maiden’s blue dress is reminiscent of that often worn by the Virgin Mary in paintings; the white head dress further attests to her innocence.

The first flowers of spring have started to bloom and the young lady has set aside her lute in order to select a bouquet of tulips. The eye is drawn to a lone white tulip, framed in the very centre of the canvas; it is a symbol of heaven and purity.

The red tulip in her hand, like her discarded lute, is a potent symbol of love. On the left hand side of the lawn two white doves frolic together. But she has turned her back on these and instead gazes wistfully towards the figure of a nun. The nun stands at the entrance to the convent inside a stone archway. We are left to speculate whether or not the young lady chose life in the convent.

George Dunlop Leslie often used children or young women as his subjects. His works were considered very conservative and uncontroversial, even in late Victorian Britain. But they were hugely popular among art critics and gallery visitors alike, and remain so today. Examples can be seen hanging in many prestigious galleries around the world.

Why you should see this painting:

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Inside this wonderful painting of a British spring day is hidden a love story, one where the viewer is invited to write the ending.

Where you can see this:

The Convent Garden can be seen hanging in the Garden Hall of Sudley House. Sudley House is located on Mossley Hill Road near Liverpool and is open daily from 10am to 5pm, admission is free.