A lovely and rapturous composition. In side profile we see a girl looking intently ahead, holding a precious golden casket, encrusted with exquisite colourful jewels.
This portrait by Gale, with her expressive eyes and lips, soft skin and rich, auburn-tinted red hair, demonstrates his mastery of the use of oil painting.
Perhaps we will never know its meaning but as A.C. Swinburne might have said of it as he said of an Albert Moore: ‘Its meaning is beauty and its reason for being is to be.’
The artist was consistently praised for the fineness and careful colouring of his works.
William Gale was born in the year 1823 in London and developed a flair for art at a very young age. His formal education took place at Brompton at the Grammar School and then he trained at Sass’s Academy. Afterwards he went on to the school of the Royal Academy in 1841. Gale exhibited at the Royal Academy every year from 1844 to 1893. However, he was never an elected member of the Academy. He also regularly exhibited at the British Institution and the Royal Society of British Artists.
William Gale’s art was creative and detailed in the pre-Raphaelite style. The subjects he depicted varied from ancient history to current subjects. The first painting he exhibited at the Royal Academy was in 1845, ‘Young Celadon and Amelia’.
While he was being educated at the Royal Academy, he earned three silver medals, one for painting and one for drawing a live model with chalk. In the year 1846, he painted ‘Phaedra’ and ‘The Indian’ and the following year he was known for his painting ‘The Voice of Mercy’.
William Gale married in the year 1851 and went for a honeymoon in Italy where he remained for a while studying the works of the old masters, turning his early works to genre subjects set in Rome.
After his return to England, Gale specialised in literary subjects, with episodes from Spencer’s Faerie Queen and Shakespeare appearing among his exhibited works. Dafforne identified the year 1856 as marking a highpoint in Gale’s career, with five paintings – including the present composition – shown between the Royal Academy and British Institution, and as the commentator wrote ‘all very different in subject’.
He travelled to the middle east in 1862 and then again in 1867. He was fascinated by the cultures and biblical aesthetics along with the characters. He excelled at painting religious and mythological subjects.
The artist was consistently praised for the fineness and careful colouring of his works, with Dafforne comparing their quality to those of the French artist Ernest Meissonier – which may be taken as meaning that they were admired for what was regarded as the quality of ‘finish’.
William Gale passed away in the year 1909 at the age of 86.
Tate Gallery, Glasgow Museum, Salford Museums & Art Gallery, Atkinson Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
James Dafforne in the 1869 Art Journal.