The title of the painting comes from Shakespeare. It is from Measure for Measure, Act III, scene I, line 86, where Claudio says:
‘If I must die, I will encounter darkness as a bride and hug it in my arms.’
Gotch uses poppies here to show death personified as a beautiful, morbid bride ready to embrace the viewer for eternity.
Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931) was an original member of the Newlyn colony of artists, the group that made such an impact on the late Victorian art world in England. He was a close and life-long friend of Henry Scott Tuke and Stanhope Forbes. From the mid 1880s, he was a leading figure amongst the young artists who attempted to resist the hegemony of London’s Royal Academy of Art, being a founder member and secretary of the New English Art Club.
After a trip to Florence in 1891, where he saw the paintings of Quattrocento artists such as Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli, Gotch’s style changed quite dramatically. He abandoned the realism and monochromatic blues and greys of the Newlyn School for highly decorative allegorical subjects, vibrant colours and an attention to detail akin to that of the Pre-Raphaelites.
This work is a preliminary sketch for what many regarded to be Gotch’s master work, ‘Death the Bride’.