NDA Visual Arts Department recently received the results from the 2018 Art Criticism Open. Sophomore and Art II student Carissa Kolcun won first place for her essay on Thomas Gainsborough’s, Hester, Countess of Sussex, and Her Daughter, Lady Barbara Yelverton!
She will be honored May 5th, 2019 as this is part of the Ohio Governor’s Youth Art Exhibition. This is NDA’s second third consecutive first place in this competition. Each year a high school class is invited to view the top twenty-five works of art in the Ohio Governor’s Youth Art Exhibition and write art criticism in response to the works. These writings are printed, along with an image of the work, and made available to viewers of the exhibition. This provides an audience for students’ written work and broadens the viewers’ perspective for the art work (via: www.govart.org)
Hester, Countess of Sussex, and Her Daughter, Lady Barbara Yelverton
While looking at this piece, the eye is immediately drawn to the contrast between the subjects of the painting and their background. The dark, earthy toned, background brightens the whites and blue of the dresses, and the paleness of the skin of the Countess of Sussex and Lady Barbara Yelverton. After noticing this it is also easy to pick up on the physical contrast of the background and foreground. The two ladies, noticeably wealthy, sit among nature, some plants even falling over their figures. By using nature as the background, though, the artist Thomas Gainsborough gives us insight to the subjects personalities.
Framing the Countess of Sussex are dark warm colors. They give her a more depressing appearance, the warmer tones making her appear serious. The Countess herself wears a tired expression. Painted on her face is a clearly forced smile. In comparison to Lady Barbara next to her, the Countess’ dress is far more extravagant. The extravagance of the dress is a distraction from her sadness, meant to draw attention away from her pressed expression. She wears a gray wig, giving her an older appearance despite the youth portrayed in her face. The plants overlapping her figure suggest that she wishes she had more freedom, and the black hat she holds gives the impression of a great sadness she recently suffered from, or a suppressing sadness that constantly effects her. She is clearly represented as someone who is unhappy and tired with their life.
In comparison, Lady Barbara Yelveton is far happier. She is framed by a blue sky that compliments the similar shade of her dress. In comparison to the Countess’ dress, hers is much simpler, a reference to the simplicity and youth of childhood. Her skin is painted with yellow undertones, brightening her youthful complexion. Lady Barbara holds a small sprig in her hand, and, unlike her mother, gazes directly at the viewer, all the more expressing her youth. She wears a gentle innocent smile, and it is easy to tell she is not clouded with the same sadness that the Countess is.
There are further elements at play in the piece, creating a clear path for our eyes to follow. They start in the dark reds of the top right corner of the painting. The dark shadows they create give the background depth, allowing the viewer to imagine a forest spanning behind the subjects. The reds fade into the green leaves to their left, who lack the same structured form. They don’t cast the same shadows, but instead are defined by lines and different tints of green. We are then drawn to the deepest, though one of the lightest points of the image, the sky. The array of browns and grays, light blues and whites, gives the sky more texture than something that is typically the furthest part of the image. This use of the detailed texture allows us to follow the gray blues of the sky to the baby blues of Lady Barbara’s dress, to the porcelain white of the Countess’ dress.
This painting, Hester, Countess of Sussex, and Her Daughter, Lady Barbara Yelverton, is clear in its theme; people rush to achieve maturity, but only wish for the freedom of youth after. We live so shortly in youth, quickly ushered into maturity before we can even fully grasp who we are. Trapped inside expectations, and the desire for success, we spend years working for a way out. The Countess of Sussex is trapped inside the displeasure of reality. She is almost tired of looking for a way out, embracing the life she is stuck in. Her daughter instead lives in days stretched long by fun and bright bursts of pleasant memories. She fears the maturity she is being forced into, hesitant to leave her childhood behind. Lady Barbara desperately holds onto her youth by the sprig in her hands, the dark leaves shadowing her mother slowly spreading over to her.