The month of romance, February, is coming come to an end. It hosts St Valentine Day[i] and every fourth year has an extra day to create a leap year and the opportunity for women to ask men to marry them. Hopefully, having following the advice by Dr Trusler and other authors of eighteenth century etiquette[ii], the young women find they that are betrothed to a man their parents approve of and they feel at ease with. The marriage ceremony is next.
Joseph van Aken painted a charming scene called The Bride in the Kitchen.[iii] The painting has caught the moment that a young bride arrives in a kitchen to show off her wedding clothes and receive the servants’ good wishes. The clothing in the picture is 1720’s in style, which, judging by the stove and cooking arrangement in the background makes this a modern kitchen for the time. (More about the evolution of kitchen equipment in a later blog)
The Bride in the Kitchen c.1720 owned by Mrs Ingham Brookes in 1936[iv]
The servants are occupied with various tasks and the tidiness of this room has the feel of a hardworking protestant, ‘middling sort’ mirroring the van Aken brothers’ own family. The painting shows a scullery maid is using a bucket in a sink with her back to the viewer, another woman sitting down mending laundry, maybe even sewing on missing buttons for the teenage boy standing behind her leaning on the back of her chair. Behind the bride, walking through the kitchen door on the right of the picture is a tradesman or servant carrying supplies over his shoulder. The dog, looking like a wolfhound, is having a good scratch oblivious to the occasion but is a symbol of loyalty. The young bride, with a small arrangement of flowers to create a headdress to secure her long veil looks as though she is the daughter is the house. This painting’s message is all about industry, not idleness, and the rewards of good household management and respectable living.
It is not known if this painting of a group portrait of real people or an image composed in the genre of a conversation piece. What is interesting is that the chair the sewing woman sits on, the dog scratching, the pose and shape of the clothing of the bride, minus the flowers and the long veil, are all elements that reappear in other paintings by the van Aken brothers. Sadly, this is one of several illustrations of paintings by the van Aken brothers that I have found in the records of the Witt Collection, London and in 1930,s and 1940’s articles but have been unable find a coloured images of or trace the original paintings’ current ownership.
[ii] See Romance – Instructions Peculiarly adapted to Young Women, 18th Feb 2013 – http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Trusler,_John_(DNB00) and http://www.larsdatter.com/18c/etiquette.html
[iii] R. Edwards, The Conversation Pictures of Joseph van Aken, Apollo Magazine February 1936, Page 79-85