Portrait of the week - A life well spent

A life well spent, painted by Charles West Cope in 1862. The motif is simply a representation of the ideal house-wife of mid-Victorian England's middle-class.

The woman is seen surrounded by her children and knitting socks. Two of the children, a boy and a girl, has her attention and the boy is obviously talking to her and she is listening - but that is not reason enough for her to lay down her work. A good house-wife was always busy, she should never sit with idle hands. This woman is clearly a case of the Victoria ideal of 'the angel of the house'.

The surroundings reveal that it is an affluent home, the children are well dressed, and so is she - but her dress is at the same time simple, not too much frivolity or eye-catching details. Her hair is also simple - pinned up and in a net but more plain than was generally seen in fashion magazines at the time.

The girl sitting in front of her, with her face to the viewer is interesting. She is not listening to the others, she is not doing anything with her hands but holding a book that she is totally absorbed by. Reading was not considered wrong for women, but should not be getting in the way of more important matters, but she is still at an age when it was all right to get lost in this way - she would not have to act like her mother behind her for another ten years or so.

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