s Fred Elwell's 'The Wedding Dress' Part 1 - Hull Museums Collections

Fred Elwell's 'The Wedding Dress' Part 1

'The Wedding Dress'

The painting, 'The Wedding Dress', by Fred Elwell tells a story. At the centre, a young woman is kneeling on the floor. She is leaning on an open trunk with her head in her hands and beside her is her wedding dress, strewn across the floor. The woman's bowed body, with her face hidden from view, conveys her distress and grief. The emphasis on the wedding dress makes the story behind the woman's emotions explicit - she is in mourning for the man she was due to marry, or has recently wed.

Elwell was an extremely accomplished still life painter and the placing of the dress with the shoes in the foreground is like a still life composition. The extensive folds of the fabric provide the artist with plenty of scope for skilfully capturing its texture and the play of light, including the subtle nuances of light and shade.

Just above the dress the still life composition continues with what looks like a veil on the edge of the chest, with a small spring of flowers placed upon it. It is difficult to discern what the flowers might be, but flowers often hold a symbolic meaning in narrative works from this period, from purity and hope to death.

Use of Light

Elwell is famous for his use of light in paintings, often paying great attention to highlights in a still life composition, or using a window to flood a room with light. In this painting, Elwell goes a stage further than just skilfully capturing the play of light, as he has uses light symbolically. Light dramatically contrasts with dark and is symbolic of the forces of life and death. The woman's jet black dress contrasts with the almost shimmering white of the wedding dress.

This contrast is heightened further as the scene is divided into two halves - on the right hand side the large bed is covered with white sheets and drapes, with the falling light suggesting that there is a window just out of view. By contrast the left hand side of the painting is so dark that it is devoid of all detail. The room is almost pitch black and only a few outlines, such as those of pictures on the wall are visible. This heightens the sense of realism and the strength of the emotion, which almost verges on the sentimental.

The painting is displayed beside two of Elwell's other narrative paintings in the Ferens, 'The War Worker' and 'First born', which also use domestic settings for an unfolding story. It's interesting to note that Elwell has used very similar props in all three paintings but to very different effect. In all three paintings, domestic dramas unfold around a bed, and in 'The First Born' the sense of optimism, fresh air and sunlight are contrasted vividly.