Emma Sandys, Preparing for the Ball, 1867
Emma Sandys (1843-1877) was an English painter who worked in Norwich. She was strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite style and thus often depicted her subjects in medieval (or period) clothing (note the hairnet in this piece). Sandys exhibited works in both London and Norwich and was particularly noted for her portraiture, such as Fiametta (1876). Preparing for the Ball is a fascinating piece in many ways. It is easy to see the Pre-Raphaelite influence, for the whole painting has a prominent medieval cast. Sandys' skill is quite evident, especially in the detailing on the subject's hem and cape. Sandys also demonstrates great ability with textures, successfully expressing the drapery of the gown, the velvet and leopard skin on the floor, and the wooden cabinet. The use of the mirror is a fascinating device, affording the spectator a full view of this woman. Honestly, when I first saw this painting I didn't initially notice the mirror and read the image as two women preparing for the ball together, sisters perhaps. I was of course mistaken, but this impression speaks to the themes of the painting, wherein this woman does essentially present as two people. She is both the elegant society woman, perhaps a hostess, who puts on a brave face, and the woman in the mirror whose solemn expression reveals that she is burdened by her duty and her finery. Therefore Sandys manages to present two personae in one subject and express great depth about human tribulations and the role and burdens of women, from the medieval era to Sandys' time in the medieval period and beyond.