Charles Baugniet, The Letter, c1870
Charles-Louis Baugniet (1814-1886) was a Belgian painter and lithographer. Baugniet studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, initially training in lithography and moving into painting later. He became quite a successful lithographer in his lifetime, producing portraits of prominent figures in Belgium, France, and England, such as Charles Dickens and Hector Berlioz. Baugniet also found success as a painter, and after being asked to paint portraits of the Belgian royal family, he was appointed court painter. Although he painted some landscapes, most of his paintings are genre scenes showing women and families in their homes, engaged in various activities. Baugniet's style is fairly traditional, but he always shows a keen interest in his subjects, conveying the importance of these scenes and activities. The Letter is an interesting piece, showing a bit more intrigue than most of his works. This woman has paused in the act of sealing her letter; we can see her holding the red sealing wax which she will heat in the candle as a sealant. However she appears to be waiting, surprised by something. Perhaps she has heard noises in the house and does not want to be caught with this letter. Perhaps it is to a lover or some other forbidden correspondent. Her is alert and cautious. Stylistically, this painting is meticulously executed. The great detail applied to the room itself, its floor and furnishings, is exceptional. The curtains and chair are particularly intricate, and Baugniet even included two paintings hanging one the wall. However the visual star of the composition is undoubtedly this red dress. It draws the eye and focuses the painting. The dress itself is beautifully rendered, both in color and texture, and also serves to hold the viewer's interest. We become engaged in the activities of this woman in this intense dress. Part of the effect of the painting is that we are suspended in this moment of unease. We cannot know whether someone enters the room and interrupts her or if she seals the letter and sends it without incident. We are left hovering, like her sealing wax, poised between the flame and envelope.