Life Springs Eternal
Object(s) of the Week
September 1, 2020
Quinn plays on the genre of vanitas painting, which illustrates the transience and vanity of human existence through symbols of death and decay. Frederic Leighton’s Mrs. James Guthrie (1865), painted nearly 200 years earlier, draws on this macabre symbolism, as the wilting flowers Mrs. Guthrie plucks are a reminder that life is fleeting. The portrait is believed to depict Mrs. Guthrie shortly after she had lost a child, and Leighton signals to this in her mourning dress and the empty chair behind her, as well as in the funereal lilies she arranges. Whereas Leighton depicts flowers common to Britain, such as the rose and the lily, Quinn includes foliage from around the world in his piece, transforming Garden² into an expression of our twenty-first century global economy.
Written by Rachel Stratton, former Postdoctoral Research Associate, Collections, Yale Center for British Art