Edwin Austin Abbey, O mistress mine, where are you roaming? (1899)

Oil on canvas, size 61.25 x 97 inches, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.


The source for this painting is the song sung by Feste in Act II, scene iii, of Twelfth Night :
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear! your true-love's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

The painting does not depict an actual scene from the play, but rather illustrates the song's theme of carpe diem. The young man reminds the yielding lady that "Youth's a stuff will not endure" and that we must take our pleasures now, while "Present mirth hath present laughter." Judging by the look of uncertainty on her face, his blandishments seem to be working. In a way, however, without illustrating any particular moment in Twelfth Night, Abbey perfectly captures the mood of this "festive comedy" where "the clock upbraids" us with "the waste of time" (III, i) and love and pleasure are the order of the day.

As for the technical aspects and the composition of the painting itself, Lucy Oakley has some interesting comments:

The setting was inspired by a pergola at the Hotel Palumbo in Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, where Abbey stayed with his wife for several weeks in 1891, less than a year after their marriage. The early spring landscape seen beyond the pergola's confines--pale pinkish blue and gold sky, violet mountains, and pink flowering tree-- recalls that in May Day Morning, Abbey's first exhibited oil painting, which also depicts a courtship theme. In the later work the delicate colors of the landscape are reflected back onto the white surfaces of the pergola's interior, lending it a pearlescent glow recalling that of the white- washed walls in Mediterranean landscape paintings by Abbey's friend and studio-mate John Singer Sargent. With its ambiguous status half- way between indoors and outdoors and its tunnel- like structure, pierced by wide openings to the landscape beyond, the pergola both shelters the lovers and serves as a visual metaphor for their troubled relations. The theme of romantic longing realized in Italian Renaissance costumes and setting is related to pictures of Dante and Beatrice by various later Victorian artists, notably by Rossetti and by Henry Holiday in his well-known Dante and Beatrice, exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883. (52)


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