This 1889 painting by Anna Lea Merritt is in the Tate Collection but has not been on display for some time. This is a shame as it is a favourite of mine. There is a story behind it which adds to the poignancy of the image. The artist was an American who lived and worked in Britain for most of her life. She intended to stop working as an artist on her marriage but, after her husband’s death, she returned to painting. They were married for just three months.
Her original intention was to produce a bronze sculpture for her husband’s grave but this was too expensive. Instead, she returned to what she knew best and painted a picture of Cupid locked out of the mausoleum, trying to get in. The love that is ‘locked out’ is that of Merritt herself, a widow at 33 and robbed of a life she hoped to have with the love of her life. Yet, due to the moral code of the times, it wasn’t prudent for a woman to paint herself as naked, outside the tomb. Neither would it have been prudent to paint a naked male so, instead, she personifies herself as a teenage boy.
The burnt-out lantern on the floor and the discarded arrow suggest despair. The position of the head and arms suggest defeat. The autumn leaves on the ground suggest passing seasons while a rose survives just over Cupid’s head.
‘Love Locked Out’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?