The Wedding Dress (1911)
The Wedding Dress (1911) is an oil painting by Frederick William Elwell. Here, a young woman is seen kneeling on the floor, leaning on an open trunk with her head in her hands. The woman’s distress and grief are shown by her hidden face. The wedding dress that lays beside her suggests that she must have been mourning the death of her husband to be or the person she had recently wed.
Elwell is famous for his use of light in paintings; here, not only has he shown the play of light, but he has also used it symbolically. The shining white of the wedding dress powerfully contrasts the black dress that the woman wears. This co-existence of light and dark reminds us of the similar co-existence of life and death, loss and love, and joy and pain.
Elwell was also known for using local people as models for his paintings. For The Wedding Dress, he used a local woman, Mrs Violet Prest to portray the mourning bride. Interestingly, she faced a similar miserable fate a few years after the painting was finished when she lost her husband in World War I, which adds a certain irony to this work.