In my local museum, there is a sort of posh top floor, full of fancy paintings by fancy painters. They're all very nice, and here and there are very nice bits of pottery and suchlike, fancy sculptures and dishes and spoons and tea-pots. It rotates a bit in content, and last time I was up there, I found this odd picture of a very nice doily-clad lady casting a contemptuous glance back at her host's collection of tropicana while delicately holding aloft that most British of flowers, a bunch of lilacs. Or maybe she's averting the streaming eyes of hayfever. It's hard to tell. The pose is awkward, the expression unreadable. Among the usually plodding and foregrounded symbolism of the pre-raphaelites, this one stands out like an awkward snapshot. You can almost hear the photographer directing her -- drop your head a bit more, and the lilacs, a touch higher!
The painting is by Tissot, and so is the winter garden, although he may have exaggerated the size of the conservatory slightly. He was a fabulously fashionable painter at the time, and served iced champagne to his guests in his wildly renovated fashionable London house while scenesters flirted in the fancy garden. Some of his grander knick-knacks are visible behind our lady, sadly rendered nameless by the passage of the years, and I've included some of the more interesting ones on view in the gallery, along with the caption from the painting.
Her awkward pose and pastel colours make her look like a Dresden figurine caught in the jaws of the tropical house, static, chaste and ultimately unmeltable by the urgency of the tropical heat behind her. Or is she? Like many of Tissot's paintings, there is a suggestion of lewdness, here in the Lot's wife pose, the reflective floor and the expressions of the hands and face, almost as if at any moment frills and lilacs both might drop to the floor, and Eden reclaim the fine lady.