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Sir William Quiller Orchardson, 1832–1910

The Story of a Life

Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
37 x 60 1/4 inches (94 x 153 cm)

Signed, lower right: "wq orchardson"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
apron (main garment) | bed | candles | candlestick | cavern | dress | genre subject | gesture | girls | nun | poem | religious | ribbon | sash | teacher | teaching | woman
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

William Quiller Orchardson specialized in narrative scenes often charged with psychological drama. In this early example he illustrates verses that are inscribed on the back of the painting in which “Sister Monica” recalls her youth and her disappointment in love. She extols the safety of the convent walls as a protection against betrayal: “‘O my children,’ she is saying, and her voice is like a dream, ‘Trust not the light that men call love; ‘tis but a phantom gleam.’” Some of the novices appear unconvinced by Sister Monica’s story, though others appear content with their new life. Their ambivalent responses mirror contemporary attitudes toward convent life, encompassing a general Protestant distaste for Catholicism as well as hostility to the recently revived religious orders within Anglicanism. Convents were variously seen as either solving or aggravating the difficult problem of “redundant” women who did not fulfill the Victorian feminine ideal as wives and mothers.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

Figuring Women - The Female in Modern British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-03-28 - 2008-06-08) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Juxtapositions (Yale Center for British Art, 1997-11-19 - 1998-01-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

James Dafforne, British Artists, Their Style and Character , Art Journal, no. 104, August 1870, p. 234, Available online: British Periodicals database [ORBIS]

Lindsay. Errington, Master class, Robert Scott Lauder and his pupils , National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1983, p. 79, no. 70, fig. 70, NJ18 L3726 E77 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Exhibition of the Royal Academy, London Times, May 5, 1866, p.9, Avaialble on line : Times Digital Archive Also available on microfilm : Film AN T482 (SML) [ORBIS]

Fine Arts, Royal Academy , Athenaeum, no. 2011, May 12, 1866, p. 639, Available online: British Periodicals II Also available: .A88 At421 + (SML) [ORBIS]

Ayla Lepine, Fabric of devotion : William Quiller Orchardson's The story of a life and women religious in Victorian Britain, [ Electrronic Resource] , Center for the Study of Material & Visual Cultures of Religion, New Haven, Accessed January 14, 2016, pp. 1- 10, Available online http://mavcor.yale.edu/conversations/essays/fabric-devotion-william-quiller-orchardson-s-story-life-and-women-religious [Website]

James Stanley Little, The life and work of William Q. Orchardson, R.A., Art Journal office, London, 1897, p. 32, ND497.O7 [ORBIS]

Scottish Arts Council, Sir William Quiller Orchardson R.A., [ catalogue of] a Scottish Arts Council exhibition ] , Edinburgh, 1972, p. 41, no. 12, NJ18 Or35 S36 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The Royal Academy, Art Journal, v. 54, June 1866, p. 168, Available online Available online in British Periodicals II DB [ORBIS]

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