Regency proposals gone wrong

I happened to be looking for paintings and drawings of Regency-era weddings, and I stumbled upon some proposal pictures. This led me down a fascinating rabbit hole, as there is apparently a whole body of artwork depicting men proposing and women seeming uninterested or unhappy. Behold!

Edmund Leighton, “Yes or No?”

In this painting, I’m just going to assume that the answer to the question “Yes or no?” is “No.” I’m neither a flower expert nor an art historian, but I believe the blue flowers in her hand are forget-me-nots, which leads me to speculate that she is remembering a different lover. In any case, she seems more interested in the flowers than in her suitor.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found the artist for the painting above. But again, though the suitor seems anxious, the woman looks like she’s wishing he would leave her alone. Take a hint, buddy: she’s not that into you.

Leighton “The Proposal”

Another Leighton work. The gentleman suitor here gets credit for not looking desperate, unlike some of the other paintings. But the lady can’t be bothered to look up from her fancywork. True, that could be shyness (Christina, from one of my works in progress, frequently looks down at her needlework due to shyness), but to me it looks like disinterest.

“The Proposal.” Frederic Soulacroix

On Twitter, we speculated that this poor gentleman just picked the wrong time to propose. His inamorata looks overheated. “Ugh, it’s too HOT for this nonsense!” I hear you, unknown lady. Make your suitor get a cold drink for you. He might as well be useful, am I right?


Shout out to MJ Lloyd, who found this painting by Soulacroix. This is the first Regency proposal picture I’ve seen where the prospective bride seems happy. Note, too, how physically close the couple are. In many proposal paintings, there is a large space between the two people. In a few, the bride is actually leaning away, like in the painting below.

What caught my attention about this image was the way the woman leans away from her suitor, as if trying to get as physically distant from him as she can without falling off the sofa. But then I found myself asking “What is going on with the dead animal under her feet?” Followed by “Why did he tie his cravat as if he were a present? Does he think he’s God’s gift to women?” So many questions, really.

Finally, for further viewing pleasure, check out this article from The Toast. And I’ll end with a satirical engraving from 1805, in which the woman might be happy to be courted.

Published by Laurie & Whittle. Image from the Library of Congress.

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