Artist: Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928)
Title: A Siesta
Medium: Oil on Canvas
I painted a large copy of this painting titled "Petite Somme" in 2001, because the girl in the painting greatly resembled my daughter in looks. Only later did I learn more about the content and message behind this painting. For one males would have never been allowed to enter the private chambers of females, which means that Bridgman painted a fantasy setting, using a model. Considering 19th century Europe such a painting would most likely have hung in a gentlemen room, thus it has sexual overtones.
There is a certain ambiguity to the scene, which allows the reader to create a narrative. Note the door for example, which is slightly ajar. Does it suggest that someone has entered the room and is spying on this sleeping beauty? ~ or perhaps the door is only half closed, as an open invitation to join her?
I never understood the monkey, because it is a rather uncommon thing to see in the Orient. So there had to be a symbolical meaning to it's inclusion. Monkeys symbolize licentiousness. It is thereby suggested that this pipe smoking young girl is lacking moral and perhaps sexual restraints. Keeping in mind that during the time that this painting was created Orientalist were making a killing on creating paintings that suggested barely dressed maidens in exotic harem settings, they were aiming their work at the sexual desires and fantasies of the male art buyer. So now the harmless pet monkey secretly hints at what type of girl we are looking at here.
Smoking a water pipe would have been a common thing in the Orient and the table with Turkish coffee for one, would suggest to me a time of relaxation and sweet dreams. Here it serves as a viewing guide. The eye is led from these items up to the girl, the girls arm and downward gaze pull the eye over the figure of the girl. In a time when European women were covered from head to toe, this is an invitation to savor this young girls beautiful body. Note how she is even missing a shoe!
So as you can see Bridgman has cleverly created a painting that allowed the viewer of the 19th century to spin their own exotic narrative.
©painted by Enzie Shahmiri
People who see the copy today, who know nothing about it's background tell me how much they love the vibrant colors of the painting, and say isn't that Natalie? In the 20th century, all that people see is a young girl lying in a lushly colored setting. The hidden messages of Frederick Bridgman's Siesta are completely lost on them. Isn't it funny what a difference time makes!