John George Brown (American, 1831–1913)
Oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Colonel Charles A. Fowler, 1921 (21.115.3)
A specialist in depicting children, Brown occasionally told tales of young womanhood. Here a well-furnished middle-class parlor provides the setting for a courtship story in which a man instructs a woman in playing the flute. At a time of concern that marriage was losing popularity, birthrates were dropping, and women's increasing independence could upset the balance between the sexes, Brown celebrates romance and marriage by referring to music. Music making was an approved activity for courting couples and music was a universal language for expressing feelings. Underscoring the message of a potential marriage are the planter filled with ivy, which could signify women who cling to men for support; the harp, a common symbol of love; the haloed female figure in the print on the background wall; and the couple's complementary attire and shared concentration.