I have no idea what this painting means, and I can’t remember the artist who painted it. But of all the paintings at the Guggenheim, this one I stared at the longest. I think the subject of the painting is a young lady, sitting on an antique version of a beanbag, or maybe a furled up knitted crimson blanket. I can only make out dim features of her face, but the absence of detail intensifies what seems to be the solemnity of her mood, as she holds and caresses the delicate pink head of a baby.
I am not certain she is the mother of the child, and I’m not even certain that she is holding a baby, or her baby, but she is wearing what looks like maternal clothing, and the depth of her mood (which is both loving and sad) is conveyed by her warm blue dress, composed of thick and layered wool fabric (guessing) , and the foreboding shadow in the foreground– easily the most prominent and incongruous feature of the painting. I say “prominent” because the location of the shadow (and it could be a tiny pond…doubtful…or an oil slick…which makes no sense) is at the center of the image, and I say “incongruous” because its presence defies explanation. Is the lady outside, with the sun casting a shadow upon her body? Why is she exposing a newborn child to the outdoor sun? Or, is the posture of the woman’s body so situated as to block the baby from the sun maybe because the woman forgot to apply lotion to the face of her child? Then there is the beautiful, complex, and quilt-like background, light green painted over a foundation of brighter and darker green, and flecked with slashes of pink and orange. Going on basic color imagery, and having already assigned “solemn” symbolism to the blue maternal dress, I will take the impossibly small leap of saying that the green background symbolizes nature, further supporting my theory that she is outside. Maybe she has gone outside to ponder the mysterious innocence of her baby? Maybe she wants one last private moment with her baby, before casting it aside? Or maybe it’s just a masterpiece portrait of a mother and a child, with sophisticated and layered emotional undertones?