Monday, December 14, 2020

Vladimir Makovsky's "Before Explaining"

A young man and a young woman have taken a walk together in the forest, stopping at a moss covered rock. The title of the painting is "Before Explaining." 

Before Explaining by Vladimir Makovsky, 1900

The young man wears a military jacket and the woman is busy with something in her hands, perhaps knitting. The artist, Vladimir Makovsky (Russian, 1846-1920), doesn't tell us who is going to do the explaining or what is the unspoken matter between them. We're left to guess, based on a close examination of the evidence at hand.

How Makovsky chose to present this intriguing encounter reminds me of the American illustrator Howard Pyle, who was illustrating books during this same period. 

Pyle was also aware of choosing a moment just before a key event, or just after. In every story he looked for what he called the “supreme moment,” the phase of action that conveys the most suspense, often a fateful encounter or a moment of decision.

More in my essay "Pyle as a Picturemaker" at the Norman Rockwell Museum site.


Susan Krzywicki said...

Hmmm, it seems kinda unlikely that she would be knitting along the path - or did you mean that she was carrying a pice of already knit cloth?

It felt to me like someone was working up their courage to talk about a disagreement or a breaking of trust.

The way he holds his stick is so evocative.

arenhaus said...

Hi James.

"Before Explaining" is an unfortunate confusing literal "translation" of the title. The original Russian title includes an idiom and means "before confessing his desire to marry her".

The two young people are on a date. The girl is dressed as befits an unmarried daughter of a reasonably well-off family, ranking serviceman's or merchant's most likely. (Russian society in 17th-19th centuries had been very much about ranks, in civilian service and military both, even merchants had to register and belong to a ranked guild.) The young man is wearing a student's uniform, if I am not mistaken (but could be a low-rank transport serviceman or the like.) She is blithely knitting on while he is mustering his strength to come out to her, a deep blush on his cheeks, his eyes fixed on his cane, unable to look at her directly.

arenhaus said...

P.S. It is also quite possible that the girl *is* aware that her young man is about to ask her hand in marriage, and that's why she is so deliberately focused on her knitting.

James Gurney said...

Wow, thanks Eugene, for sharing the deeper level of understanding.

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