Bouguereau has painted an idyllic scene. A young couple are alone. She is spinning, but seems distracted; he is standing outside a railing, leaning toward her, gazing at her intently. His expression is one of – love? Lust? She is gently lit, hair glossy, a rose in her blouse, seeming to glow in the light; he is in the shadows. There is tension in the way he leans toward her, the way she bends her head and seems to listen without looking at him.
What story does the painting tell? In Bouguereau’s first catalogue it was called Seduction. It has also been linked to the tale of Faust and Marguerite, as told in Gounod’s opera Faust – a sad tale of a young woman seduced, abandoned and haunted. When I first came across it it was with the title “The Proposal” – which is a very ambiguous title.
So I wonder: is it love or lust? Is it seduction?