Thomas Gainsborough’s Daughters Hold Hands. One Reaches for a Butterfly. The Other, Holding a Feather, Looks On. There is an Element of Impulse and Restraint in the Painting That Echoes Michelangelo’s Moses

One girl seems thoughtful, and may be holding a feather that will become a quill pen. The other seems more impulsive. Like Michelangelo’s Moses, tugging back at his beard to restrain his anger and energies, I see one girl slightly setting caution upon the energies of the other.

Constable on Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings (18th century):

“On looking at them, we find tears in our eyes and know not what brings them.”

I also like the way these two girls are personas thrusting themselves out into the world, disrupting nature. Their flummoxed dresses suggest restless movement. They are whirlwinds in the woods, agitating butterflies and stealing feathers from birds. How quickly they will move on, leaving silence in their wake—and questions in the minds of others. As will we all.

Below is Michelangelo’s Moses in a similar gesture of impulse and restraint. Michelangelo depicts him at just the moment when Moses learns of his fellow Hebrews’ worshipping of a golden calf. Freud interpreted Michelangelo’s Moses, tugging at his own beard, as an apt representation of reason and the super-ego checking one’s id energies from lashing out in anger:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Thomas Gainsborough’s Daughters Hold Hands. One Reaches for a Butterfly. The Other, Holding a Feather, Looks On. There is an Element of Impulse and Restraint in the Painting That Echoes Michelangelo’s Moses

  1. Nancy says:

    yes the girl or the boy who wrote this at the top is very creative and i liked who the picture was painted and i wishd for these dresses before but i did find them in pictures only and who wrote this above is very creative i wish that i could be creative like her.

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