For years, when I would see this piece I would focus on the women in the foreground. What’s their story? They play music and dance, yet there is a sense of sadness. Each of them looks in a different direction. They are in a group, but they seem alone.
Now my focus has shifted to the lone woman in the background. I could feel sorry for her but understanding an introvert’s need for solitude, maybe she is exactly where she wants to be. Not participating with the group, but close enough to hear the music. Perhaps it is the music she seeks.
Music is a catalyst. It evokes an intense emotional response. In Rossetti’s day, before recordings, it was an experience the listener had to be present for. So, in painting The Bower Meadow he is not merely painting beautiful women, he is capturing a moment. The musicians perform their art, the listeners respond physically with dance and the woman in the distance is the only witness to this exchange. Except for ourselves,of course, on the other side of the canvas.