Work of the Week: Lilly Martin Spencer: Young Husband: First Marketing

Welcome back to a new Work of the Week post!

I hope you have all had wonderful weekends!!

Today's work is by American 19th century artist, Lilly Martin Spencer.  Spencer is very well known for her scenes of domesticity, or "genre" scenes typically popular during this time period.  What some do not know about Spencer is that she was the breadwinner and financial provider for her family.  After Lilly Spencer wed, her husband decided to quit his job and help her out with housekeeping while she devoted herself entirely to producing works for purchase.

Despite her work ethic and talent, the Spencers were never econonmically prosperous and spent most of their lives in financial distress.

This painting, Young Husband: First Marketing (1854), is widely considered to be an attempt at humor in portraying gender relations in the mid 1800s (which were thankfully much different than gender relations today!).  The "Young Husband" clumsily walks through the rain, dropping produce from his shopping basket after picking up groceries-- shocking as men were not generally portrayed as facilitators of the domestic sphere.  This, however, was Lilly Spencer's reality.  A darkly dressed man with a sinister expression, and especially pointy umbrella, jeers at him from behind.
Most New Yorkers who first viewed it in the National Academy of Design in 1854 got a good laugh from it, as it was quite preposterous and odd to see a male figure infringing on what was seen as the female realm (and doing such a poor job at it too!).

I propose a less humorous reading to this image. Personally, I see this as a frustrated commentary by Spencer on her financial and home-life situation. She bore the complete responsibility of financing her household, while her husband managed the domestic issues…a total reversal of the "norm."  In turn, society, embodied here by the jeering man, looked down upon them with more than just laughs, but a sort of inescapable darkness, willing and hoping for the Spencer's "strange" situation to fail.  As evidenced by the "Young Husband's" frazzled struggles, it was not easy for either of them to endure.

It is especially interesting for me to reflect on this work today, as almost two centuries later, I would hope that we have progressed far enough to not find it silly when a man buys groceries.  However, we certainly still struggle with similar gender issues and inequalities.  This work is an important reminder of the pain, humiliation, and fear that people who enjoy perpetuating stereotypes can impose on one deemed to be "different." Let us strive to not be the jeering man!

I hope you enjoyed this post and have a wonderful Sunday Night! I must confess that tomorrow I am going to Harry Potter World (***yay!!!***) and will not be posting. I will be back Wednesday and stay tuned for a review of the New Diagon Alley!! 


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