What would hope look like? In Western art, hope has often been portrayed as a woman holding flowers or anchors. But George Frederic Watts, 19th-century British painter associated with the Symbolist movement, expressed it quite differently. A woman blindfolded with a bandage is sitting alone on a large globe, playing a broken lyre. There is no one around and the atmosphere is desolate. How does this painting, which is full of solitude and despair, symbolizes hope?
Watts, who was once called “Michelangelo of the United Kingdom,” was the best painter of his time, but did not dwell on honor. He refused the baronetcy twice offered by Queen Victoria. Most of his paintings focused on allegorical and mythical subjects. Among them, his most important work is “Hope.” The woman in the painting is sitting on a globe. The lyre she is playing has only a single string remaining. Her eyes are blinded and her clothes look shabby. She seems so vulnerable. Nevertheless, she is using all her energy to play the lyre. A single star is shining down on her.
At that time in Britain, people were beginning to doubt the existence of God due to a long economic recession. National pride was lower among people. The painter himself was also having a hard time after losing his newborn granddaughter. A woman who never gives up despite being in deep despair, that was what hope looked like from the painter’s point of view.
When the painting was released, critics disliked it saying it was too apocalyptic. But the public was moved by it. In particular, the painting had a great influence on American leaders. President Theodore Roosevelt hung a replica of “Hope” at home, and Martin Luther King introduced the painting during his 1959 sermon to preach hope. Former U.S. President Barack Obama named his autobiography “The Audacity of Hope” based on the painting and used it in his speeches.
Hope cannot be seen easily. It always comes after suffering. That is why no matter how difficult life is, one must never give up hope as long as he or she is alive. Many people were moved by the painting because of the message it gives.