A newly-wed bride is peeling onions to make a stew for the first time in her life. There are a lot of vegetables to be cleaned next to the table, and the pot is not that big. But she keeps peeling onions. Her eyes are so burning that she cannot think clearly. The housekeeper is looking at her with a bewildered look on her face. Why is the bride keeps peeling onions? Is she leading a hard married life?
Lilly Martin Spencer was America’s most popular painter in the mid-19th century. Born in England, she immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eight, and became a self-taught painter. She was praised as a genius when she held her first solo exhibition at age 19. Spencer was good at painting the portraits of celebrities but she was particularly famous for her paintings depicting happy domestic scenes.
This painting, completed when she was in her early 30s at the peak of her popularity, was painted as a pair with “The Young Husband: First Marketing.” The husband, who went shopping on a rainy day, looks annoyed when groceries spilled to the ground from the basket and the man passing by is smiling. The vegetables in the kitchen, including the onions were the result of the husband’s reckless shopping. The bride, who is trying to clean the vegetables, also looks clumsy and awkward. Maybe the couple will have to eat onion dishes all week long.
This painting also reflects the painter’s experience. Spencer got married to a man in the tailoring business at age 22 and had 13 children. She was concerned about a break in career due to marriage and child-rearing, but she worked as a professional painter her entire life. Instead, her husband quit his job and took care of domestic chores. The husband must have had trouble doing housework for the first time and the wife always struggled to provide for her family.
Every beginning is difficult. Everyone is clumsy at first. Are you not willing to try because you are afraid of failures? Or will you muster up the courage and start trying something? The choice is yours. Perhaps this is the message Spencer, who had a professional career and was a breadwinner of her family in a patriarchal society, wanted to convey.