Isidor Kaufmann - The Bachelor's Birthday (n.d.)
Frederick William Elwell - His Last Purchase (1921)
For today's December Double I would like to share ‘The Bachelor’s Birthday’ by Austro-Hungarian painter Isidor Kaufmann and ‘His Last Purchase’ by English painter Fredrick William Elwell.
The title of Kaufman’s painting specifies our subject to be a bachelor, a curious decision which nevertheless provides an interesting context. Seated comfortably in his handsome study while enjoying a glass of wine and reading a card which presumably accompanied his basket of gifts, our bachelor appears cherry and content without the companionship of a spouse. That said, why must he spend his birthday alone? Observing the hat and cane resting at the opposite chair, perhaps they belong to a friend who has stopped by to visit, but more than likely they belong to our subject. Pondering this scene, he may have even purchased the basket as a birthday present for himself, though it probably was a gift from a friend or family member. It’s open to interpretation. That being said, our bachelor is happy. Good for him.
At the right side of the painting I can’t help but notice the vacant space on the wall above which a lone nail is found. Perhaps this is meant to symbolize that something is missing from our subject’s life. Who knows. I hope our birthday boy fills that space will all the things that bring him happiness.
As with ‘Bachelor,’ the title of Elwell’s painting, ‘His Last Purchase,’ definitely contributes to the scene, however, here it carries a much stronger emotional resonance. Again, we have an older man seated alone at home amongst his personal possessions, but this work provides a more somber experience. The title indirectly hints at the old man’s mortality, although it also signifies a closure of sorts. That said, he will not be taking this final purchase--or any other prior purchases accumulated over his lifetime--with him upon his departure from this worthy plane. Perhaps we seek out and collect certain material things, such as a decorative vase, only to occupy the mind during our short time here on earth.
As a point of discussion, one could interpret ‘His Last Purchase’ as a cautionary tale for the jolly bachelor depicted in Kaufman’s painting.
In Elwell’s painting I'm also curious about the broken fragments seen on table. Perhaps they're included to signify how even our most cherish possessions, despite all the importance we assign them, are easily prone to destruction.