Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853), Bella and Hanna. The Eldest Daughters of M.L. Nathanson, 1820
During the years around 1820, C.W. Eckersberg was busy painting portraits of the affluent citizens of Copenhagen. The artist’s greatest patron during his young years, the merchant Mendel Levin Nathanson, commissioned two large family portraits.
The painting's two young girls
In one of the two works he painted Nathanson’s two oldest daughters, Bella and Hanna, in a sparingly furnished drawing room with simple panelling and furniture, including a table bearing a parrot’s cage.
The two girls are shown in uncompromising poses – one strictly frontal, the other strictly from the side – and as they look very much alike, it seems likely that the painter wished to create a variation on a theme; variations like those created by the famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen around the same time.
Symbolic readings of the painting
The parrot opens up the scene to symbolic readings. Due to their ability to imitate human voices parrots were often seen as symbols of good breeding, a suitable allusion for a picture of two young middle-class woman. At the same time, however, the caged bird can also be regarded as a metaphor for the two unmarried women’s sheltered situation while waiting – perhaps longing? – to move out into real life.