Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is an oil-on-canvas painting made by the Anglo-American painter John Singer Sargent in 1885-1886.
The painting depicts two small children dressed in white, lighting softly-glowing Chinese lanterns with tapers as day turns to evening, in a garden strewn with pink roses, accents of yellow carnations and tall white lilies (possibly the Japanese mountain lily, Lilium auratum) behind. The painting is dominated by green foliage, with no horizon or other horizontal line to give the painting depth. The viewer seems to be simultaneously on a level with the children, but also looking down on them from above. The two subjects, the daughters of the illustrator Frederick Barnard – a friend of Sargent’s, are Dolly and Polly Barnard; Dolly, left, was aged 11 and Polly, right, 7 years, chosen for their blonde hair (replacing Sargent’s original model, Millet’s 5-year-old daughter, dark-haired Katherine). The title comes from the refrain of a popular song “Ye Shepherds Tell Me” (also known as The Wreath) by Joseph Mazzinghi, a pastoral glee for a trio of male voices, which mentions Flora wearing “A wreath around her head, around her head she wore, Carnation, lily, lily, rose”.
Sargent’s painting can be read as a botanical allegory of flower-maidens, with subtle sexual overtones of lighting a lantern (slang in French for vagina), and the taper as a symbolic paintbrush (also used to hand-pollinate flowers) used to illuminate the paper of the lantern in the same way that a painter uses a paintbrush to create an image on a canvas.
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