The French artist Henriette Browne excelled at painting highly realist, representational narrative paintings and La Lecture de la Bible is one of her finest. Browne produced several portraits of religious devotees and the two young women in this painting are thought to be novices studying to enter a religious order. They are clearly virtuous – their austere black garments suggest a puritan character and the painting is also known as The Puritans. The withered flowers on the table are the most obvious narrative element in the painting, these are a vanitas symbol for the passing of time and the loss of youth. La Lecture de la Bible was first owned by Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoléon III, and was presented to the Gallery by its major benefactor, Robert McDougall.
(New Dawn Fades, November 2018)
First exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1857 with the title 'Les Puritaines', this painting has for many years also been known as 'La Lecture de la Bible'.