The popularity of the Scottish artist Orchardson grew steadily until by the 1880s, he was regarded as one of the greatest modern painters. He specialised in depicting failures of communication between people on social occasions. Here, this failure is between an experienced young man and a novice who are asked to open the dancing at a ball. The setting recreates a scene of about 1820, so Orchardson imagined actors of about the generation of his parents, a time which the people who first saw this painting could just remember. The wide format and empty space of his pictures emphasises the distances between people. He was much praised for his delicate colouring, often near monochrome.
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