Henrietta Rae

British, b.1859, d.1928


  • Presented by the Canterbury Society of Arts, 1932
  • Oil on canvas
  • 2050 x 1500 x 90mm
  • 69/378
  • c. 1886

Henrietta Rae subtitled this work ‘An ingénue hesitating to accept the proposal of a roué’. The inexperienced young woman is being pressured by her immoral suitor, who is driven more by lust than love. Alone in the isolation of the woodland setting with no chaperone in sight, she is vulnerable to his advances, and symbols throughout the composition suggest she is about to give in. The spring flowers allude to the bloom of youth but they have tumbled to the ground, suggesting a fall from grace. (Storytellers, November 2010)

earlier labels about this work
  • Scenes of beautiful young women seated outdoors were known as ‘garden bench’ subjects and had a popular following in Victorian times. However, Henrietta Rae subtitled this work, ‘An ingénue hesitating to accept the proposal of a roué’, suggesting that, rather than romance, the man’s proposal has something improper about it. The highly finished technique, where the brushstrokes are barely visible to the viewer, shows the influence of Rae’s academic training and Doubts was exhibited in a favourable position at the Royal Academy in 1886. Born in London, Rae studied art from the age of 13 but, given contemporary attitudes towards women, it took her several attempts before she was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools. In 1880 she won a seven year Academy scholarship. Rae married the historical painter Ernest Normand (1859 -1923) in 1884 and they shared a studio in Holland Park Road. She gained the place of honour at the 1894 Academy exhibition for her large classical painting Psyche at the Throne of Venus. (Opening Gallery hang, May 2003)

  • Usually applying her academic painting techniques to history paintings of Greek mythology, Rae has here produced a fine Victorian costume painting. Scenes in which beautiful young women were painted seated outdoors, were known as 'garden bench' subjects and had a popular following in Victorian times. Here Rae introduces a gently sexual element and subtitled the work, 'An ingénue hesitating to accept the proposal of a roué'. The clarity and careful realism of the late eighteenth century French Empire fashions and the English woodland setting help to dilute the somewhat cloying sweetness and romanticism of this exquisitely finished work. 'Doubts' was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886 where it was hung 'on the line', which was the most favourable viewing position, and it received a very enthusiastic response from the public and the critics. (Before 2003)