The two young women in this painting are wearing dresses made out of splendid, costly fabric, but their facial expressions, the cut of their clothes, and the setting are all very restrained. Hanna, who is extending her fingers towards the Amazon parrot, will be bit by the precious bird in just a moment. This is the only source of subtle tension in the painting. For like the colourful bird, these two sisters from a bourgeois family are locked inside a golden cage with no way out. In 1820 a parrot was a costly toy. Even though birds, who live on seeds and kernels, are easier to ship all the way from the Caribbean than animals who require fresh food, they were still signs of great wealth. The girls’ father had built his own fortune, and by commissioning an unusually large portrait of his daughters he proclaimed the family’s position. The painter Eckersberg knew how to create a new kind of tasteful portraits for a class that was growing in power.
(Text courtesy of the National Gallery of Denmark; Image CC BY 3.0).