Jephthah’s Vow: In the Wilderness

In the Wilderness, 1885-1886
Edwin Long (1829-1891)
Oil on canvas
BORGM 01346
Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Jephthah’s Vow: In the Wilderness

This painting depicts Jephthah’s daughter (she remains nameless) contemplating the terrible part she was to play in the fulfilment of her father’s vow. In order to prepare herself for death, she spent two months in the wilderness.

Edwin Long’s historical works gained great popularity. Together with contemporaries such as Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893), and Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), Long sought to elevate his art with aesthetically-pleasing classical references. During the Victorian Classical Revival, numerous works portrayed scenes from antiquity, many featuring young women in dramatic circumstances.

Long’s model here was Indian Princess, Helen Rundeer Singh Ahluwalia of Kapurthala, who posed for many of the artist’s popular works but, was herself, the subject of a tragic story. Following the divorce of her parents, her mother Rani Henrietta brought her to London, presumably to meet a worthy suitor. However, she quickly became immersed in London’s high society, often attending various parties unchaperoned – thus causing significant controversy. At 23, she died of tuberculosis, just two years after Long produced the trilogy.

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