“With Viol and Flute” (1892) lithography by Charles Shannon

Wikis > "With Viol and Flute" (1892) lithography by Charles Shannon

The soft brown/grey image is in portrait orientation and is centered on the page. The image depicts a group of seven women in various poses. In the left foreground, a woman is lying down on her back with her arms bent and tucked behind her head. The woman beside her is sitting upright in profile with her legs crossed, holding a flute in her left hand. The woman behind her is sitting upright, facing forward, and is playing a cello or viol. In the right foreground, two women lie on their stomachs with their upper bodies propped up, facing the woman playing the cello. One of them holds a flute. There is a violin in front of them. To their right, a woman is lying on her side, facing forward, also with her head propped up with her left hand. She holds a viola with her right hand and rests it upright against her hips. In the background behind the women there is a wall with a mirror on a door.

Charles Shannon’s With Viol and Flute features six reclining maidens holding viols, a flute, and a large cello. There is a mirror in the back left of the illustration, reflecting the maiden with the cello and the instrument back to the viewer.

The illustration makes excellent use of shade, light, and movement, which is especially difficult in a medium like lithography.

The left of the image is in shadow, despite the prominence of the cello and the maiden who plays it, and so the viewer’s eye moves to the right. The wall and the center floor of the image are the lightest, and the eye is drawn to these light spaces yet moves quickly through them, as the left and right side are the locations with more highly-detailed, more shadowy figures.

When the eye moves to the right of the image, two of the maidens are rapt in attention to the cello-playing, and so the viewer joins in their gaze and goes back to view the cello-player. The movement back and forth across this image is made more obvious by the water-like movement of the cloth dresses of the maidens. The center of the image, playing with texture as well as shade and light, appears like flowing water, and the eye oscillates between the sides of the image just like the textured waves of the material.

The maiden on the middle-right appears to be looking away from the cello-player, and instead at the maidens on the floor, or possibly directly at the viewer. In either case, this maiden is watching the watcher – and this continues the feeling of cyclical flow, as the eyes of the maidens as well as the viewer are constantly in movement, gazing at each other, in cyclical harmony.

The large blank wall space in the top-right of the image seems to reflect the approach to typesetting and print margins of this volume. White space, and even blank pages, are used luxuriously, and there appears to be no desire to fill every part of the frame. This underpins the reclining poses of the maidens. This illustration, like the maidens, are in no hurry to abandon their position, or to be more than they are, and the result is a scene that is simultaneously peaceful and in flux.

This illustration makes excellent use of shade and light, showcasing the possibilities of lighting and movement within the medium of lithography. The movement and oscillation of the viewers’ eye is reinforced by the gaze of the maidens, which track left-to-right-and-back, while also gazing at each other and the viewer. 

Shannon, Charles H. “With Viol and Flute.” The Dial, vol. 2, 1892, AD. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2019-2020.The Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/dialv2-shannon-viol-ad/