Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau (American, 18371922)
Before the Engagement
Oil on canvas, 45 x 31 1/4 in.
Signed lower left: Elizabeth Gardner

After the Engagement
Oil on canvas, 45 x 31 1/8 in.
Signed lower left: Elizabeth Gardner

Commissioned by American businessman Obed J. Wilson, the paintings are based on a poem by the Scottish writer Robert Burns. Before the Engagement depicts two modest youths at the age of betrothal in an idyllic, outdoor setting. In its pendant, After the Engagement, years have passed, and the humble, dim interior is nevertheless radiant with their mature tenderness and affection.

Gardner first mentioned The Engagement commission in December 1880 in a letter to her brother, John. The topic was timely —Bouguereau and Gardner had become engaged the year earlier. Writing to her sister Ria, in 1882, Gardner mentioned that she just shipped the two paintings, which are “[a]re the best I have done, only unfortunately I have bestowed two months longer on the work than I intended. Everybody likes them…” The paintings remained together as part of the Wilson collection donated to the Twin Towers Senior Living Facility in Cincinnati in 1908 before being purchased by the Dahesh Museum of Art.