One the great pleasures of Santa Barbara is the Museum of Art, located in the heart of downtown. The Museum has a lovely permanent collection of oil paintings and I was particularly struck today by Jules Breton’s “The Pardon.”

Below are a few introductory words about the work.
“The Pardon” can be viewed here:

Jules Breton was a French Realist painter whose work largely featured the life, labors, and religion of agricultural Brittany. One work that may be considered a ‘signature’ of his themes is “The Song of The Lark” whose subject is a farming woman in an enigmatic pose of reflection or attention.

Breton’s “The Pardon” is also dominated by the figure of a woman whose posture and appearance perhaps leave more questions than answers. The subject’s setting is a private area of a Cathedral where she appears to be semi-hidden to others by a stone column. Her purposes at the Cathedral appear to be private, signifying an inner and personal journey apart from the congregated worshipers in the darkened background.

Two clues as to the woman’s biography escaped me at first glance. The first is her wedding band on her left hand and second is the rough appearance of her right hand. In her right hand she holds a rosary and with inspection one can see that her fingers are stained dark from labor and under her fingernails are signs of soil or soot.

The painting’s title, I have decided, is more provocative than may be expected. At first I believed that this was a woman seeking pardon but after considering her face for some time I concluded that she is seeking not a pardon for herself but rather is seeking for the strength to forgive another. Her face is set as one aggrieved, not one in repentance. I conclude that this is not a portrait of a penitent but a strong and principled woman who is struggling to forgive one who ‘has trespassed against her’. Is her wedding band a clue as to the party at fault?

One subtle note that Breton includes is the shaft of gentle light, perhaps exterior light streaming into the otherwise dark interior, coming in from the upper left hand of the painting. From the woman’s current position she would be unable to see it, but presumably as she is to continue forward the column will no longer obstruct her view. It is a subtle use of light to suggest not only a hope for the woman, but also gives a sense of ‘time’ and ‘movement’ as we can imagine her travel and potential reactions as she sees the light.

Altogether, it is a fascinating oil painting and I suggest that you take a trip into the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to see Jules Breton’s “The Pardon” up close for yourself!

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art website: