Peter Russell and his partner were strolling through the Neue Pinakothek, the museum of 18th and 19th century art in Munich, when they saw her.She’s walking down a path, seemingly unfocused on what’s coming around a slight bend: a rosy-cheeked boy on one knee with a pink flower at the ready for wooing her. Her gaze is, for the moment, frozen downward at a slight angle, focused on a small object she cradles with both hands in the way so many of us walk around nowadays absorbed in our smartphones.
In “The Expected One,” the woman’s body language certainly makes it appear as if she’s looking at a phone, to the degree you can imagine her being labeled just another “distracted walker” exhibiting signs of so-called “text neck” if she were walking down the street in 2017. And as a particularly time travel-obsessed acquaintance of mine recently pointed out to me after I showed them the original (undoctored) version of the painting, the woman’s face seems lit up from below as if washed in screen glow. The shadowing all seems cast forward save her chin, lips, and cheeks, which almost appear brighter than one might think they would considering Waldmüller’s brushstrokes otherwise have her backlit.
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