OIL PAINTING: Love Locked Out, 1889
Love Locked Out was originally intended as a private memorial to be cast as a bronze relief and placed at the head of her husband's grave, anticipating the time when they would be reunited. Deterred by the cost of the bronze she decided to paint the subject instead, employing a professional boy model Niccolo Marcantonio, who may also have posed for Goscombe John's A Boy at Play. Merritt had only seriously started to study the nude in the 1880s, which may explain the difficulties she experienced in determining the position of the boy's left shoulder blade (pentimenti are visible beneath the paint layers). Love Locked Out was, however, not her first nude painting: Camilla, a Nymph of Diana and Eve had been exhibited at the Academy in 1883 and 1885 respectively, but received a lukewarm reception. In painting a nude boy Merritt may have wanted to avoid censure, for child nude subjects were regarded as simple and natural and thus more appropriate for women artists than the exacting adult body. Merritt herself approved of child models because she felt they were unconscious of nudity and had "no sense of shame before artists"(Gorokhoff 1982). She also believed that emotion was better expressed through bodily gesture than facial expression and preferred to avoid representing the face, as is the case here. Despite the appeal of Love Locked Out to the Victorian public Merritt refused to have the work reproduced as an engraving, not so much for personal reasons but because she feared people might interpret the boy as a symbol of forbidden love.