CIPC #223: Taylor, Women playing chess

It is time to parade some high culture in front of your eyes again while I talk condescendingly about paintings like I can tell undoubted Rafaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies.1 Today’s exposition, then, is from the more than capable hands of the renowned Leonard Campbell Taylor.2 The great British painter, member of the Royal Academy, has a reputation for his portrayals of interior scenes, painted in traditional style. This despite the fact that his birth in 1874 means that the impressionists were well established by the time he was an adult. One of his paintings looks like this:

I have no idea when it was made, whether it was based on actual people, or if there is some kind of official story behind it. But I like to think that the guy on the right is a driver in a noble family who has brought his young mistress over for a nice game of chess with a friend. The poor sod has already read his newspaper front to back and back to front, has gone over the funnies thrice — Dilbert being particularly unfunny that day because it hasn’t been invented yet — and is hoping with the long dead but fossilised hope of crushed dreams that maybe, perhaps, the ladies will finish soon. Yet, somehow, the dog looks even more bored.

How can this be? How can a person — plus a dog — be so bored by a game of chess? Did someone play the Petrov? Well, let’s have a look at the board. The following reconstruction is broadly correct. Perhaps a piece or two are placed a square off, but the big picture should be right:3

Hm. Someone might have played the Petrov, but there’s no way of telling this late in the game. There’s also no telling where white’s king is, for it is obscured by the lady on the right’s massive, billowing dress. It must be on g1, h1, or perhaps on h2 where it would be in check. The lady on the left certainly looks like someone who just delivered check, so I’d go with the latter option. But even if it is a check, there’s little reason for smugness: black — sorry, red — is down a full rook and bishop.

But maybe she’s just smug about the fact that her chauffeur has to sit there and wait until she deigns to finish her game. Maybe he has pissed her off somehow4 and she is trying to get revenge. That would also explain why she’s still playing when she’s a rook and a piece down. It also means that the woman whose face we don’t see is really irrelevant to the story. It’s really a well-thought out composition. He doesn’t get points for that, though.

Realism: 4/5 That is under assumption that there really is a white king somewhere around h1. The painting itself gets a similar score.

Probable winner: White is up a full rook and bishop. That should do it.

1. [I can’t.]
2. [No, I hadn’t heard of him either.]
3. [This site can’t read washing lists in Babylonic cuneiform, but it can make bloody good diagrams.]
4. [Perhaps by suggesting she shouldn’t play the Petrov.]