The Village Gossips (1828)

Rolinda Sharples’ (1793-1838) oil on canvas from 1828, The Village Gossips, depicts two chattering old women. Tea-drinking had become a social custom in the country by the early 19th century and these two village gossips are taking tea with as much ceremony as their smart town cousins would have enjoyed. Their tea service is fashionable; a copper kettle sits on a brazier and the tray, which looks like silver, but is more likely Sheffield-plate.

Interestingly, a cat in the lower right has in its mouth a song bird, which presumably dwelt in the cage to the picture’s upper left. In its place, a common magpie peeks out from where it once warbled. Furthermore, the two dames enjoying each other’s tales are themselves being overheard by the younger female in the house. Although they think themselves clever and discreet as they share their valued intelligence, the details they divulge will be spread abroad, any further attempt at restriction doomed to failure. While the cat carries off the beautiful bird and the women destroy others’ reputations, a coarse, croaking magpie encapsulates their characters.

A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends. Proverbs 16:28

And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not. 1 Timothy 5:13, both NKJV.