Painting From 1860 Shows Woman ‘Holding An iPhone’

by : Julia Banim on : 14 Nov 2017 15:38
Wikimedia Commons

It may seem as though iPhones have been around forever, but time was when these little rectangles of technology would have seemed positively space age.


Only fifteen years ago, me and my friends would send each other chain letters. Chain letters.

And if you wanted to keep in touch quick time, then you had to actually ring their house phone and just hope they were at home.

So imagine Glaswegian Peter Russell’s surprise when he spotted a woman apparently zoning out on an iPhone in a rustic 1850s painting…


The retired local government officer and policy specialist spotted the piece – entitled The Expected One – while visiting the Neue Pinakothek museum in Munich with his partner.

The painting – by prominent Austrian artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller – depicts a young man on his knees, offering a pink flower to an approaching girl; hoping to catch her attentions and perhaps her affections.

However, his Victorian-style efforts at flirting are going completely unnoticed. Head lowered as she strolls along, the girl’s eyes are completely sucked in by what appears to be an iPhone – the exact model is not clear.

The device even seems to be illuminating her face, and her distracted, hunched body language reflects the stooped ‘text neck’ bod we are all well used to seeing and tutting about in town centres nationwide.

Could this girl be shopping for bonnets and parasols on Olde Ye ASOS?

Perhaps she is even trying to hail some sort of proto-Uber horse and cart service to whisk her away from the unwanted wooer?

Poor guy. His potential stone-cold rejection immortalised and analysed forever in a busy art gallery…


Of course, this is not an image of the original female Doctor Who landing in a 19th century Austrian pastoral scene.

In fact, no time travelling was needed whatsoever to create this picturesque – yet puzzling – countryside scene.

The girl is actually engrossed in a hymnbook, it’s just our weird, techy 21st century minds which are screwing with our perceptions.

Speaking with Motherboard, Peter – who blogs about culture – explained how technology has shifted our understanding of the painting:

What strikes me most is how much a change in technology has changed the interpretation of the painting, and in a way has leveraged its entire context.

The big change is that in 1850 or 1860, every single viewer would have identified the item that the girl is absorbed in as a hymnal or prayer book.

Today, no one could fail to see the resemblance to the scene of a teenage girl absorbed in social media on their smartphone.

Peter had been responding to another article by Motherboard about a 1937 painting where a man appears to be staring intensely at something on an iPhone.

The painting in question is by Italian muralist Umberto Romano, and is entitled Mr. Pynchon and the Settling of Springfield.

Although he looks as if he is embroiled in a fierce Twitter battle, it’s more probable he is just taking a good old fashioned look into a handheld mirror.

National Postal Museum

It really does seem as if iPhones have soaked into our subconscious in every conceivable way…

Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Technology


Vice/Motherboard and 1 other
  1. Vice/Motherboard

    A closer look at “The Expected One,” a painting by 19th century Austrian artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.

  2. Vice/Motherboard

    Do We All See the Man Holding an iPhone in This 1937 Painting?