This painting depicts the view from the artist’s drawing room window in his house at Wallingford on Thames. Beyond his garden, on the opposite riverbank, one can see a lush meadow. Leslie claimed that the entire work was painted from life. The sunflowers are intended to symbolise devotion to art. The title’s “moonflowers” refers to the two young women depicted. Some argue, however, that the moonflowers are the paler blooms in the girls’ arrangements although, of course, such flowers do not actually exist. One of the girls is the artist’s friend whilst the other is a model the artist frequently featured in his work.
The clothing depicted does not exemplify the norm of the period. Instead of tight lacing and bustles, Leslie portrays the softer, more free-flowing aesthetic which was gradually coming into fashion. This representation is more in keeping with the aesthetic tastes of Oriental China, which was particularly admired in Britain in the 1870s and 80s. Leslie underscores this cultural interest through the women’s dress, the flowers, and the blue and white vases. The vases depicted, however, have been identified as Western reproductions in the Chinese style rather than originals.
Of his artwork, Leslie once said: ‘My aim in art has always been to paint pictures from the sunny side of English domestic life, as much as possible to render them cheerful companions to their possessors. The times are so imbued with turmoil and misery, hard work and utilitarianism, that innocence, joy and beauty seem to be the most fitting subjects to render such powers as I possess useful to my fellow creatures.’