While it may look like a relatively cheerful painting—I mean, there are bubbles, after all—Thomas Couture’s circa 1859 Soap Bubbles takes a fairly pessimistic view of life.
The Metropolitan Museum points out that soap bubbles are themselves “traditional symbols of the transience of life,” and—though the subject might hope, through his studies (gleaned from the books beside him), to achieve something substantial—”[a] wilting laurel wreath on the wall behind him suggests the fleeting nature of praise and honors.”
Don’t lose hope, though: Couture painted a slightly more hopeful—if less beautiful—version the same year. In it, as the Walters Art Museum writes, the “laurel wreath symbolizes glory ignored,” and the soap bubbles? Merely vanity. So even his jury is out on the longevity of scholarship.
(Incidentally, dear reader, I got my GRE scores back today.)