Lot 115: Emily Mary Osborn , 1828-1925 nameless and friendless, the rich man's wealth is his strong city oil on canvas
A GREAT BRITISH COLLECTION: The pictures collected by Sir David and Lady Scott, sold to benefit the Finnis Scott Foundation
November 19, 2008
London, United Kingdom
Description: oil on canvas
Emily Mary Osborn's Nameless and Friendless shows a young female artist, and a boy who is presumably her younger brother, standing in a picture-dealer's shop. She waits while the proprietor considers the work that she has offered for sale; the boy holds a portfolio which presumably contains further drawings also for sale. Although the woman is respectably dressed, she is surely short of money and needs to sell the painting; her anxiety about the matter is indicated by her demure expression and by the way she nervously plays with a loop of string. No indication is given of how the dealer will respond; his insensitivity to the woman's situation is expressed by his having rudely neglected to invite her to sit, although a chair is placed beside the counter for the use of clients. A shop assistant standing on a ladder on the right side of the composition looks down with interest, and has the opportunity to appraise the work for himself. On the left side, a bearded man pauses momentarily in his inspection of a print showing a ballerina to look at the standing woman, perhaps with concern, or with lascivious admiration. The painting gives a valuable documentary account of how such a shop would be arranged in the mid-nineteenth century, with mahogany furnishings, tiled floor, and plate glass windows with unframed prints displayed to attract passers-by.
The verse from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 10, verse 15) that was attached to the work when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy makes clear that the subject was devised in a spirit of sympathy for the lady artist, who is seen to be at a moral and psychological disadvantage in her dealings with the parasitic art dealer. That the painting was read that way by a contemporary audience is made clear by the commentary on it given, to accompany an engraving of the picture (Fig 1) in the Art Journal: 'A poor girl has painted a picture, which she offers for sale to a dealer, who, from the speaking expression of his features, is disposed to depreciate the work. It is a wet, dismal day, and she has walked far to dispose of it; and now awaits in trembling the decision of a man who is become rich by the labours of others'. The critic concluded: 'The incident is narrated with feeling and emphasis' (Art Journal, 1857, p. 170). The painting's theme may owe something to events described in Mary Brunton's popular novel Self Control (1810, and frequently republished up until 1855), in which a young woman, orphaned and without means, embarks on a career as a professional artist, and endures the humiliation of having her works castigated by a series of contemptuous dealers. Furthermore, as a woman artist herself, Osborn knew how hard it was to advance professionally. The London art world was dominated by institutions such as the Royal Academy, which guarded the interests of artists with established reputations. To get a 'name' as an artist required the individual to lobby for support among the selection committees at the Academy, and in due course to hope for election as an associate member of the institution. There were no opportunities of this kind for women, because none was elected; nor did the Academy allow female students to enrol in the teaching schools that it provided. By the 1850s complaints about the unfair treatment of younger artists, and especially of women who sought professional careers, began to be heard. In 1857 - the year in which Nameless and Friendless was first exhibited - the Society of Female Artists (later known as the Society of Women Artists, and of which body Emily Mary Osborn was a member), was founded and staged its first show. Nameless and Friendless has been recognised as a key document in the discussion of gender-political issues in the context of Victorian art, and has been written about perceptively by feminist art historians, notably Deborah Cherry in a fascinating exegesis in her book Painting Women - Victorian Women Artists. Emily Mary Osborn was the eldest of nine children of a curate and his wife living in London. Having been encouraged to paint and draw by her mother, she attended classes given by a Mr Dickinson, training under John Mogford and later J. M. Leigh. She succeeded in having works admitted to the summer exhibitions at the Royal Academy - including a genre subject entitled The Letter as well as a portrait - when she was still only seventeen. The principal source of biographical information about her is the article by James Dafforne in the 1864 Art Journal (pp. 261-3), where mention is made of the purchase of two works by her - My Cottage Door and The Governess - for the Royal collection. Nameless and Friendless has come to be regarded as Osborn's most important work, and is certainly the most familiar having been included at the Royal Academy in the institution's bicentennial exhibition in 1968-9 and in 2000-2001 in the National Gallery's exhibition devoted to pictorial narrative, 'Tell me a Picture', which was selected by Quentin Blake. An oil sketch for the composition was purchased by York City Art Gallery in 1998.
Lady Charlotte Chetwynd (1815-1861), daughter of Edward Hill, 3rd Marquess of Downshire and wife of Sir George Chetwynd, 3rd Bt, by whom purchased at the Royal Academy in 1857 for £250;
N. M. Omell;
J. S. Maas & Co, where bought by Sir David Scott in 1968 for £1,250.
Dimensions: measurements note 82 by 104 cm., 32 1?4 by 41 in.
Art Journal, 1857, p. 170;
'British Artists: Their Style and Character. No.LXXV - Emily Mary Osborn', Art Journal, 1864, pp. 261-3, illustrated p. 261;
Jeremy Maas, Victorian Painters, London, 1969, p. 121;
Christopher Wood, Victorian Panorama - Paintings of Victorian Life, London, 1976, p. 110, pl. 112;
Susan Casteras, Images of Victorian Womanhood in English Art, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1987, p. 105;
Julian Treuherz, Victorian Painting, London, 1993, pp. 128-9, pl. 97;
Deborah Cherry, Painting Women - Victorian Women Artists, 1993, pp. 78-81, 98, 103, illustrated as pl. 10;
Christopher Wood, Dictionary of Victorian Painters, two volumes, Woodbridge 1995, vol. II, illustrated p. 348;
Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn, Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, exhibition catalogue, Manchester City Art Galleries, 1998, illustrated p. 25;
Christopher Wood, Victorian Painting, London, 1999, p. 56, pl. 68;
Deborah Cherry, Beyond the Frame - Feminism and Visual Culture, Britain 1850-1900, 2000, pp. 28-30, 35-37, 60, 125, illustrated p. 29;
Sotheby's, Pictures from the Collection of Sir David and Lady Scott, 2008, pp. 130-133.