Emily Mary Osborn (1834 - 1893)

Lot 119: Emily Mary Osborn , 1828-1925 home thoughts oil on canvas, arched top


November 19, 2008
London, United Kingdom

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Description: signed l.r.: E. Osborn ; inscribed and signed on an old label attached to the stretcher: Home Thoughts-/ One heart heavy, one heart light; half in day and half in night/ This globe forever goes/ One wave dark, another bright/ So life's river flows./ and who among us knows/ Why in this stream, that cannot stop,/ The sun is on one waterdrop/ The shadow on another?/ E. Osborn/ 30 Upper Gower Street oil on canvas, arched top
Dimensions: measurements note 72 by 91.5 cm.; 28 ¼ by 36 in.
Literature: Deborah Cherry, Painting Women, Victorian Women Artists, London, 1993, p. 83;
Susan Casteras, Images of Victorian Womanhood in English Art, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987, pp. 116-117, illustrated as figure 90;
Sotheby's, Pictures from the Collection of Sir David and Lady Scott, 2008, pp. 134-135.
Provenance: K. F. Harwood, Esq.;
Sotheby's, Belgravia, 9 July 1974, lot 68;
Richard Green, London;
Sotheby's, Belgravia, 6 December 1977, lot 55 (bought Maas);
J. S Maas & Co, London, where bought by Sir David Scott in 1977 for £5,520
Notes: When the picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy, it was accompanied by the following poem: One heart heavy, one heart light; half in day and half in night
This globe forever goes/ One wave dark, another bright
So life's river flows.
and who among us knows
Why in this stream, that cannot stop,
The sun is on one waterdrop
The shadow on another? The scene depicts a young girl being collected by her mother from a girls' boarding school. A young teacher kneels to place a cape around her shoulders. Behind the child stands her mother, and through the doorway a maid and the mother's coachman are seen carrying the child's luggage. Judging by the warm clothes that those who are leaving are wearing, the season is winter and it is therefore likely that the school is breaking up for the Christmas holiday. On the right side is the mistress of the school, who has before her a pile of books and wears her spectacles as if intending to continue her work, and on the left another pupil, who is perhaps an orphan or one whose parents cannot have her at home for Christmas, and who forlornly watches as the more fortunate child is taken away. All of this is treated quite naturalistically as a genre subject. The furnishings of the school room are carefully represented, with a map hanging on the back wall, and the colours and textures of the dresses meticulously and most skilfully represented. Particularly beautiful is the lavender coloured drapery that forms the dress of the young woman who kneels before the child, and which contrasts with the bright red of the child's short skirt. However, there can be no doubt that the artist intended that the painting, as with her work Nameless and Friendless, should be read as a symbolical modern life commentary. When exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856, it was accompanied by lines of verse which dwells on the disparity of good fortune that separates one individual from another. The excitement of the little girl who is going home to her parents for Christmas, as opposed to the one who will stay at school, is therefore deliberately suggested, as is the youthfulness and self-possession of the mother, who presumably has a husband to provide for her and by whom she is loved, and the more elderly teacher, who looks resentfully towards the younger woman, and who may be intended to represent the privations of spinsterhood. The contrasts between the two women and the two children may further be intended as being connected; the fortunate child may so benefit from the security of her upbringing that she will marry and take her place in middle-class society, while the child who has no family may find herself financially and socially insecure, and may in due course follow the familiar pattern of genteel but impoverished women in the Victorian period who worked as governesses and school teachers.
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