Woman’s Mission

George Elgar Hicks: Woman’s Mission was painted in the 1860s. The central panel, companion of manhood, is in the Tate, their exhibition “Victorian Sentimentality”. The other two panels, guide of childhood and comfort of old age, had been thought lost but the last was acquired by the Tate in 2014.

“Mission” sounds onerous, but the childminding is made to look delightful. The mother’s face, looking down on the child, glows like the sun.

Supporting the husband as he hears of his bereavement, she has wonderful nobility but no particular financial worries.

She comforts the old man, patting his hand and listening to his fretting, but does not look as if she cleans him up.

Now, a taste for art galleries is Highbrow, but these works are pretty, for the growing middle class rather than the educated aesthete. So they had a lower status than other Art. I would not necessarily have seen that in the paintings themselves, had I not picked it up somewhere. I note the scene captured as a camera might, which requires technical skill. I needed the black edge of the letter and envelope explained to me, too. The husband in his manly grief is supported by the loyal wife.

I find the paintings lovely and unchallenging. They are pleasant to look at. They are “genre paintings”- scenes of everyday life, and now a curiosity: what might they have said to the original viewer? I wonder, rather than, what do they say to me? What do I learn of the Victorian bourgeoisie, rather than what do I learn of life?

From “Companion of Manhood” I went into the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, and spent some time looking up at King Cophetua as he looks up at the Beggar-maid. I am moved by it, now. It speaks to me.

There is lots more art here. Do you like Boldini? What of Reggianini?

4 thoughts on “Woman’s Mission

  1. So interesting, Clare. They capture the energy of the time and the roles of women. I don’t always look at art from that perspective – what the postures and feelings evoke. Many times, they’re more subliminal to me but you’re helping me to bring them more into consciousness. Thank you.


    • The postures and the touch are the thing. Sometimes, in order to feel my way into a sculpture or painting, I adopt the posture or facial expression of the subject, even if it is non-human- this sets off my mirror-neurons, I suppose.

      You create beautiful pictures- yes, that water-lily was there, but you noticed it, then framed it- do more of people. Not the standard, here’s me standing in front of whatever tourist attraction, but portraits. What is it like to be this person? What is it like to be human?


      • You know, I do that in my work as a Rolfer. I imagine what it feels like to be in that body – the work is about helping to improve their structure and imagining what they feel like helps me in the process of realizing more ease, comfort, efficiency. Maybe that’s why I don’t do as many portraits, because I’m doing it many times a day with my clients. But I’ll play with that. I love taking portraits as well. Thank you.


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