Robert Braithwaite Martineau is one of the most celebrated of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and he completed this painting, The Last Day in the Old Home, in 1862.
At almost one-and-a-half-metres wide and more than one-metre tall, when viewed in the gallery context, this incredibly detailed work is utterly engrossing. There is just so much going on here! In fact, the fictional events depicted here unfold like a Netflix nail-biter of the nineteenth century! Allow me to explain…
As the title suggests, this formerly affluent family is preparing to depart their grand home – and all signs point to the rather tragic circumstances in which they have lost their fortune. Our protagonist, Sir Charles Pulleyne, is depicted as a rosy-cheeked hedonist, wine glass in hand, oblivious to the suffering of his wife and family as they prepare to hand over their home and worldly possessions.
The leather race book in Sir Charles’ hand, and the racehorse painting in the left foreground insinuate that he has gambled away the family fortune.
Look closely, and you’ll also spot auction lot numbers on various artworks, antiques and furniture items around the house, along with a Christie’s auction catalogue on the floor in the front right (easier to spot when viewing this painting in real life!). Tragically, the family’s possessions will soon be sold to the highest bidder.
The old woman (perhaps the grandmother), wipes a tear with her handkerchief, as she passes over the keys to the house. A newspaper on the table beside her shows advertisements for ‘Apartments’.
Outside the window, autumn branches symbolise the end of prosperity and the gloomy future which lies ahead for this family. Embers in the fire confirm that their time is nearly up.
Whilst grandmother, wife and daughter look mournful, Sir Charles’ seems unconcerned (or in denial?) about all of this. His grasp on his wine glass symbolises recklessness – and by sharing this indulgence with his young son, it is implied that his foolishness will be passed on to the next generation.
Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate
Until April 28th, 2019
National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Pl E, Parkes
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
For more information and tickets, click here.