Tuesday 18 September 2012

Nameless and Friendless

The Victorians were such dull old sticks, or so we are taught to believe.

I have just bought, on Ebay, a rather splendid engraving from an 1850s periodical of a schoolteacher, armed with a cane, about to seize a boy for some undoubtedly much deserved punishment. As one does.

But it is not the illustration itself that intrigues me. There is print on the reverse, and the very first entry I read deserves to be quoted verbatim:

"Nameless and Friendless", by Miss E. Osborne, is another picture by a lady artist, to which, though we can scarcely praise it for its execution, we have many favourable words to give, for its admirable purity of intention and its sentiment without sentimentality. Poor "Nameless and Friendless" - in the shape of a young, thinly-clad female, too young almost to be a widow but, we will assume, an orphan - has brought a picture into the shop of a wealthy "pictoriopole" - if we may invent that term for a dealer in the fine arts - and is tremblingly waiting while the great man examines it. A little shivering boy, her brother, nestles by her side; for the day is bitterly cold, and through the shop window you can see a rime of snow on the lace hats of the footmen, and the roofs of the carriage, towards which the warmly and richly-dressed figure at the door - a dowager countess at least - is progressing. You are afraid that the picture-dealer's answer to "Nameless and Friendless" will be a supercilious negative; and that she will be told that the "picture doesn't suit him, isn't in his line," or at best that she may "call again." But the best bit of story telling in the picture is the two dandies - very heavy mustachioed dandies, officers in the Guards in "mufti" they appear to be - who, with their backs to the spectator, are lounging over some staringly-coloured lithographs of "pets of the ballet," very curt as to drapery, and very lengthy as to leg. Ah, dear! poor "Nameless and Friendless;" we are afraid there is very little chance for you, at this "Fine Arts Repository," at least.

Yes, such dull old sticks.

Footnote, to show I've done my homework:

Remarkably, this picture still exists, and may be found on the Web: it was bought for £1,250 in the late 1960s by David Montagu Douglas Scott (1887-1986), a grandson of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, and Sotheby's sold it in 2008. Colin Gleadell wrote in the Telegraph at the time:

"Osborne's paintings are also rare. On average, one might appear every two years at auction, though not as good as this one, which is now estimated at £300,000 to £500,000."

Oh, all right: here's the link to the picture itself. Interesting what the Victorians classed as "thinly clad".


  1. Welcome back to the world of blogging :-) Here's hoping the next post appears before 2014!

    My theory: the young lady has just brought in the picture to sell it. The pictoriopole has recognised it as an item recently stolen from a small private collection. Now: should he send his runner (the small boy) to the police, or would the young lady like to discuss and deal with the matter more privately...

  2. HH! You blog as often as I do, and that's saying something.

    Excellent theory, Abel, and I'm certain she wouldn't want to bring shame to her poor deceased Papa's good name by involving the police...