Manchester Art Gallery

Answering the Emigrant's Letter

Object description

Cottage scene of family, a man, woman, three children and baby, seated round a table in the corner of the room, writing a letter. On the right, the man, dressed in brown breeches, white shirt, and red waistcoat and neck tie, sits with a received letter in one hand, a map of South Australia on the table before him. The children are gathered closely together, intent on writing a letter on the table, the boy on the left holding the pen. The woman sits slightly apart from the group, her head turned slightly towards them, with a baby on her lap and a dog at her feet. She is wearing a green dress with a red apron, and a white bonnet. The baby attempts to pull a sock onto its right foot, copying its mother. Behind her, to the left, is a large black kitchen range, with the glow of a fire, and various toys and ornaments lining the mantlepiece. A bird sits in a cage attached to the wall next to a window on the right, pots of geraniums and cups lining the window sill. Sheets hang from a pulley system across the ceiling.

Display label

Answering the Emigrant's Letter 1850 James Collinson 1825-1881 Oil on panel Collinson was one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Although this painting does not reflect their techniques, it shares their pre-occupation with modern-life subjects, most prevalent in the early 1850s. It shows a family gathered together to write back to a friend or relation who has emigrated to Australia. Over a million people had emigrated in the ten years before Collinson painted this picture. Hence, it was a subject of great interest to the public. The cottage interior looks realistic, not idealised. Similarly, the fact that a boy is drafting the reply, and not his less-educated parents, has the ring of truth.