Augustus Egg's Travelling Companions strikes the viewer at once with the near-perfection of its symmetry — the identical billowing dresses, the hats perched on the laps, the brunette-framed faces that face one another like a woman and her mirror. In fact, it might at first compare to some children's puzzle, in which one must point out the few things discrepancies between the one half of the image and the other. But as one begins to look, one finds a greater diversity of detail than is first apparent. One sits with a basket while the other sits with a bouquet, one reads while the other dozes, and outside the window a vivid and varied landscape expands, filling the center of the image.
And it is in this latter element that arises a point of particular interest. While the window-view confronts the viewer (by virtue of the vantage point from which the image was painted), drawing him outside to the colorful, the asymmetrical, the mesh of forest, lake and mountain ridge, the two women's eyes remain focused inward, the one on some novel or poem, the other on her private meditations. They travel — as the title indicates — and yet they do not leave the world in which they began; they remain in the carriage box with the drab color scheme and what might appear to a first glance as absolute uniformity.
The second word in the title also suggests a certain irony. The two are companions in that they share the same space, and even share the same dress, and yet they do not interact. Each seems apathetic to all external elements of the experience: both the landscape far off, and the person nearby. In this painting the luxuries of the aristocracy and the rise of modern transportation capabilities intersect to isolate the two figures from everything beyond the individual: they travel in such omfort, with all the familiar amenities, that they discard the experience of traveling altogether.
1. Does the symmetry of the dress and posture derive more from an aesthetic choice, or does it contribute to the story or concept of the painting?
2. Do the attire and accessories of the women and the landscape through which they are traveling give the viewer any clues as to the occasion of the trip (from where they are coming and to where they are going)?
3. Small details defy symmetry here — the hats, for instance, face the same way instead of facing each other, and one woman wear's gloves while the other's hands are bear. Do these choices exist in order to give the two characters a greater sense of personality/individualism, or are they merely supposed to tamper, on a visual level, with the image's broader quality of symmetry?
4. Though neither woman looks out the window, the shades and drapes are visibly drawn, leaving the outside view in plain sight. Although the reader may benefit from the light, what do we do with the dreamer's window being left uncovered? Does this suggest each woman's conscious intention, or is it an arbitrary point?
5. In what ways do the composition and the subject of this painting recall Pre-Raphaelite works we have examined already?
Last modified 11 February 2009