n a shift from Egg's other, earlier work with Italian subject matter or historical fiction, this member of the Royal Academy began his support of the Pre-Raphaelite movement during the 1850's and soon added to both its success and scope through his own artistic contributions. The most famous of these was his series Past and Present in which he depicts the past in the form of a husband's discovery of his wife's infidelity and the present as two more images. One of these is a painting showing the unfortunate situation of the husband and wife's now abandoned daughters and the other of the wife and her bastard child cast out of society -- now taking shelter underneath a bridge, the only place they can. In each of these three paintings, and especially in Past and Present I ("The Infidelity Discovered"), the strict attention to detail, precision, and rich use of color is undeniably a result of Pre-Raphaelite influence. Similarly, the somewhat cryptic story line present here is very much in line with early PRB such as William Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience and Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents. Egg, like Hunt and Millais, forces one to take into account several symbolic clues in order to discover what all is occurring in the work. In the case of Past and Present I, the subtitle (if provided) might give much of its plot away, but so would the fallen house of cards as a symbol of the now ruined household, the open door reflected in the mirror as an indication of the wife's necessary departure and, more obviously, the elements of the condemning letter in the husband's hand and the crushed portrait of this letter's instigator beneath his heel. Like many other Pre-Raphaelite works, this painting tells a story through the images present, but Egg takes this one step further by also relating the outcomes of such a story. In the vein of Hogarth's moralizing engravings from a century earlier, such as Industry and Idleness, Egg not only depicts what he sees as moral decay, but he also creates a deterrent to these actions and likewise forewarns of their most dire consequences.
1. How does the use of non-caricatured figures to present this example of moral decay compare to the alternate approach employed earlier by Hogarth?
2. What could be Egg's reasoning for painting the past with Past and Present I in extreme detail and realism while rendering the two other present paintings in a seemingly more moody, dream-like, and even romantic manner?3. What types of similarities might one find with Wilkie's The Blind Fiddler, if any? Is the lighting here demonstrative of Pre-Raphaelite convention? Is the composition and structure?
Last modified 14 September 2004