The Outcast

The Outcast by Richard Redgrave, RA. 1851. Oil on canvas, 31 x 41 inches. Royal Academy of the Arts, London.

Susan Casteras and Ronald Parkinson note that this was the painter's diploma work — the painting presented to the Royal Academy upon his election to full membership — and explain the subject:

Here a stern patriarch evicts his daughter and her illegitimate baby into literal cold, for snow falls beyond the threshold. A brother buries his head to weep while various sisters cry and plead with their father, but to no avail. On the floor there lies what appears to be an incriminating letter, and on the wall hangs a didactic print which seemingly reinforce the drama, perhaps that of Abraham casting out Hagar and Ishamael, or Christ and the woman taken in adultery. [136]

In fact, neither the Old nor New Testament story fits completely: Abraham, the father of the child, casts out Hagar and Ishamael at the insistence of a woman, his wife. In contrast, the parable of Christ's forgiveness of the adulterous woman, which Hunt used in The Awakening Conscience, embodies forgiveness — if in fact that is the subject of the print on the wall. The painting therefore appears ambiguous since the viewer cannot ascertain whether the painter approves or disapproves of the father's action. The device of an incriminating letter, which August Egg employed in Past and Present (I), seems a bit unncessary here since the daughter holds her illegitimate child in her arms -- clear enough evidence that she's a fallen woman!

Redgrave's painting of this popular Victorian subject, which in the twentieth century came to embody a heartless and puritanical Victorian attitude toward sexuality, has inspired countless cartoons in The New Yorker and other magazines. — George P. Landow

References

Richard Redgrave, RA. Ed. Susan P. Casteras and Ronald Parkinson. New Haven and London: Yale U P. 1988. No. 106.

Casteras, Susan P. Images of Victorian Womanhood in Enghlish Art. 1987. 142-43.


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Last modified 16 September 2004