Augustus Leopold Egg (1816-1863) is a minor British Victorian era artist known most for his tryptic, Past and Present, depicting the breakup of the traditional Victorian family. This is worth a post in itself so I will save it for a later date. Travelling Companions was painted towards the end of his life. I think it is a terribly prescient work of art and so look forward to discussing it with/at you.
August Egg was at pain to combine popularity with moral and social activism in his paintings which was similar to how his friend, the writer Charles Dickens managed to do with his novels. Egg and Dickens became great friends and jointly founded the “Guild of Literature and Art”, which was a philanthropic organisation which provided welfare payments to struggling artists and writers.
Egg’s early works of art were mainly illustrations of literary subjects as well as historical incidents taken from the accounts of the seventeenth century diarist, Samuel Pepys. He also showed great interest in Hogarth’s narrative works, which often had a moral theme such as Marriage à la Mode and The Rake’s Progress and it was probably these works that inspired Egg to complete his moral narrative painting, The Life and Death of Buckingham. My Daily Art Display
Would you believe this painting can be found at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and will be the first piece I seek when returning there once it is safe to do so. One can see Menton, near Monte Carlo on the French Riviera (a popular Victorian holiday destination) outside the window. The two companions are perhaps headed hither for their holibobs. One can discern they are heading to the town from the direction the tassel in the window is swaying.
My highlights include the magnificent silk or satin dresses, billowing between them in the cramped first class carriage. The light depiction is superlative and the representation of the folds of the fabric are truly masterful. The same lauding can be applied to both of their flowing hair which looks silky and soft. I am also impressed by the black fringe adoring the seam of the sleeves. There is also a detail on the reading girl’s hands which is notable, she is wearing teal leather gloves. Remember everything in a painting is a choice by the painter. I wonder why he chose a leather glove? Did Michael Jackson take inspiration from Leopold Egg? I think not.
There are many interpretations of this piece on account of Egg’s previous works containing hidden suggestions of morality. These two could either be sisters or different aspects of the same woman, or indeed different women wearing the same frock. Some believe the waking woman is the product of the sleeping one – as in the projected version of the sleeping one. The sleeping woman may well be dreaming of herself on the train, reading! Another reading is that Egg is shunning those who sleep on trains, showing those who are more proactive to be superior.
My interpretation is more along the lines of this latter one, though I would shy away from describing literary pursuits as superior. I would say the message is that neither party are superior to the other because they are both ignoring each other and perhaps ought to engage in conversation, sharing something so that they both might garner a new perspective and become more well rounded. This is my interpretation: a critique of those not living in the moment.
Overall I think it is a gorgeous painting which displays Egg’s manifold talents. I am glad to have been able to discuss this with you today and hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did composing it.