At last!

My PhD research included the “excavation” of nineteenth-century paintings and illustrations. I looked hard into the backgrounds of subjects that artists recorded, to find details included perhaps by accident. They told me a lot about the interiors of the homes of working people. One was an 1850 painting by James Collinson in Manchester Art Gallery, showing a scene he entitled “Answering the Emigrant’s Letter”.

James Collinson: Answering the Emigrant’s Letter (Manchester Art Gallery).

On the mantelpiece Collinson included a number of objects. The most significant for me were two ceramic figures. The one on the left is partly obscured, but the figure in the centre is clear enough to identify:

Objects on mantelpiece painted by James Collinson in his painting “Answering the Emigrant’s Letter”.

The ceramics could be called “Staffordshire flatbacks” though this term covers a wide range of objects. Anyway, I decided that I wanted the figure of the couple, perhaps meant to represent that favourite subject, a “swain” and the object of his affections! After several years of fruitless searching through all manner of antique shops and collectibles fairs, I today finally acquired one, some 170 years after Collinson recorded one in his painting, which presumably was based on an actual interior.

Ceramic figure of young couple, identical to that in James Collinson’s painting “Answering the Emigrant’s Letter”.

Author: ralphblog

I am a historical archaeologist, writer and editor. I live in Saanich, Victoria, British Columbia.

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