Saturday, August 16, 2014

Augustus Egg

The Traveling Companions 1862. source

 Augustus Egg was a man full of good intentions but he was a product of his times; straight laced, prudish times. 'The Traveling Companions' is supposed to be about sex. The flowers represent purity and virginity while the fruit represents sex source. The woman on the left is "exposing" herself sexually, as evidenced by her lack of gloves. Learning the motives behind his works takes the fun out of them. His works beg to be reinterpreted outside the constricting Victorian moral framework, but cannot be divorced from it.

Le Diable Boiteux source

Egg believed his duty as an artist was to send a message, to teach a lesson, to deliver a cautionary tale. Art was a tool to inform people about why it is that they should behave "virtuously". He was sincere in this, and certainly not alone, although he probably felt like he was.

Self Portrait as a Distressed Poet. source

Lady in a Green Dress source

Desdemona source

He also made a few "before and after" scenes to point out the consequences of immorality. He certainly does this in a beautiful way. The Life of Buckingham depicts an aristocrat at a party then alone. 

The most striking contrast is the Duke's expression in the paintings; his barely-visible profile on the bed shows a marked agony of greater veracity than any expression in the other painting, striking in its departure from his thoroughly vacant expression. For all its subjects and detail, the festive painting is full of emptiness; the deathbed is similarly consumed with a dense lack. In precisely balancing the images against one another, Egg sharply criticizes courtly frippery while calling into question which painting truly depicts a living subject. source

Interpreting these is practically a sport, a suitable Victorian entertainment. There is no "art for art's sake" here. The clues are unambiguously laid out, with little room for worldviews contrary to his own. This is very characteristic of those times. Yet just like the mirrors in the image below, his works are mirrors that don't really reflect people only dark old values in gilded frames. 

The Life of Buckingham source

The Life of Buckingham source

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