Two groups of 19th Century students wandered through the 18th and 19th Centuries today, finishing with a brief look at modernism before exiting into the wonderful sunny skies of a Sydney midday. We then journeyed half a kilometre – past William Shakespeare- on to the gates of the Palace Gardens, that one-time icon of Victorian grandeur, burnt to the ground in 1882; “Victorian Hubris” it might be called, the end of that grand proclamation trumpeted to the skies by so many Victorians “Great Expectations”! It was these “Great Expectations” (Victorian belief in their own inevitable progress towards some kind of earthly paradise), which were of course so soundly lampooned by Charles Dickens, (patron of the underdog, fighter for freedom and liberty for the downtrodden) in his novel GK.
In the gallery collection there is this wonderful painting by one of Charles Dickens’ illustrators Luke Fildes, one of the few in the Victorian room which deals with the social ills of the times in the way that Dickens himself did:
The painting “The Widower” (middle of the top row) tells the tragic story of how the widower has to cope with his family of five children with one of his young daughters sick and dying in his arms. An older daughter looks on in despair, while the younger children play on the floor, oblivious to the human tragedy engulfing the family. These are the results of an inhumane social system, unwilling to help the victims of industrialisation.
A short distance away from this icon of Victorian social tragedy is the magnificent painting by Ford Madox Brown of Chaucer -the father of English poetry- reading from his Canterbury Tales. This painting not only celebrates nationalistically everything about the British literary tradition and the increasing dominance of the English language in the world, but also projects us -with the Victorian audience- into times long ago, Medieval times to be precise, when social problems did not seem to exist. Ford Madox Brown was one of that group of artists and writers in Victorian England who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelites, eager to solve the Condition of England Question not by hauling in a circus, or rushing off to the gypsies, but by transporting themselves and their audience to another time and place:
Today’s visit (both groups) was recorded, so if you were unlucky enough to miss out, then please listen to the tour here and take yourself off to the gallery sometime before the end of the semester so that you can also experience this Time Tunnel! If you are interested in doing this please see MG first. You can download the recording onto your ipod and then be given instructions on which rooms to walk through. Hope you can make it in your own time!