Oil on canvas; monogrammed, inscribed on inner frame and variously labelled
34 ½ x 45 inches
Royal Academy, 1859, no 943
Society of Artists, 1859
Inscribed on inner frame: ''For men must work/ And women must weep/ And there's little to earn/ And many to keep/ Though the harbour bar/ be moaning/ C. Kingsley'.
The fisherman must go to sea to fish, despite the gale blowing outside. The title of the painting warns us that he is not coming back. The cat’s fur is frizzed with fear. The fisherman’s family are poor, but clean and well-dressed, and his son plays with a toy boat. The wife catches her husband’s look of apprehension, and is afraid. This, in 1850s Britain, would have been a starkly realistic scene that would have been familiar to many. The poem that inspired it was Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Three Fishers’ (1851); the picture was also possibly a response to the Moray Firth fishing disaster of August 1848, in which 124 boats were lost, many while trying to enter harbour, and 100 fishermen lost their lives, leaving behind 47 widows and 161 children. The first verse contains the lines:
For men must work, and women must weep,
And there’s little to earn, and many to keep,
Though the harbour bar be moaning.
When Emily Osborn was five, her father took up the curacy at the parish of West Tilbury on the Thames Estuary near the sea, surrounded by fishing communities, and the family lived there until Emily was about 14, when they moved to London ‘to the great delight of [Emily], who rightly considered there was now some chance of realising the hopes she entertained of one day becoming an artist’ (The Art Journal, 1864, p 261). By the age of 23, she was exhibiting at the Royal Academy. In 1855, her painting My Cottage Door was bought from the RA by Queen Victoria. Osborn had a London studio by 1856 and the following year she showed what is now her most famous picture, Nameless and Friendless, at the Royal Academy. Presentiments was exhibited in 1859, and seems to have been her most ambitious painting thus far.