Waiting for the Artist
Oil on canvas; signed and dated 1859
16 x 12 inches
British Institute, 1860, no. 546
Records tell us that in 1859 the artist lived at Northfleet in Kent on the south bank of the Thames, from which address he exhibited this picture at the British Institution in 1860, but a wealth of detail in this intimate and personal picture give us more information. We know we are in the studio of the artist - one of the pictures in the portfolio is signed by him and dated 1859. From the high boots under the table and the fishing net on the back of the door, we can guess that he lived near water. A sketch of a boat spills from his portfolio. A glance at the mantelpiece tells us that the artist smoked and wrote letters. It is a small and modest room, doubling as his parlour. The furnishings suggest that he was middle class, and that it is a bachelor’s room. Sitting in the centre of the room is a pretty girl; we are not shown a wedding ring and she has not tidied up the artist’s things in a wifely way, but she is too well dressed to be a model. She has brought flowers, seemingly a visitor. She is Waiting for the Artist, the title of this painting.The clock and the daylight tell us it is twenty past eleven in the morning. The Evening Standard lying with the carelessly dropped hat and coat had only been published since the 11th of June that very year (1859), in London. So, we may infer that having arrived back late the night before, he dumped his things on the floor, and has overslept this morning whilst the girl waits. The reason for this trip? He has had a painting rejected by the Royal Academy for the summer exhibition of 1859 - the rejection notice is under his palette, clearly legible - and he went immediately up to town by the new railway connection to London to submit the picture to the British Institution for their February show in the next year instead. Their notice is under his hat.This thoroughly modern life story in a picture, so wittily told, evidently charmed the selection committee of the British Institution. But there is a romantic postscript – the Kentish Gazette announced George Winchester of Northfleet married to Elizabeth on the 24 April 1860. Is the girl in the painting Elizabeth, and did the painting play a role in the match?