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Augustus Egg

Augustus Leopold Egg RA (May 2, 1816 – March 26, 1863) was a British painter of the Victorian era. Egg is best known for his Dickensian triptych Past and Present, which describes the decomposition of a middle-class family in the Victorian era, and his painting The Traveling Companions (1862) , Which represents two almost identical journeymen who gave rise to innumerable interpretations.

Augustus Egg was born on 2 May 1816 in London, England, in the United Kingdom. The son of a wealthy gunsmith, Egg was educated in the Royal Academy from 1836. He was a member of the Clique, a group of artists founded by Richard Dadd in 1837. He sought to combine some success with A social and political commitment, in the line of his friend Charles Dickens. With him, he founded the Guild of Literature and Art, a philanthropic organization whose goal was to raise funds for troubled artists and writers. He obtained the lead role in a play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton for this purpose, and his self-portrait can be seen in this role at the Hospitalfield House in Arbroath.

His first paintings were usually illustrations of the literature. Like the other members of the Clique, he saw himself as a disciple of Hogarth. His interest in Hogarthian moral themes appears clearly in his paintings The Life and The Death of Buckingham, which describe the dissolute life and sordid death of the Duke of Buckingham, who supported the Restoration. But he also often knows how to look at his subjects with humor, as in his Queen Elizabeth Discovers she is no longer Young, 1848 (“Queen Elizabeth discovers that she is not very young”).

Unlike most other members of the Clique, Egg also admired the Pre-Raphaelites, and bought the work of the young William Holman Hunt and discussed color theory with him. His famous Dickensian triptych Past and Present (1858) was influenced by Hunt: in one scene he presented a middle-class, prosperous family, and in the other two, two girls in a room and a homeless woman Holding a baby. A set of indices linked the three scenes together, which was to indicate that the affluent family in the center was seeing decomposition by the mother’s fault, adultery. The homeless woman and her child were the same as those in the center, a few years later living in poverty. The use of flashback, the central scene in the past, was seen as an anticipation of the cinema.

Egg was also an active exhibition director, admired by his colleagues for his seriousness. He was one of the organizers of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857. He was elected to the Royal Academy three years later, May 24, 1860.

Constantly ill, he spent his last years in the milder climate of continental Europe. He painted The Traveling Companions (1862), representing two almost identical young women (seated opposite one another in a train compartment on the coast of Meudon, one sleeps and the other bed ) And has given rise to innumerable interpretations (such as: an attempt to represent two sides of the same person, an allegory such as Idleness and Work, as the “Zeal and Sloth” of his inspirer Hogarth; The subject of the alter ego and the double, even a literary illustration of the Doppelgänger of the tales of ETA Hoffmann, various oppositions such as the Dionysian / Apollinian of Plutarch and then Nietzsche, the Freudi’s superego. Egg died in Algiers on 26 March 1863.

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Egg is a member of the Dickens and Wilkie Collins friend group. He participated, as an actor and costume designer, in their amateur pieces, often made for philanthropic purposes. In January 1857 he played in the play of Collins The Frozen North, alongside Dickens, which was performed at his house. The play was also performed before Queen Victoria, and continued in charity.

Unlike most other members of The Clique, Egg also admired the Pre-Raphaelites; he bought work from the young William Holman Hunt and shared ideas on color theory with him. His own triptych, known as Past and Present, was influenced by Hunt’s work. The triptych depicted three separate scenes, one portraying a prosperous middle-class family and the other two depicting poor and isolated figures — two young girls in a bedsit and a homeless woman with a baby. The viewer was expected to read a series of visual clues that linked together these three scenes, to reveal that the prosperous family in the central scene is in the process of disintegrating because of the mother’s adultery. The two outer scenes depict the separated mother and children a few years later, now living in poverty. The painting’s use of flashback — the central scene is occurring in the past — has been seen as a precursor of cinema.

Egg was also an active organiser of exhibitions, being admired by fellow-artists for his dedication and fair mindedness. He was one of the organisers of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1860.

Always in poor health, Egg spent his later years in the warmer climate of continental Europe, where he painted Travelling Companions, an ambiguous image of two near-identical young women that has sometimes been interpreted as an attempt to represent two sides of the same person. A member of the circle of friends that included Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Egg features in their surviving correspondence. He participated, as actor and costume designer, in their amateur theatricals, which were often conducted for charitable purposes as noted above. In January 1857 he took a part in Collins’s play The Frozen Deep, which starred Dickens and was performed at his home, Tavistock House (Egg played John Want, the ship’s cook.) The production was also acted before Queen Victoria and then performed for charity. Dickens described Egg as a “dear gentle little fellow,” “always sweet-tempered, humorous, conscientious, thoroughly good, and thoroughly beloved.”

In a 1953 radio interview, Evelyn Waugh was asked “What painters do you admire most?”. He answered “Augustus Egg I’d put among the highest.”