What’s fun about Traveling Companions, this 1862 painting by Augustus Leopold Egg, isn’t that it has a particularly legible narrative.
What’s fun about this painting is that it feels like it should.
A few things are fairly unambiguous. Two women, identically dressed but for a pair of blue gloves—with similar if not the same features and hair—ride in a train. As the Birmingham Museums and Gallery information page observes, “[t]he movement of the train is suggested by the swinging tassel of the window blind,” and the Ashmolean identifies the coast visible out the window as “the outskirts of Mentone.”
Beyond that, though, the meaning is unclear. The basket of fruit, contrasted with the flowers—the book, contrasted with the nap—are presented as though they were symbolism. But of what?
The scene has been read a plethora of ways: as a Victorian rehashing of Hogarth’s “Industry and Idleness,” or a work made familiar by echoes of Alice and Wonderland rather than any actual story of its own, or a multifaceted image of a single self.
Now, it isn’t Egg’s only ambiguous painting, but it’s an interesting departure from his more narrative-heavy work—Past and Present, for example—which can be fairly immediately (and consistently) understood.
Indeed, The Tate writes that the piece “reveals Egg’s evolution towards a non-anecdotal art [emphasis added]”—and perhaps that’s the explanation.
With Egg accustomed to operating in a more narrative-based mode, it seems not unreasonable that he would produce a piece that—for all its ambiguity—still has the hallmarks of legibility.
1. doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention.
2. an unclear, indefinite, or equivocal word, expression, meaning, etc.
Group Show ‘Bande à part’ at CAB
Throwback Thursday: In 2004, the New Museum presented “Counter Culture,” an exhibition featuring site-specific interventions by six contemporary New York artists. The exhibition explored the commerce and cultural diversity of the neighborhoods surrounding the Bowery, the then-future home of the New Museum, by pairing each of the six artists with a small business or organization in the area.
For the exhibition, Julianne Swartz’s work Can You Hear Me (2004) consisted of a pipe system stretching from the Bowery’s Sunshine Hotel to its ground-floor neighbor, Bari Restaurant Supply, both at 241 Bowery. This system, made from duct pipe and mirror and visible along the façade of the building, creates a visual and audible link between these two environments, as passers-by have the opportunity to peek inside the hotel and perhaps interact with its residents.