Painting of the Day: The Governess, 1844

Monday, May 9, 2011


The Governess
Richard Redgrave, 1844
The Victoria & Albert Museum
When Richard Redgrave exhibited this painting in 1844, he asked that the following quotation accompany the canvas: “She sees no kind domestic visage here'” Redgrave was sympathetic to the lives of governesses. His own sister was a governess and died young. She often told him of the awkwardness of the position—not quite a servant, not quite a member of the family. The role was lonely and ambiguous, but it was also one of the few acceptable means by which a middle class girl might earn a living.

Redgrave painted this scene of a distracted governess holding a letter which seems to have recalled unhappy emotions. The canvas was well-received, but deemed a trifle depressing. When it was purchased, the buyer asked if it couldn’t be “made cheerier.” And, so, Redgrave added the scene of the children in the background, while refusing to alter the countenance of the poor central figure. ads

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