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image icon 'Outward bound: dinner-time'

'Outward bound: dinner-time'
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an oil painting, measuring 58.7 cm x 76.0 cm, by J A Gilfillan (1793-1867), that shows a family of poor people - a father, mother and young children - huddled together for shelter close to an inn, on a bleak, overcast day at a 19th-century port (possibly in Scotland). In the harbour behind them, there is a large passenger sailing vessel being tossed by choppy seas. The family looks to be destitute - some of the children are barefoot and the mother looks so ill she cannot stand. They appear to have very few possessions to take with them on their long journey - the man wears a backpack, there are two small bags on the ground in front of the group, and one of the children holds a cooking pot. Through the window of the inn, people can be seen eating and drinking by the fire. On the outside wall of the inn is a poster with a bold heading 'AUSTRALIA'.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • illustrates aspects of the mid-19th-century immigration of European settlers to Australia
  • demonstrates a narrative style of painting that became popular during the Victorian era - the overall style is realistic, but everything is posed as if on a stage; the gestures of each member of the family build a sense of misery; the dead or leafless tree on the left adds to a sense of desolation and lack of hope; the family is deliberately set against the inn window, and the scene glimpsed within is perhaps a foretaste of the prosperous and comfortable life that awaits any family willing to leave their home and seek its fortune in Australia;
  • is among the very first paintings to be produced in Australia that dealt with the theme of migration - J A Gilfillan's paintings are the earliest and most elaborate of Australian works of the period on this theme, and possibly as early as any similar subject works painted in Britain
  • is the work of an artist who made a significant contribution to the Adelaide art scene of the 1840s, which was the liveliest in Australia until the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s attracted many talented artists from the different colonies (including South Australia) and from overseas, to try their luck on the gold fields
  • is a subject with which the artist would have closely identified - he left the Isle of Jersey as a cabin boy and later immigrated with his family to New Zealand in 1847; six years later, he settled in Australia
  • is one of a pair of paintings - its companion piece, 'Homeward bound: dinner-time' (c1852), is an optimistic image of life for newly arrived settlers in South Australia; the pair was Gilfillan's tribute to the benefits of emigration and his adopted country.