‘Evicted’ – A painting for our times?

Last week I visited the Brisbane Art Gallery, and was delighted to learn that you can now take photos inside the gallery, as long as you remove the flash.  Great!

And in the various collections on display was this one by Blandford Fletcher, painted in 1887:  Evicted

(Double click on the painting to enlarge)

I first saw this painting in the Gladstone Art Gallery a couple of years ago, and it really made an impact on me.  Possibly because the little girl is staring straight at you as she walks away from her home.  It’s a look of bewilderment and sadness, and you would have to have a heart of stone not to be affected by it.  Unfortunately scenes like this were not uncommon.  Usually when the man of the house died, or left, the bailiff would arrive and evict the woman and children as there was no pension, or hardship payments, available in those days to help make ends meet.

What was most likely to happen was that both the mother, and her little girl, would be taken to the Workhouse where they would be seperated, and made to work long hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for many years.  There was little time for rest, very minimal health care, and no schooling.  A most joyless and unhappy future.

Funnily enough, there was a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but nothing to help poor women and children.

And now in Gladstone, we are seeing a modern version of this each week as many of our elderly, poor and sick are forced to find cheaper places to live outside our region.  Big wages being paid by competing companies have forced up the price of rents in our city, and some unscrupulous landlords are pushing for weekly payments far beyond the earning capacity of many low income renters.  And it’s distressing to see online comments, and letters to the editor of the Gladstone Observer, drily stating that those affected have only themselves to blame, and that they need to ‘get off their backsides and earn big $ to keep up’.

If only it were so easy…

Personally, I’d like to see this portrait bought back to our gallery, as a stark reminder of why we need a safety net for the poor, the sick, the elderly and the frail.  And anyone wanting to make a super-profit from society’s less fortunate, will hopefully stare into that little girls eyes, take in her ragged clothing, the broken toy, and the look of desolation on her mothers’ face, and with a bit of luck, will think twice before putting personal greed ahead of our community’s human needs.

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