The Post Office (1850) by Frederick Goodall. Engraved by C. W. Sharpe. Oil on canvas. h

Source: Hathi Trust e-version of the 1862 Art-Journal. Text and formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the University of Michigan and the Hathi Trust Digital Library and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.]


Art-Journal Commentary

When this picture was exhibited at the British. Institution, in 1850, it attracted notice from the habitués of our public galleries, not less by its own intrinsic merits, than because it manifested a departure from the ordinary class of subjects chosen by Mr. Goodall. People who watch from one season to another the doings of artists, always welcome a deviation from a well-known path if they are introduced to one equally pleasant, because it shows the painter in a new light, and that he is not content to repose on any laurels he may have acquired: it evidences, moreover, that he has been working in a new field of thought, which may generally be accepted as a sign of progress.

It is much easier to describe the characters introduced into the picture than to determine its locality, which looks like the courtyard of a hostelry, only it is paved with flag-stones, and therefore closed against horses. Years back it was no uncommon thing to find a country post-office at the inn of the village or small town, and Mr. Goodall may have borrowed the idea of this composition—for it must be a composition— from a recollection of the fact. However this may be, the building is a picturesque old “bit,” with its stone bench outside, and what seems to have been originally a mounting-block. Inside the “office” is the postmaster distributing letters to sundry applicants; by the doorway is the post-boy who has brought the bag across country from the nearest post-town; his horn, with which he wakes up the various rustic communities as he hurries past their dwellings, is under his arm. All this is what used to be; railways and other modern innovations have changed in a great measure the system of letter carrying, and the noisy post-boy has become almost a character unknown to the present generation. In front of the door is a group of “village politicians,” foremost among whom is the barber, whose business it is to gain the earliest intelligence of news, that he may retail it to his customers: he holds in his hand a copy of the, Times, and is readin some war tidings of importance, for the word “victory” appears on the broad sheet; the brawny figure with the bare arms is the blacksmith, owner of the wicked-looking bull terrier by his side. Nearer to the spectator is the “boots” of the village inn, who probably acts also as occasional ostler; the youth in a velveteen jacket is from the mansion, and is come for the squire’s letters; and a boy with a board filled with fine fish completes the group. On the other side of the picture are two figures to whom that stolid, round-faced post-boy has brought anything but good tidings, a woman and her boy, now, in all probability, the widow and the fatherless; an open letter with a black seal lies before them; it tells them the “victory” has made them desolate: at least it may be presumed this is the artist’s intention, for the drum at the boy’s side may be taken to signify that he is a soldier’s son. In advance of these is another Woman reading a letter to an old Chelsea pensioner and his wife: there is no sad intelligence in her epistle—her child may continue its gambol with the kitten unchecked by its mother, whose hour of tribulation has not yet come; perhaps her husband's not gone to the wars.

The composition, it will thus be seen, is replete with interest, well sustained, nor, regarding it merely as a composition, is this lessened by one or two presumed anachronisms the artist has int-roduced into it; such, for example, as the Chelsea pensioner, an individual, who, we believe, is rarely or never seen “in costume” out of London and its immediate vicinity; that fishmonger’s boy, too, is not exactly of the genus rusticum, but both make' such an agreeable variety in the scene that we would not have them absent. [172]


“Selected Pictures from the Collection of Thomas Greenwood, Esq., Sandfield Lodge, Hampstead: ‘The Post Office.’” Art-Journal. (1862). Hathi Trust Digital Library digitized from a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 3 April 2014.

Last modified 3 April 2014