A Letter from the Colonies, by Thomas Webster, RA (1800-1886). 1852. Oil on canvas. Support: 413 x 521 mm frame: 651 x 755 x 70 mm. Tate Gallery, London, no. T00046, purchased 1955. Kindly released by the Tate under the CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) Creative Commons Licence.

This simple domestic scene show a family gathered round the table in a rural home, and employs Webster's usual device of letting in light through a window, much as the Dutch masters of the Golden Age had done — as in Vermeer's famous painting, The Milkmaid (1658-60), for instance. But Webster's subject is quite up to date, reflecting on the great flow of migrants from Britain around this time. The postal delivery-man at the window has brought a letter to the family and now expects payment. But his appeal is wasted at present. The father of the family looks intently at the missive, a younger woman looks eagerly at it, and an older woman, to whom the delivery-man appeals directly, seems quite oblivious of him, because she is particularly anxiously focused on it. They all want to hear the precious news of their loved one or loved ones far away. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Created 27 November 2018