Two standing women dominate this composition.
Both women wear dark garments with bonnets and lace shawls, and are placed
right of center near an opening in the room. The woman on the right holds
a book in her right hand. In the lower right foreground, a man kneels next
to a basket whose top lies next to it on the floor. A printed cloth extends
from the opened basket to the top, pointing towards the figures on the left.
The man holds a rounded object that appears to be a bread or cake.
The figures left of center form a family
grouping and balance the female visitors. A woman sits next to the hearth
surrounded by four young children, three of which are physically connected
to her. The fourth, a toddler, stands with her hands to her face and looks
in the direction of the male visitor. While the mother figure looks upward
to her female guests, the two young girls also look towards the male visitor.
The infant, with crossed legs and outstretched arms, wears a bonnet that
surrounds its head. The height of the family group is below that of the
Furnishings in the cottage are sparse. Below
the hearth and pointing into it is a bellows. On the mantelpiece above rests
various objects. A picture and a key are pinned to the wall. A cupboard
falls into the shadows behind the family group. The edge of the side of
the cupboard lines up vertically with the older girl's left arm and baby's
outstretched left hand. A dark shadow beneath the infant's arm sets the
toddler apart from the family group. A stool is placed in front of the mother
holding a beet root and knife. The knife points to the mother, while the
tip of the beet points to the toddler.
This romanticized genre image depicts poverty
within the confines of a cottage setting. Two fashionably dressed and
centrally placed young women are contrasted with the frugal surrounds
of the domestic interior. Their importance is signified by height in that
they stand and are above the rest of the figures. Their darkened and opulent
garments contrast to the dullness of the interior and simple garb of the
family group. The visual center is the right hand of the central woman
resting on the toddler's head. The toddler is unaware of the visitor's
benevolence as her eyes are only for the anticipation of the gift of food.
The kneeling manservant has removed a loaf of bread from the basket. He
too is below the level of the women visitors, and assumes a position similar
to a Magi bearing gifts to the infant Christ.
The contrast of light and dark is also
marked by the placement of the figure groupings. The women visitors are
placed near an outside opening, and are apart from the family physically
as well as socially. The family group is placed next to the center or
warmth of the family home, the hearth. This is verified through the placement
of the key above the mantelpiece. The humbled mother, her belongings and
family surrounding her, looks to her visitors for the gift of food, something
that she has trouble providing as displayed by the single beet root on
This watercolor, which has been attributed
to Frank Stone, relates to England's District Visiting Movement of the
1820s and 1830s. The New Poor Law of 1834 abolished 'outdoor relief' as
well as state sponsored charity to able-bodied poor in their own homes.
Voluntary charity, as depicted here with two obviously wealthy women,
is the focus rather than the receivers, as everyone pictured knows their
where you will, you will see specimens of the stylemawkish sentimentality,
Goody Families, Benevolent Visitors, teaching children. There is nothing
more detestable than these milk and water affectations of human kindness;
all the personages are fools, and as far as their little senses will
let them, hypocrites.