The Thinking 

Traveling Companions

September 5, 2012



Courtesy of the Birmingham Museum

IN 1862, the British painter Augustus Leopold Egg painted this wonderful and humorous picture of two girls in a train traveling through Europe, with the Italian coastline in the background. It’s called Travelling Companions.

In his book Victorian Painting, Christopher Wood wrote, “It is difficult for us now to appreciate how ugly the Victorians thought the dress of their own age; to our eyes it seems both elegant and picturesque.” I would think most of the Victorians liked the dress of their age or they wouldn’t have worn it, but Egg seems indeed to be making some fun of these parachute-like dresses, and he has a point.

Still they are beautiful, billowing constructions. There is a sense of blissful detachment, with one girl asleep and the other absorbed in a book, both with their hats perched on their laps, ready for the signal to resume the life of elegant tourists. But then that was the age when women were denied everything and did not have the opportunity to participate in slutwalks.

—— Comments ——

Alex A. from England writes:

Thanks for publishing the delightful picture by the quaintly named Augustus Leopold Egg.

I guess part of the humour in the picture is that neither girl is paying any attention to the Italian scenery which they’ve travelled hundreds of miles to see. The girls’ dresses are perhaps exaggerated in their ‘voluminousness’. Victorian women were prepared to endure very uncomfortable garments in order to look elegant.

Note the resemblance of the carriage window frame (on an Italian train) to those seen in American stage coaches.

 Laura writes:

That’s exactly why it’s so funny. They could be in their drawing room back home.

Jane S. writes:

You mean, young women knew how to read in that oppressive era? And they were allowed to travel alone to foreign countries? Shocking.

Laura writes:

Yes, it is shocking and anomalous since we know women were deprived of all learning and intellectual stimulation until The Feminine Mystique, that monument of erudition, was published.

I suspect there was a chaperone somewhere in the wings.

Diana M. writes:

That painting was a good Egg.


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