Eventide: a Scene in the Westminster Union

WAG 751


Eventide depicts inmates of the St.James's Workhouse in Soho, London. Workhouses were the last resort of those - often the old - who through extreme poverty were unable to support themselves. Herkomer was drawn to the subject because of his sympathy for what he called "the sorrowful side of humanity". The workhouse scene appears to be quite comfortable with its table cloth, vase and prints on the wall. The women look cheerful and engaged in their sowing: one holds a bible on her lap, another enjoys her tea. The inclusion of a young woman in their midst shows the contrast between youth and age, a popular Victorian theme. Nevertheless, one of the prints on the wall has been identified as two figures from the Last Muster - the dead pensioner and his companion - and Herkomer may have included this detail to stress the relevance of the two paintings as well as to allude to death. Eventide was considered as the female companion picture to the Last Muster (now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery), which shows elderly Chelsea pensioners and Crimean War veterans. Both paintings describe the life of the old and entail notions of death. Eventide was based on three more realistic drawings that Herkomer had made for the Graphic magazine in which he focused on the hardship of the women's lives. When first exhibited, Eventide was well received by the press: the truthfulness of the faces and Herkomer's ability to capture their character as well as to appeal to the viewers' sentiments was greatly praised. In another review the theme of Eventide was criticised as an unhappy one, probably because the idea of art as serving beauty and idealism was still persistent in Victorian art. It was when Eventide was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1879 that it was most admired: its distorted perspective with the pressing foreground cluster of figures was considered extremely innovative and powerful while the natural expression of the elderly women was equally praised. Eventide was purchased from the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1878. The Walker Art Gallery also owns a watercolour study of Eventide.