Painting: Answering the Emigrant’s Letter (1850)

Readers reading #8

Answering the Emigrant’s Letter (1850) – By James Collinson. Oil on panel. 70 x 89cm. Manchester City Art Gallery.

Answering the Emigrant's Letter (1850) - By James Collinson. Oil on panel. 70 x 89cm. Manchester City Art Gallery.

A lovely painting – I have looked at it many times in Manchester City Art Gallery (UK). It leaves my imagination free to wrap many stories around it. Not forgetting the amazing, deep colours.

Description: ‘Collinson was one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Although this painting does not reflect their techniques, it shares their pre-occupation with modern-life subjects, most prevalent in the early 1850s.

It shows a family gathered together to write back to a friend or relation who has emigrated to Australia. Over a million people had emigrated in the ten years before Collins painted this picture. Hence, it was a subject of great interest to the public.

The cottage interior looks realistic, not idealised. Similarly, the fact that a boy is drafting the reply, and not his less-educated parents, has the ring of truth.’

Here is a little literary context – 1850 saw the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson, Kate Chopin and Edward Bellamy and the death of William Wordsworth, Honoré de Balzac and Margaret Fuller. Also – the following were published.


  • Wilkie Collins – Antonina
  • Charles Dickens – David Copperfield (complete in book form)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter
  • Caroline Lee Hentz – Linda and Rena, the Snowbird
  • Herman Melville – White-Jacket
  • Catharine Maria Sedgwick – Tales of City Life
  • William Makepeace Thackeray – Pendennis (complete in book form)
  • Anthony Trollope – La Vendée
  • Susan Warner – The Wide, Wide World


  • Henrik Ibsen – Catilina (Ibsen’s first play, not performed until 1881) and The Burial Mound
  • Ivan Turgenev – A Month in the Country


  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning – Sonnets from the Portuguese
  • Robert Browning – Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day
  • Alfred Tennyson – In Memoriam A.H.H.
  • William Wordsworth – The Prelude

The ‘Readers reading’ series on this blog (this list last updated, 12th March 2017).

Readers reading #1. A Girl Reading In A Sailing Boat (1869) By Alfred Corbould.

Readers reading #2 The Bookworm (1850) Carl Spitzweg.

Readers reading #3 A Pleasant Corner (1865) – By John Callcott Horsley.

Readers reading #4 The Novel Reading (1841) – By Josef Danhauser.

Readers reading #5 The Poor Poet (1839) – By Carl Spitzweg.

Readers reading #6 The Travelling Companions (1862) – By Augustus Egg.

Readers reading #7 The Breakfast (c.1911) – By William McGregor Paxton.

Readers reading #8 Answering the Emigrant’s Letter (1850) – By James Collinson.

Readers reading #9 The Love Letter (1808) – By Willem Bartel van der Kooi.

Readers reading #10 The Day Dream (1880) – By Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: