William George Home Rosenberg was a Victorian artist best known for genre scenes. Rosenberg exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871 and again in 1884. His works can be found in the National Trust Collection and numerous private collections.
The Emigration – New York, The Last Farewell is one of many Victorian representations of the theme of emigration. As a result of the industrial revolution (1760 – 1840), there was widespread unemployment in Britain during the 1830s and 1840s, resulting in mass emigration to the British Colonies and the United States.
The theme of emigration appears in several paintings and novels of the mid 19th Century, the most notable being Ford Madox Brown’s The Last of England (1852-4, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery), a watercolour version of which is in the Tate collection.
The present painting was painted in 1880 and is believed to be a study for a larger oil by Rosenberg. This picture portrays two female subjects farewelling their loved ones at a railway station. Overcome by sorrow the two women look on as the train pulls away, ferrying its passengers on their way to a port on the south coast of England to board an emigrant ship bound for America. This genre painting is one of a number of works on the very topical subject of emigration, which appeared at public exhibitions around this time. They were intended to draw attention to the plight of the poor, and also to provoke a charitable response in the spectator.
Rosenberg not only highlighted the very topical subject of emigration in this composition, but by choosing to depict his farewell scene at a train station he also highlighted the importance that the rail system played in society in the 1800’s. It was therefore quite natural that artists sought out these scenes of modern life as subject matter.
The overwhelming impression of this work is one consumed by nostalgia and loss. The inclusion of a dog in the right foreground emphasises the feeling of abandonment, the feeling of being left behind and of isolation. Rosenberg paid particular attention to minute details in his composition, specifically the poster on the platform which states the name of the vessel, ‘Clipper Ship Enterprise’ and the vessel’s destinations of the Cape of Good Hope, New York & Canada.