Artist biography

English painter. The son of a prominent London gunsmith, Egg enrolled in Henry Sass's Academy around 1834 and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1836. In 1837 he and his friends Richard Dadd, William Powell Frith, Henry Nelson O'Neil and John Phillip formed the sketching club the Clique. Egg's earliest pictures included portraits, costume pieces, subjects from Shakespeare, Scott, Cervantes, LeSage and others. Critics praised a few of his early pictures, but in general his early works were criticised for their derivative qualities.

Goaded by this reaction, Egg produced his large, innovative and much acclaimed canvas Queen Elizabeth Discovers she Is No Longer Young (1848; priv. col.). It demonstrated his antiquarian knowledge, competent draughtsmanship and dramatic invention and earned him the position of ARA.

Beginning in the early 1850s Egg promoted and patronised younger artists, particularly William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelites, whose style and subject-matter influenced his own works. Egg's famous triptych, exhibited untitled at the Academy in 1858, and now known as Past and Present (London, Tate), depicted the downfall of an adulterous wife and demonstrated Egg's concern with moralising serial narrative and with contemporary social issues. He frequently travelled to the south of England and to the Mediterranean for his asthma, to which he ultimately succumbed. One of his last paintings, and related to these journeys, The Travelling Companions (1862; Birmingham, Mus. & A.G.; see fig.) depicts two sisters in a railway carriage on the outskirts of Menton, and reveals Egg's evolution towards a non-anecdotal art.

[W. Holman Hunt]: ‘Notes on the Life of Augustus L. Egg', Reader, i (1863), pp. 462, 486–7, 557–8; ii (1863), pp. 42–3, 91, 516–17; iii (1864), pp. 56–7
A. Chester: ‘The Art of Augustus L. Egg, R. A. ', Windsor Mag. (1913), pp. 452–66
H. Faberman: Augustus Leopold Egg, RA (1816–1863) (diss., New Haven, CT, Yale U., 1983)


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