Letters to the living

Thomas Kennington, Homeless, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Bendigo Art Gallery, Purchased 1906.

Thomas Kennington, Homeless, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Bendigo Art Gallery, Purchased 1906.

Homeless, painted in 1890 by Thomas Kennington was purchased by the Bendigo Art Gallery in 1906 and remains one of the most iconic and compelling works in the Collection.

Kennington was an early social realist painter, recognised for his dramatic depictions of street children in Britain in the late 19th Century including the work Orphans, held in the Tate collection, London.

Kennington’s work is frequently published in illustrated social history journals to illustrate the plight of the working class to the sheltered bourgeoisie.

Over 100 years on, while the painting could be considered overtly sentimental by today’s standards, the bleak brutality of the imagery – the bulging eyes of the child, his limbs exposed to the freezing elements, the desperate comfort of the mother, the wetness of the pavement and the unforgiving urban landscape remain just as evocative.

This picture pulls at the proverbial heartstrings of many new parents (myself included) as the eternal and intuitive need to protect our children resonates into the 21st Century and beyond.

Among other major works, Homeless will be the focus of a forthcoming exhibition titled New Histories that commissions a number of contemporary artists to respond to historic works in the collection.

Renowned multidisciplinary artist Gabrielle de Vietri is creating a participatory work in response to Homeless aptly titled ‘Letters to the Living’ – de Vietri’s project proposes the creation of a time capsule to be opened in 2070.

Inside are letters that contain stories of hope, banal details of everyday life and perhaps even fearful predictions. They are written by parents in 2017 and are addressed to their children, some of whom will have become parents or even grandparents themselves.

Parents of young children in Bendigo are invited to write a letter for the time capsule, which will be displayed as part of the New Histories exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery in 2018. 

Join artist Gabrielle de Vietri for a letter-writing workshop, including group activities, structured discussion, guided futuring, writing and drawing exercises. Participants will gradually create a meaningful and unique historical document for their children to discover many years later and contribute to the social history of the gallery.

The event is free. Places are limited, registrations essential, workshops run from November  23 – 25. See the programs and Events page on the gallery website for registration details, www.bendigoartgallery.com.au

Jessica Bridgfoot. Bendigo Art Gallery