Good News and Bad News

Good News and Bad News, 1876
John Bagnold Burgess (1830-1897)
Oil on canvas
BORGM 00392
Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Good News and Bad News

The contrasting fortunes of two young Portuguese girls in a post office are shown in this painting. The central figure, a young lady wearing a yellow gown, has her hands clasped in joy. The older woman with her, perhaps a chaperone, is holding a letter. But to the right of the picture is another young woman; she is seated, reading a letter, and looking very troubled. At her feet is a black edged envelope, the standard Victorian method of indicating that the message contained within is an announcement of a death. The key to the story may be the group of people to the left of painting, including a priest, perusing a notice on the wall. Perhaps it is a list of printed names relating to a war or catastrophe? The post office setting is completed with the view of a postal clerk top right in an office area, handing out letters.

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