Advent Calendar – Door 9: St. Marylebone Workhouse

John Philipps Emslie, St. Marylebone Workhouse
Watercolour, The Wellcome Collection, London (CC BY)

Another architectural interior, another quiet, deserted space – a corridor, with the door to the entrance hall on the right, in St. Marylebone Workhouse, London. But as in yesterday’s post, the peaceful, almost meditative air of the image is slightly misleading: This is after all a workhouse, an almost factory-like institution where the local poor were required to labour in exchange for food and lodging. Its halls and corridors would rarely have been so still and empty…

Speaking of misleading, when I first saw this image in a thumbnail view, I must admit, I thought it was an old black and white photograph! But looking at it in a higher resolution, one soon realises that it is, in fact, a fine, almost drawing-like watercolour. It was done in 1898 by John Philipps Emslie (1839-1913), a student of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, best remembered as a topographical artist and illustrator, but also a folklorist and founding member of the Folklore Society.

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