Emily Mary Osborn – Nameless and Friendless

“The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.”

Proverbs 10:15
‘Nameless and Friendless’ (1857) by Emily Mary Osborn, Tate Britain, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Emily Mary Osborn added this Biblical quote to her famous painting, “Nameless and Friendless.”  The painting demands an immediate emotional response, even without knowing the back history.

A young woman artist, clothed in black mourning, stands quietly, head bowed, and eyes lowered.  Her fear and nervousness are palpable. As her side, stands her brother with a countenance marked with resolute determination to receive a fair price for his sister’s artistic endeavour.

Artists are storytellers, allowing us to interact with the unfolding narrative.  They are also visionaries who demand our attention with a strident call to action.

Emily Mary Osborn was committed to creating a better life for women without financial resources or the ability to find rewarding employment.  She was a dynamic voice in the campaign for women’s suffrage. It is highly likely that “Nameless and Friendless” was meant to be a political statement, one that would dismay those who enjoy the comfort of the status quo.

“Nameless and Friendless” was exhibited at the Royal academy in 1857, which coincidentally was the same year that the Society of Female Artists came into being with a mission to help women exhibit and sell their work.

Born in 1829, during the Victorian era, Emily Mary Osborn lived beyond the turn of a new century.  She died on April 14, 1925, at the age of 97, the year my father was born.  Time moves quickly, but the story endures.

May we celebrate the progress made, and build upon those who have come before us. “Nameless and Friendless” serves as a call to action. This post was first published on ChasingART in 2019 for International Women’s Day. I am reminded in these complex times, that the work continues.

For more information on “Nameless and Friendless” visit the Tate Gallery and The Met.

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

19 thoughts on “Emily Mary Osborn – Nameless and Friendless

  1. A great painting by a wonderful artist!
    The video was wonderfully informative.
    Rebecca, I still get angry about how women and others (anyone NOT a white male) were kept down for so long. Not that white males are the only ones who marginalized women in their cultures.
    It’s still going on to varying degrees…from women in Afghanistan back into the burka, and women in the USA about to have a right taken away after 50 years.
    So much to say on this. {{hugs}}

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is much to say on this topic. The work continues as we build on those who have laboured in the past. Here is a quote that I found on The National Susan B Anthony Museum & House: https://susanb.org/susan-b-anthony-quotes/

      “If I could live another century! I do so want to see the fruition of the work for women in the past century. There is so much yet to be done, I see so many things I would like to do and say, but I must leave it for the younger generation. We old fighters have prepared the way, and it is easier than it was fifty years ago when I first got into the harness. The young blood, fresh with enthusiasm and with all the enlightenment of the twentieth century, must carry on the work. – Original Source: The Democrat and Chronicle, August 28th, 1902; quoted by Lynn Sherr, Failure is Impossible, p. 329


  2. This is an incredible post. The artist is unusual, not only for her talent but for what she represents. She cared for the less fortunate, though she did not experience that life. That says so much about her. She cared for the success of women and there well being. it has not been that long since women were allowed to vote. My own mother was happy that women had more of a voice in many things. She experienced the “turn of the tide” as one might say when women were able to have more control in daily business activities. (My father was happy that she knew how to write a bank check, since many did not know how to do that!.–(and that was in the 1930’s)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am so glad that you mentioned your mother. – for she was my grandmother, a creative and intelligent women. She continues to be an inspiration to me as I move on in my personal timeline. She embraced challenges and recognized that risk was a part of growth. My grandfather was ahead of his time , supporting his wife and two daughters in their education and career pursuits. What a life they had together! They were a power couple before the term “power couple” was invented.


  3. Rebecca, thank you so much for sharing about Osborn and the story behind this painting. Absolutely fascinating and you write with wisdom about her intentions and art as a whole. ‘Artists are storytellers, allowing us to interact with the unfolding narrative. They are also visionaries who demand our attention with a strident call to action.’ I live close (an hour on the train) to London and really should visit the Tate again … you’ve inspired me to go as soon as possible! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One day, we will meet at the Tate Gallery and have tea and meander through the spacious halls. There are many stories to be explored and integrated into our current reality. I have a feeling that we will add to the many narritives held safe within the walls of the gallery. Will keep in touch….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Beautiful thoughts, Rebecca and I love the idea that each visitor will add to the narrative within the walls! I would seriously love to meet up at the Tate sometime and even have a cuppa there or high tea at the Ritz! 😀 When going out with an art historian as young I visited the Tate and numerous galleries often here, in Europe and America… learnt so much and loved seeing, learning, absorbing! Always an enriching experience and you’ve reminded me how much I enjoyed doing this. Wishing you a lovely start of the week! The sun is shining here, my heart light with joy! 😀😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my, what an incredible painting – such detail, so many stories! Thank you for introducing me to this incredible artist. I will be visiting the Tate in May to see the van Gogh exhibition, and if I have time I will seek out Emily too. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Liz, please do seek out Emily Mary Osborn and let me know your thoughts. She was very specific in her paintings – always a message with a call to action. While her messages served to feature the plight of the less fortunate, she did not experience poverty. She had the encouragement of her family, the support of wealthy female patrons. Even Queen Victoria purchased two paintings: “My Cottage Door” and “The Governess.” So I am going to continue my exploration. Always, always an adventure.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Danke für Ihren Besuch! Dies war das erste Mal, dass ich von Emily Mary Osborn und ihrer Arbeit für Menschen in Armut und schwierigen Situationen gehört hatte. Es erinnert mich daran, dass wir die Arbeit fortsetzen und positive Ergebnisse für unsere Welt suchen müssen. Es gibt viele Herausforderungen, aber wenn wir zusammenarbeiten, können wir alle einen Unterschied machen.


    1. Thank you for the introduction to E.M. Delafield and Persephone Books. I’m going to enjoy finding out more about this author. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who used their creative spirit to give voice to their generation – painting, writing, scientific pursuits just to name a few. I believe that blogging is remarkable conduit for sharing knowledge and experience. Our technology enables us to connect within a global milieu. Have a wonderful weekend – thank you for adding joy to mine.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, please do! Emily’s name came to me via serendipitous events. She is considered one of the most important artists associated with the campaign for women’s rights in the nineteenth century. She certainly had a flair for the dramatic and could feature the horror of not having money to put food on the table. There are many symbols in this painting. Did you notice the ballet dancer? The woman and son leaving the store. Three presentations of women. I must return to London, but in the meantime, I will enjoy your city from afar by following your posts.

      Liked by 2 people

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