Edwin Hayes, British, 1819-1904
Title: An Emigrant Ship, Dublin Bay, Sunset
Date: 1853
Medium: Oil on canvas
58 x 86 cm
Signed: lower right: E. Hayes, A.R.H.A. 1853
Credit Line: Presented, Miss Mary S. Kilgour, 1951
Object Number: NGI.1209
DescriptionLike marine artists throughout Europe, Edwin Hayes revelled in the description of stormy seas, and in capturing the everyday struggle between seagoing vessels and the elements. With this painting, however, he strikes a very different tone. The painting offers no explicit story, but presents a scene that is at once mundane and resonant. As evening falls on the still water of Dublin Bay, emigrants are ferried out in small boats to a tall ship sitting at anchor in deeper water. Bunched together and undemonstrative, they seem strangely compliant. Hayes’s painting coincides with a protracted exodus to Britain, the United States and the Antipodes, as rural Ireland haemorrhaged its population in the decades after the Great Famine of the 1840s. Disease was rife on board such emigrant ships, and a significant proportion of passengers did not survive the longer journeys.
The setting sun can be read as a symbol for the lamentable end of these passengers’ lives in Ireland, but its warm glow also promises fair weather and perhaps kinder fortunes in the future. In many respects, the picture is consistent with the artist’s other maritime subjects. The individual vessels are described accurately and in detail, as are their physical surroundings. Hayes was not a social commentator, and makes no attempt here to communicate the conditions that have forced the people in his picture to leave, or their individual circumstances. The picture’s poignancy relies on the knowledge its audience brings to it.

March 2016
ProvenancePresented, Miss Mary S. Kilgour, 1951
Exhibition HistoryAn Tostal Art Exhibition, Wicklow; Arklow, 1953

Not Just Ned: A True History of the Irish in Australia, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 17 March - 31 July 2011

Lines of Vision. Irish Writers at the National Gallery of Ireland, 8 October 2014 —12 April 2015
Label TextThis painting by a specialist maritime artist represents a detailed record of shipping and seafaring in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland. It also marks, however, the protracted exodus of emigrants to Britain, the United States and the Antipodes in the decades after the Great Famine of the 1840s. The sunset can be read as a symbol for either the lamentable ending of the passengers’ lives in Ireland or the promise of fairer weather and kinder fortune in the future.

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