Augustus Leopold Egg, Past and Present series, 1858, oil on canvas, Tate
This is a three-part set of paintings depicting the tragic aftermath of a discovered adultery. The first scene shows the father of the family reading a letter that tells of his wife’s infidelity; she is shown collapsed at his feet. In the second painting, the wife has left the family in light of the affair. The father has recently passed away, leaving the two orphaned young daughters to grieve for their lost parents, who are shown in portraits in the girls’ bedroom. The final scene, which takes place at the same time as the second, shows the now homeless mother. Two bare legs of a child can be seen beneath her shawl, indicating that she became pregnant through her affair. According to the Tate:
Egg’s pictures demonstrate how in Victorian England the full weight of the moral code fell upon women. A man could safely take a mistress without fear of recrimination, but for a woman to be unfaithful was an unforgivable crime.