Going North and Coming South
In an article published in the “Croydon Advertiser” on February 11, 1888, the writer “S.D.” noted: “On easels were two large pictures that Mr. Earl has been, within the last two or three years, best known by, ‘Going North’ and ‘Coming South.’ These are destined for publication, and are now being prepared, by making the costumes of the figures up to date, a most necessary particular if popular success is to be gained.” The article concludes: “These are not the two identical pictures shown at the RA [Royal Academy]. One is a large replica, with the dresses modernised to date: and the other is the original, but also repainted in many parts.”
In a sale at Christie’s in London held on February 1, 1908, George Earl consigned copies of “Going North” (1893) and “Coming South.” These were bought by “Bill” William Walker Sampson, who was famous for being the “ring-leader” of the London art cartel.
George Earl was a great copyist of his own work, and these two iconic pictures are no exception. What they claim is the original “Going North” is with Wigan Museum of Life, donated in October 1922 by Alexander Young to what was then Wigan Public Library. The whereabouts of the original “Coming South” are not known, and it has been suggested it could be lost, painted over or embellished.
The National Railway Museum in York owns copies: “Going North,” which is dated 1893, and “Coming South,” dated 1895. They were acquired in 1990 for £750,000 with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the National Art Collection Fund. Both pictures had previously hung in the mahogany and oak panelled Vines public house in Lime Street, Liverpool, an up-market place of refreshment built in 1907 for those who prospered from Liverpool’s role as one of the great commercial centers of the British Empire.
"Going North" by George Earl.
To give the pictures their correct titles, “Going North, Kings Cross Station” painted in 1876 and exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year and “Coming South, Perth Station” painted shortly afterward are not just two of Earl’s most iconic pictures, but two of the most iconic pictures of the 19th Century.
George Earl (1827-1908) was a painter primarily of sporting dogs and other animals. He was the son of painter Thomas Earl, and his daughter from his first marriage, Maud, is arguably the most famous of the Earl dynasty.
His rise to artistic prominence paralleled the popularity of dog shows and organized field trials. He was painting at a time when photographs were still not considered as a legitimate medium from which any “respectable” artist would use as reference. Painting from life was still preferred. However, he must have used photographic references as well as working sketches from life, particularly when painting his monumental works, especially the fictitious “Field Trial Meeting at Bala,” for it contains people and dogs that were no longer around at the time he painted it.
George Earl was involved in the dog world; he owned Setters and mixed with all the important breeders. He sat on the organizing committee of the Crystal Palace show held in 1870 along with Kennel Club founder S.E. Shirley and others, and was elected a member of the Kennel Club in 1879.
The 19th Century was a century of great change: We were moving from a rural society to a much more industrial one. The revolution that had started in a gorge alongside the river Severn in Shropshire was fast gaining momentum. The arrival of the train meant that travel would become much easier, and as the railways spread north into Scotland, people were able to explore much more easily what for many was an unknown land and for some, even inhospitable.
When Queen Victoria discovered it, she popularized anything and everything that was Scottish. Artists who had never visited the country started portraying Scottish scenes to satisfy the demand for images of Scotland.
As the industrialists got wealthier, there was a greater distribution of wealth, and “new money” vied with the established order for land and estates, and gradually a new “aristocracy” was created. “Old families” down on their luck soon saw advantages in “new money” by marrying sons and daughters into those families to inject much needed cash into their estates. It was a system that suited everyone and helped give greater social standing to the new bourgeoning classes. Nevertheless, class still reigned supreme, and everyone was expected to “know their place.”
"Coming South" by George Earl.
These two iconic paintings are far more than just pictures with a lot of dogs and people on but are great social documents of the day. They show the privileged classes embracing to the full all the advantages of what the industrial revolution had brought them, with the whole scenes played out in the great architectural “cathedrals” of the age, railway stations.
“Going North” shows a party in the East Hall of Kings Cross Station, London, awaiting the 10 a.m. train for Scotland for the start of the grouse shooting season, the “Glorious Twelfth” of August. Earl covers almost every aspect of life: the fashionable families, their servants, gamekeepers, grooms, footmen. There is a young girl with her Indian ayah (nanny). It is so well observed that Earl has even included all the sporting equipment, a “Bradshaw’s Railway Guide,” litter strewn on the floor and the minutiae of Victorian station life. Allegedly Earl himself is in the picture.
Just how accurate “Going North” is is open to question. True, the family would have been in London for the summer “season,” hoping to find suitable suitors to marry off sons and daughters to, but would they have had all their gundogs and sporting paraphernalia at their London home? The people I have talked to whose ancestors, all estate owners, travelled north for the Glorious Twelfth, returning in the fall for the covert shooting and hunting, all without fail sent the dogs, gamekeepers and some servants well ahead so that everything was in place when the family and their guests arrived.
“Coming South” shows the party a month later with their game and stalking trophies, and they have even acquired a Collie. They are waiting for the overnight sleeper train from Perth to London, a journey that would have taken about 12 hours. Earl would have built both pictures up in his studio from working sketches with perhaps some photographs for reference.