This work is described in detail within ‘How to Make it as a Woman: Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present’ (2004) by Alison Booth. Booth points out that the penal reformer and philanthropist Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) is here represented as though she were a saint, sitting in the best-lit, focal point of the painting, beneath a cross-pattern lantern. She wears Quaker clothing and has one palm open, while the other hand rests on a bible. The bible is propped up on a table, with a white cloth beneath it, making the table seem altar-like. In the foreground, two boys fight over a game of cards, while to the right, a woman whispers to another, who holds a bottle of alcohol.
Thomas Oldham Barlow was born in Oldham, Lancashire; the son of an ironmonger. In 1839 he was apprenticed to an engraving firm in Manchester. He also trained at the Manchester School of Design. In 1846 he moved to London, eventually settling in Kensington. He became best-known for his engravings after the paintings of his friend John Phillip, including ‘Doña Pepita’ (c.1858) and ‘La gloria’ (c.1877). When Phillip died in 1867, Barlow acted as executor. Barlow also engraved the works of John Everett Millais (twice serving as his model) and J. M. W. Turner. He exhibited his engravings at the Society of British Artists and the Royal Academy. In 1881 he was elected a Royal Academician. He died in Kensington on Christmas Eve, 1889, aged 75.
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