Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, 1874
Sir Luke Fildes (1844-1927)
Oil paint on canvas
Purchased for Thomas Holloway, 1883; acc. no. THC 0021
This grim scene shows people queuing outside a police station for a ticket to admit them to the casual ward of the workhouse. This ward gave people temporary accommodation but only for one night. If they wanted to stay longer, they would have to queue up again the following day or enter the actual workhouse. This was a fate many did not wish to submit to as families were split up on admittance and there was little chance of ever getting out again.
In 1869 Luke Fildes published the illustration ‘Homeless and Hungry’ in the newly founded magazine The Graphic. Both Vincent van Gogh and Charles Dickens were impressed by the illustration and Fildes used it as the basis for this painting.
The subject is based on a scene that Fildes saw when he first moved to London as a young man and took to walking through the city’s streets. He returned to the same spot when working on the painting and asked many of the destitute people he met to model for him back at his house in return for a small fee.
When the painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874 it proved so popular that it required a barrier and a police officer to it protect it from the crowds.