The son of a rich gunsmith, Egg studied at Sass's and the Royal Academy schools. In the 1840s and 1850s he was a member of The Clique with John Phillip (see lot 8); Richard Dadd (see lots 86 & 228), Henry Nelson O'Neil (see lot 221) and William Powell Frith (see lot 10, 99 & 335). His subjects were primarily taken from English history and literature, especially Shakespeare, Scott and Le Sage. Although this was a genre that had already been popularised by Charles Robert Leslie (see lots 78-80), Egg's technique was more robust and colourful, and his treatment was less sentimental. In his later period, Egg was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, to whom he gave advice and encouragement. In 1862 he undertook one of his most well-known works The Travelling Companions (Tate Britain, London) which shows his awareness of the Pre-Raphaelite techniques, and his interest in painting scenes of contemporary life.
The present work is a charming example of his genre painting on an intimate and domestic scale and shows the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites in his use of a white ground, the vivid colours and acute observation of nature. Egg has captured the pained and distant expression of this young girl who has received news of the death of a loved one, conveyed to her by the letter she holds in her right hand which is edged in black. He has gently depicted this poignant moment in an intimate and private composition without resorting to the over-sentimental or overtly emotional expressions sometimes employed by lesser Victorian genre painters.
Please refer to lot 109 for more information on Egg and an example of his social realist painting.