An old man seated in a train carriage is interrupted in his reverie by our arrival with its hope that the boredom of a long journey will be alleviated. The painting is a character study of a uniquely modern experience, train travel, for which the model was Mancini’s father, Paolo, formerly a tailor in Naples. In the years around 1900 he lived with his son in Rome, overseeing his precarious mental health and frequently posing for him. The intensely worked surface of the painting, especially in subsidiary areas like the man’s clothing, makes the painting somewhat difficult to read, but such effects were much admired by contemporary collectors. One was his London patroness Mary Hunter, who arranged to show the painting at the Royal Academy in 1904, bestowing on it the French title En voyage. It came to the National Gallery with the Hugh Lane Bequest of 1917.
An old man, alone and slightly lost, sits in a train carriage amid the paraphernalia of travel, including a furled umbrella behind his right shoulder and a hat box at his feet. The effects of an interminable journey, where boredom is tempered by mild anxiety, play across his wrinkled face. His bright eyes search out the viewer’s as if we have just entered the carriage and he sees in our fleeting companionship the promise of relief from tedium. The painting is a character study derived from a specifically modern experience – a trip by rail. Mancini’s father, Paolo, was the model for the figure. He often sat for his son in the years around 1900 when the younger Mancini’s mental health was frequently precarious. Paolo had been a tailor in Naples but in old age he kept a benevolent eye on his son and, a bit of an actor, made himself available to pose for picture after picture. Most of them, like this one, were executed amid props in the artist’s Roman studio.
The intensely worked surface of the painting is typical of Mancini’s work in these years. Thick layers of paint pile up not necessarily in the most expressive areas of the image like the sitter’s face and hands, which are relatively thinly painted, but rather in subsidiary parts like his clothing. There, the dark pigment is so clotted that it creates a crust on the canvas. The animation such paint application gives to Mancini’s surfaces when seen in real life – as opposed to photographs where light catching on the most encrusted parts often makes the images difficult to read – was appreciated by many contemporary viewers as a sign of Mancini’s modernity and avant-garde indifference to academic norms.
One such enthusiast was Mancini’s London patroness, Mary Hunter. She once stated that her goal in life was to spend all of her husband Charles Hunter’s considerable fortune. In 1904 she arranged for the painting to hang in the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, for which she herself gave it the title in French under which it appeared in the catalogue: En voyage. Soon afterwards it was acquired by Hugh Lane, and Mancini wrote to his friend John Singer Sargent to say how pleased he was that it belonged to the Dublin-born collector. A few years later, Mancini painted Lane’s portrait in Rome, and in 1907 Lane invited the artist to visit London and Dublin to paint portraits. On a Journey came to the National Gallery with Lane’s bequest in 1917. Today, display is shared between the National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.
Download a low-resolution copy of this image for personal use.
License and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.
This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.
Examples of non-commercial use are:
The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.
As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.
You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.