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© McCord Museum
The parlour and the pavement
M. W. Ridley
1876, 19th century
Ink on newsprint - Photolithography
31.1 x 22.7 cm
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

This illustration, published in the Montreal weekly newspaper L'Opinion publique, is accompanied by an account of the misfortunes of the woman and child depicted. Their story, which is undoubtedly fictitious, is told in a tone calculated to elicit sympathy'and charity'from readers. We learn that her husband's drunkenness is the root cause of this woman's misfortune.

The timid air of the two people in the foreground contrasts with the relaxed elegance of the figures seen in the window of the house behind them. "The husband was out of work. Maybe it really was his fault, maybe it was drunkenness that cost him his job. In any case, he had to go away to seek his fortune in a nearby town. But the rent couldn't wait. The poor woman, worn out by hardship, has not been able to earn enough to feed herself and her child. Now the cruel landlord has come to take all they have. The poor woman has been locked out of her house and now finds herself in the street in the middle of the big city, without resources or friends.


This print was made by Mathew White Ridley (1837-1888), a British landscape painter and printmaker who exhibited in London between 1857 and 1880.


Even if this print was published in L'Opinion publique, a Montreal illustrated newspaper, the setting was probably inspired by European tastes - the printmaker was British, after all!


In the late 19th century, alcoholism was a serious problem in disadvantaged households, namely, those in which the man had precarious employment or an irregular salary.


In Canada in the late 19th century, women depended for survival on their spouses, who were duty bound to provide for their basic needs. Still, a certain number of women had to go without support because their husbands abandoned them. Between 1873 and 1879, for example, 35 Montreal women sued their husbands for failing to meet their financial obligations.

© Musée McCord Museum