"The Finishing Touch," 1876

James Brenan (1837-1907) produced several important paintings focused on the tragedy of the Great Famine that forced millions to leave Ireland to search for work abroad, often separating families. This narrative painting depicts a young woman on the eve of departure to America, probably never to see her family again, but her father takes center stage, sadly stooping over to watch the sign painter, seated on a four-legged stool, inscribe the woman's name and destination - "O'Connor, New York" -- on her green, wooden traveling box. While many departure scenes are set on quaysides or station platforms, Brenan poignantly portrays the moment within the heart of a farmhouse. Travel boxes were typically small enough to be carried under one arm and to contain only the meager possessions needed on the hazardous journey on board what often were known as "coffin ships."
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