Guest post: Marie-Thérèse Mayne, Laing Art Gallery

This blog post is by Marie-Thérèse Mayne, Assistant Keeper of Art at the Laing Art Gallery.


Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums has recently teamed up with researchers at Northumbria University to encourage new thinking and comment around important subjects, such as Britishness, migration, and culture in an industrial region.

Each week, for eight weeks, we’ll be blogging about a museum object and posing a question for you to respond to.  Please help us get the discussion going by adding your comments below, whatever comes to mind.  Later in the summer, your comments may be fed into a live debate where we hope you’ll have the opportunity to join academics and curators discussing the most popular topic.

The theme for this week is “Migration”, which I’ve chosen to represent with this painting from our collection, ‘A Foreign Invasion’, painted in about 1871 by North East artist Henry Hetherington Emmerson:-


‘A Foreign Invasion’

‘A Foreign Invasion’

The painting is set in the North East fishing village of Cullercoats. It shows local people watching a group of very unusual visitors to their home! Brightly dressed boys with feathers in their hats are dancing and playing music to entertain the crowd, while another boy goes around collecting money. This is a troupe of travelling musicians, probably from Italy, and during the 19th century such groups were a familiar sight. Coming to the UK from Europe each summer, they travelled the country entertaining the people of the towns and villages they visited to earn a living. Some of the people in the villages mistrusted these seasonal visitors, thinking that they would try to steal things, but most people welcomed them – the people in this painting certainly seem to be enjoying the music, especially the children!

So, here’s my question…

How do we respond to migrant workers like the musicians in ‘A Foreign Invasion’ today? Do we welcome them, or are we wary? Why do we react in this way?

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