In Focus: Last Days in the Old Home

In the Great Chamber, there’s a small framed reproduction of the picture ‘Last Days in the Old Home’, by Robert Braithwaite Martineau. This is Martineau’s most famous painting, and hangs in the Tate today. So why do we have a copy?

Well for those who look closely, you might recognise the panelling in the picture – it can be found at Godinton. Indeed, Martineau painted this picture at Godinton, using Colonel John Leslie Toke and his family as sitters – Toke was a family friend.

Martineau (1826-69) seems to have used this painting to display his full Victorian moralist credentials. There is a distinct and specific narrative in the painting – and rather ironically, life does seem to have ended up imitating life.

The painting tells the story of the fictional Pulleyne family, forced to sell their family home thanks to feckless behaviour and reckless spending. The racing print in the front left suggests that money has been gambled away, and in the bottom right hand corner, an auction catalogue – supposedly from Christie’s – shows that they are having to sell their possessions. The grandeur of the ‘old home’ can be established from the carvings, the suit of armour, and the family portraits (spot Eleanor Cockman in the top right hand corner, who now hangs in the tearoom!).

Outside, the autumnal trees provide a kind of pathetic fallacy – the decaying leaves and end of the good times – reflect the sadness of moving on, and the dying embers in the grate also reflect the death of a way of life. The women look worried and apprehensive, whilst the squire and his son toast new beginnings with champagne.

Colonel John Leslie Toke was the last of the Toke family to own Godinton: the house was sold in 1896, and much of its contents were auctioned. Whilst the precise circumstances which led him to sell Godinton are unknown, the Ashley Dodds (who bought Godinton from him) commented publicly about the state of disrepair the house and gardens were in, suggesting a certain level of neglect, possibly through insufficient funds.

The Last Days in the Old Home (1862), Robert Braithwaite Martineau, Tate Britain