English artist Thomas Kennington studied at both the Royal College of Art in London and the Academie Julian in Paris. Although he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy in his early years, Kennington was one of the founding members of the New English Art Club, whose purpose was to provide opportunities to exhibit for artists dissatisfied with the dominance of the Royal Academy.
Homeless, 1890, is one of a series of works in which Kennington depicts the plight of women and children who were impoverished or destitute. Subjects such as these gained popularity during the 1870s and 1880s, partly as a result of the increasing influence of illustrated journals, which regularly commisssioned artists to provide images of 'real' life. Homeless was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890, and in Melbourne in the Anglo-Australian Exhibition of 1892. Similar works by Thomas Kennington include Orphans, 1885 (Tate Britain, London), and The Pinch of Poverty, 1889 (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide).
In Homeless, the square-brush technique used by Kennington in painting the wet pavement and the river, and his focus on subtle tonal variations rather than on colour - as in the soft grey light illuminating this scene - were among the characteristics adapted by British artists from French sources at the time.