British Watercolours 1750-1900: Landscape in the 19th Century
The rise of landscape painting in the 18th century encouraged the related field of genre painting: the portrayal of scenes from ordinary life. The inclusion of figures to enliven landscape meant that some rural scenes were often borderline between the two categories, for example Myles Birket Foster's 'The Milkmaid'.
The Victorian period (1837-1902) saw an explosion in genre, and particularly that devoted to children. The family, with the child at its heart, was a major icon of the time. At the same time industrialization gave rise to polluted, overcrowded cities and a growing nostalgia for the simplicity of life in the country and the imagined blissful state of childhood.
One critic writing in 1850 noted, 'there is much in the occupations and amusements of our peasantry, and more especially of their children, to call the artist into their society...Who can deny the superiority of his [the rural child's] lot - even with all its poverty - to those cribbed and confined in pent-up cities or overgrown towns, where the Industrial Arts flourish?'. Again the 'Annuals', the illustrated magazines with their stories and poems, encouraged this taste. Tellingly it was said of one artist specialising in genre 'he presents the ideal of all a tired citizen would wish to behold when enjoying his annual holiday'.
Patriotism also encouraged such genre. Alfred Downing Fripp's 'Fisher Boy' of 1860 is subtitled 'Young England', and it is notable that the Crimean war had ended only a few years before. The year this was painted, Blackwoods Magazine commented, 'Painters dream not of anything so unpictorial as extended suffrage and vote by ballot. They go into the lanes and rural homes of what once was, and still is happy old England'.
Click on the image below for a larger version.