Victorian Sentimental Prints, Drawings & Watercolours
Paintings of children were thought to be intellectually undemanding and were often dismissed by critics. Yet some of the most acclaimed artists of the day took up the subject, and images of children proliferated across illustration and commercial graphics. The sentimentality and emotion of these pictures centre on a new, 19th -century conception of childhood as an innocent, separate state to be shielded and prolonged. They seek a protective, affectionate pang from the viewer and evoke nostalgia for the inevitably fleeting nature of childhood.
Charles Edward Wilson, 'Blowing Bubbles'
Charles Edward Wilson (active 1891-1936)
Museum no. 1768-1900
Bequeathed by Henry Spencer Ashbee
This girl is oblivious to the viewer, absorbed in her own world of childhood. The bubbles create a poignant symbol of childhood innocence - vulnerable, transitory and beyond adult reach.
Francis Bernard Dicksee, 'The Banker's Daughter or the Ruined Merchant'
Francis Bernard Dicksee (1853-1928)
'The Banker's Daughter or the Ruined Merchant'
Museum no. D.1539-1907
Given by Mrs G.E. Combes for the late W.H. Combes
This scene of a contemporary middle class tragedy is a 'Langham Sketch'. Members of the Langham Sketching Club met weekly from October to May to draw for two hours on a set subject. The artists worked from memory and imagination to explore the scope of the theme. Dicksee focuses on the comforting role of a daughter.
After Sir John Everett Millais, 'Bubbles'
After Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
Museum no. E.1660-1931
Given by Messrs A. & F. Pears
Millais' paintings of children were some of the most reproduced images of the 19th century. A. & F. Pears produced this print to advertise soap. The fact that both subject matter and artist were popular with middle class viewers lent kudos and respectability to the product.
Sir John Everett Millais, 'My Second Sermon'
Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
'My Second Sermon'
Watercolour, based on an oil original.
Museum no. 399-1901
This subject followed on the phenomenal success of Millais' painting My First Sermon, exhibited in 1863. One critic noted: 'Everybody is rejoiced to recognise, sitting in the same place as last year, the little girl, now dear to many a heart, who then was listening…in rapt attention.' The image was widely reproduced as a print.
Charles Green, 'The Rabbit Hutch'
Charles Green (1840-1898)
'The Rabbit Hutch'
Museum no. 407-1891
Given by Prescott Hewitt
Victorian artists often pictured children outdoors among plants and animals. The idea of children as innocent and unspoilt by adult society suggested an intrinsic connection with nature.
John Massey Wright (1777-1866), 'The Return of Olivia
John Massey Wright (1777-1866)
'The Return of Olivia, from The Vicar of Wakefield'
Bequeathed by Henry Spencer Ashbee
Museum no. 1918-1900
Goldsmith's novel, published in 1761-2, remained popular throughout the 19th century as it tapped into the vogue for domestic narrative and sentimentality. Olivia and Sophia, sisters but very different in temperament, were the subject of countless illustrations and images. This scene shows Olivia being welcomed back into the family following her elopement.
Death was highly visible in Victorian culture. It was a time for communal feeling, studied response and ritual. People were encouraged to give public expression to their grief, and an industry of mourning dress and mementoes provided visible reminders of the dead. Texts, songs and objects used images to sentimentalise and codify death and mourning. Deathbed scenes moralised the 'ideal' deaths of saintly characters too good for this world. For artists, untimely death and bereavement offered powerful opportunities to explore pathos.
Heart-tugging depictions of destitute, exploited and suicidal women became symbols of the evils of urbanisation. Many were designed to arouse pathos rather than present social reality. Some, indeed, come close to the borderline between sentimental feeling and the thrill of voyeurism. The women are young and beautiful - suffering heroines displaced from the protection of the family home, and there is often a hint that they are genteel women who have fallen on hard times. This, for middle class viewers, increased the poignancy.
Sentimentality touched many forms of Victorian art and entertainment. The works in thissection depict books, songs and images that stimulated sentimental feelings, pushing the recipients to emotional peaks. This sharing of emotion was important in Victorian culture. Artists and writers repeated instantly recognisable motifs and conventions, creating an exchange of emotional supply and demand, and fostering a sense of communal feeling.