University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
National Endowment for the Humanities

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Laura Nicholls

NEH Summer Seminar 2000
Historical Interpretations of the Industrial Revolution in Britain
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth at the University of Nottingham

Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway
JMW Turner (image)

Objective Description

Soft warm and cool colors, as well as loose, rapid brushstrokes cover the entire rectangular canvas surface, enveloping the objects in the appearance of a misty haze. Two diagonal forms predominate, both receding within the canvas space. On the left, an arched bridge moves diagonally into a misted central area of the same color variants. A larger and darker diagonal movement on the right draws our eye into the center of the composition as well. This shape, however, contains a smaller, darker form on top of it, semi-circular in shape with a vertical rectilinear object protruding. This dark rectilinear shape is the darkest and tallest of all the shapes, thus attracting our eye to it as a central focus.

Subjective Analysis

Rain, Steam and Speed is a painting that addresses the new technology of the railways in Britain. This image, painted to illustrate the new rail bridges crossing the Thames, illustrates the effect of speed (through diagonal movement) and steam (misty, loose brushwork) all working within the natural environment of a rainy England.

As a sublime experience, speed, a novel factor of the 'new' 19th century life, offered its power to overcome nature (water and sky). The locomotive (complete with steam powered engine) is a representative of the 'new' technology and creates a 'new' ingredient to the atmospheric effects that were representative to Turner's paintings at this time.

Railway Bills were granted in great heaps. Two hundred and seventy-two additional Acts were passed in 1846. Some authorized the construction of lines running almost parallel to existing railways, in order to afford the public 'the benefits of unrestricted competition.' Locomotive and atmospheric lines, broad gauges and narrow gauge lines, were granted without hesitation. Committees decided without judgment and without discrimination; it was a scramble for Bills, in which the most unscrupulous were the most successful.

Samuel Smiles; Lives of the Engineers, 1862

A Tea Party
Thomas Webster (image)

Objective Description

In the center of the composition, four children surround a small table set for afternoon tea. The oldest child pours tea from the teapot into one of four cups. The milk pitcher rests on the floor next to her, as does a plate with cakes. The three younger children sit enraptured, concentrating on the actions of the older girl.

Behind the children, a larger round table is also set for tea grownup tea. The silver or pewter teapot rests alongside a sugar bowl on a tray. Bread and butter complete the set-up.

In the shadowed corner, an older person placidly sits drinking her tea. She wears a bonnet and shawl, and a lap rug is draped over her knees. She is looking down, not engaging the viewer.

The right hand portion of the painting is filled with a large curtained window. The heavy draperies are pulled back, allowing natural light to enter the dim room. Half curtains of netting rest peacefully on the windowsill.

The remaining contents of the sparsely decorated room surround the children. A badminton racket and birdie, a wagon with some toys, and a tossed hat are on the floor in the lower front. The background hearth frames the oldest child. A green mantle-scarf balances the horizontal lines of the tables and children. A scarf-draped chair rests in the left-hand corner, balancing the older woman, and together they frame the children in the foreground.

Subjective Analysis

This painting is filled with ambiguities, and is meant to indicate a 19th century middle class version of the idea of poverty. In a large, sparsely furnished and dimly lit 'rustic interior,' the clean and well dressed children affect adult behavior by having their tea poured by a surrogate "mum," the oldest child. The little table is clothed and the teacups and saucers are part of a set. The inclusion of a luxury item, cakes, with their tea also indicates a bit of extra money, as does the children's toys.

The adult table is set with a metallic tea service, complete with a sugar bowl, sugar being an expensive item as well. A spacious room, mantelpiece decorations and a lace curtain also indicate an element of middle class prosperity. The rug on the bare floor separates the children from the roughness of their sparse life as well as the wood.

I think one of the chief delights was the white dimity curtains in the bedrooms, they in their first freshness always contained a good deal of the essence of the first evening in the country, when we children roamed from room to room... and then out again to the garden wild with happiness and resting in the knowledge that it was to last a whole summer.

Emily Moberly, 1852 (Dulce Domum, 1911)

Frank Stone (image)

Objective Description

Two standing women dominate this composition. Both women wear dark garments with bonnets and lace shawls, and are placed right of center near an opening in the room. The woman on the right holds a book in her right hand. In the lower right foreground, a man kneels next to a basket whose top lies next to it on the floor. A printed cloth extends from the opened basket to the top, pointing towards the figures on the left. The man holds a rounded object that appears to be a bread or cake.

The figures left of center form a family grouping and balance the female visitors. A woman sits next to the hearth surrounded by four young children, three of which are physically connected to her. The fourth, a toddler, stands with her hands to her face and looks in the direction of the male visitor. While the mother figure looks upward to her female guests, the two young girls also look towards the male visitor. The infant, with crossed legs and outstretched arms, wears a bonnet that surrounds its head. The height of the family group is below that of the well-dressed women.

Furnishings in the cottage are sparse. Below the hearth and pointing into it is a bellows. On the mantelpiece above rests various objects. A picture and a key are pinned to the wall. A cupboard falls into the shadows behind the family group. The edge of the side of the cupboard lines up vertically with the older girl's left arm and baby's outstretched left hand. A dark shadow beneath the infant's arm sets the toddler apart from the family group. A stool is placed in front of the mother holding a beet root and knife. The knife points to the mother, while the tip of the beet points to the toddler.

Subjective Analysis

This romanticized genre image depicts poverty within the confines of a cottage setting. Two fashionably dressed and centrally placed young women are contrasted with the frugal surrounds of the domestic interior. Their importance is signified by height in that they stand and are above the rest of the figures. Their darkened and opulent garments contrast to the dullness of the interior and simple garb of the family group. The visual center is the right hand of the central woman resting on the toddler's head. The toddler is unaware of the visitor's benevolence as her eyes are only for the anticipation of the gift of food. The kneeling manservant has removed a loaf of bread from the basket. He too is below the level of the women visitors, and assumes a position similar to a Magi bearing gifts to the infant Christ.

The contrast of light and dark is also marked by the placement of the figure groupings. The women visitors are placed near an outside opening, and are apart from the family physically as well as socially. The family group is placed next to the center or warmth of the family home, the hearth. This is verified through the placement of the key above the mantelpiece. The humbled mother, her belongings and family surrounding her, looks to her visitors for the gift of food, something that she has trouble providing as displayed by the single beet root on the stool.

This watercolor, which has been attributed to Frank Stone, relates to England's District Visiting Movement of the 1820s and 1830s. The New Poor Law of 1834 abolished 'outdoor relief' as well as state sponsored charity to able-bodied poor in their own homes. Voluntary charity, as depicted here with two obviously wealthy women, is the focus rather than the receivers, as everyone pictured knows their place.

Go where you will, you will see specimens of the style mawkish sentimentality, Goody Families, Benevolent Visitors, teaching children. There is nothing more detestable than these milk and water affectations of human kindness; all the personages are fools, and as far as their little senses will let them, hypocrites.

Blackwood's Magazine, 1848

The Dinner Hour
Eyre Crowe (image)

Objective Description

Young women at rest are the focus of this composition. The young women (primarily placed in groups of two) read, chat, drink, walk and rest along a stone wall in the lower third of the composition. They are dressed simply most with white aprons and in simple solid color garments. The viewer's eye is drawn to the two centrally placed women who wear skirts of red and blue, respectively. Balance is achieved by the inclusion of other red and blue garments placed to the left and right of the central women. Most wear a heavy clog type shoe, although the woman right of center is shoeless. The women's hair is pulled back in a netting and several wear striped shawls over their shoulders. In the lower left-hand corner, an older woman bends down to attend to some drinks pails. Her dark and patterned shawl covers her head as well as shoulders.

Tall brick and large windowed buildings serve as the backdrop for this composition. Two narrow and smoking chimneystacks dominate the top left. The negative space in between the chimneys balance the factory building on the right, as another chimney is obscured by the building. The roofs of the taller building sport what appear to be skylights.

The center of the composition, behind the two centrally placed young women and enclosed in the perspective of the lane between the buildings appears a figure in a dark coat and hat. He walks with a cane, and in the opposite direction of the young women in the foreground.

Subjective Analysis

A later 19th century image, this painting depicts women factory workers at rest rather than at the laborious tasks of the cotton mills. As the conventional trends of the time dictated, pictorial painted images needed to be easy for the eye as well as the conscience.

Although not within their place of work and pictured outside the walls of the cotton mills, the mill girls themselves appears to portray the Victorian sentimentality of the workplace and a middle class sensibility of rest. No evidence of hard work is portrayed, and the reference to the working class is illustrated through the women's poses (classical and relaxed), cleanliness, simple garments, hair netting and bare feet. A sense of camaraderie is portrayed through the placement of the young women in pairs.

The solid, angular and austere factory buildings in the background serve as a backdrop for this image. They appear impenetrable, with their windows darker still. The smoking chimneys give evidence to the technology of the steam engines that power the speedy looms, but no evidence is given to the conditions inside the workplace save for the netting on the girls' hair (pictured as a reference to the danger of accidents to the hair.)

Perhaps the most obscure image is the most important. The tiny central image of a dark and silhouetted man serves as the center of the young women's universe. The mill owner is the figure around which their life depends and is focused. The action of the painting illustrates this as well.

The clothing of the working-people (of Manchester), in the majority of cases, is in very bad condition. The material used for it is not of the best adapted. Wool and linen have almost vanished from the wardrobe of both sexes, and cotton has taken their place and the dresses of the women are chiefly of cotton print goods, and woolen petticoats are rarely seen on the wash line and the Irish have introduced and the custom, previously unknown in England, of going barefoot. In every manufacturing town there is now to be seen a multitude of people, especially women and children, going about barefoot, and their example is gradually being adopted by the poorer English.

Friedrich Engels; The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844.

Iron And Coal
William Bell Scott (image)

Objective Description

Three capped, standing muscular men, each clad in a blue work shirt, dominate the central portion of this composition. Heavy animal skin aprons are wrapped around their waists, covering their lower torsos. Their arms are raised and each is lifting a black hammer. To their right and partially obscured, a fourth man also clad in a blue work shirt and cap bends down and appears to be busy at work as well. The most central of these standing workmen faces the viewer allowing us to see a determined face and large, tense muscles as he swings the hammer.

The surrounding images crowd the picture plane illustrating various activities. To the right of the working figures, a furnace burns brightly with red and yellow flames. Beneath the furnace, dark heavy objects are silhouetted against a lighter background. A newspaper is draped over a broad sheet of drawings that appear to be illustrating parts of machinery. In the left foreground a young girl sits on a horizontal rounded object holding a wrapped parcel and book. As she faces the viewer directly, we have an opportunity to see her loose fitting clothing and angelic face. Behind her, a young boy stands facing the activity that fills the left-hand portion of the canvas. In his left hand he holds what appears to be a slightly curled rope. A lamp is in his right hand.

Activities on and around a dock create vertical emphasis to balance the workmen and fiery furnace. The illustrated figures below are in a reduced perspective, and are busy with their activities. Masted, as well as steam vessels appear dockside. On the extreme left, a tall black pipe (with a red band to balance the furnace) spews smoke over the dockside activities. Two arched bridges cross the river. The lower bridge appears heavier and denser, the higher bridge lighter due to the openings in between the vertical bars. A steam engine crosses the taller bridge, partially obscured by the activity in the right hand side of the canvas. A subdued tall chimneystack in the upper left-hand corner spews additional smoke into the cloud filled sky.

Subjective Analysis

This image was one of a series of eight panels commissioned by the Trevelyan family to decorate the enclosed central courtyard of Wallington Hall. Depicting the activities of Tyneside in Northumberland, the activity of this painting is set in an engineering workshop where three muscular 'strikers' are hammering out molten iron. The mechanical drawing in the lower right hand corner illustrates a steam engine built by Robert Stephenson and Co., Engineers, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an example of which crosses Stephenson's high-level iron bridge in the background. Presumably, the black steam pipe on the left is of the same manufacturer.

The little girl in the left foreground holds her father's lunch and a schoolbook. The appearance of a workers' child illustrates a workers' virtues: providing work for his family (the child appears to be well fed and looked after) as she too provides for her father. Education for the children of the working class is shown through the child's schoolbook. The young boy is a pit boy and is carrying a whip and a Davy safety lamp. The dock scene that he gazes down at shows activities of fishermen, a milk girl (note the milk pail being carried on her head) and a photographer.

A coal barge passes on the river (beneath the heavy lower bridge). Coal, a major aspect of Northumberland life, is glorified in this composition. The product (coal on the barge) and the process (hammering molten metals from a furnace powered by coal) yield the glorification of modern life in mid 19th century England. The technical achievements are illustrated as well: the steam engine, the iron bridge, the guns and machinery of war (anchor and marine air pump - lower right). Recognition of the good that the new technology achieved (an upper class perspective) is illustrated by a well-dressed and educated youngster in the foreground of the composition, facing the viewer. All positive aspects are summed up in the caption that is not pictured: "In the Nineteenth Century the Northumbrians show the World what can be done with Iron and Coal."

Q.What is a steam carriage?
A. A carriage provided with a steam engine, which is made to turn the wheels.

Q. What is a steam boat?
A. A ship provided with a steam engine, the force of which turns the wheels that act on the water like the oars of a boat.

Q. What is a McAdamized road?
A. A road formed of small stones of uniform size and weight, so as to bind together in a smooth road.

Q. How fast is the conveyance by each of these means?
A. By a steam vessel, twelve or fifteen miles an hour; by a steam carriage on a rail-road, thirty to sixty miles and and by a stage coach on a McAdamized road, eight or nine miles.

Blair's First or Mother's Catechism, 1856

And there is something else we miss; there is the poetry of the things about us: our railways, factories, mines, roaring cities, steam vessels, and the endless novelties and wonders produced every day; which if they were found only in the thousand and One Nights, or in any poem classical or romantic, would be glorified over without end; for as the majority of us know not a bit more about them, but merely their names, we keep up the same mystery, the main thing required for the surprise of imagination.

Laura Savage (Frederick George Stephens) in The Germ

JMW Turner (image)

Objective Description

An atmospheric rendering of a metropolis dominates the background and two thirds of the picture plane. Horizontal bands of buildings fade out in the distance with tall smoking chimneystacks adding vertical and diagonal movement. An occasional tall church spire complements the vertical lines of the chimneys.

The horizontal band of the middle ground is sparsely populated with open land, trees, and domestic buildings. The contrast is sharper than in the background.

The darkened and sharper foreground is peopled with figures in various attitudes of work. Two figures on the left hold a large piece of cloth between them, while another large piece rests on the ground near them. On the right, two figures wrap what appear to be parcels as they use the stone wall for support. In the right foreground, outside of the wall, figures are in movement--both by foot and on mules. They too hold parcels as they appear to be climbing a hill.

The circular movement of the strong wall in the foreground, through to the line of domestic buildings leads the eye directly to the smoking factory buildings in the background.

Subjective Analysis

Leeds, a center in the wool and flax industries in the 18th and 19th centuries, is depicted here as a growing metropolis - spread out onto the flat plains of the background and slowly encroaching onto the hills of the domestic middle ground. The activity of the cloth workers outside the mills is pictured in the foreground. Rolls of cloth are brought up the hill, away from the mills, to be washed and dyed, hung to dry and then folded. This activity was an important one, as the fabric needed to be dyed and sized after initial production in the mills. The inclusion of a human element in the tasks of the textile workers strongly contrast with the smoke filled industrial city in the background. Although the viewer focuses on the activities of the workers' outside activities, one cannot but wonder about the conditions within the mills themselves as no reference to the human condition is exhibited, only an atmospheric one.

Originally conceived as a picturesque watercolor, this image was eventually lithographed for inclusion in an edition of Dr. Whitaker's 1823 edition of History of Leeds. The original watercolor was purchased by noted British art critic John Ruskin. Ruskin attributed to Turner his own pessimistic views about the impact of industrialization on civilization and the environment.

The representation of facts and is the foundation of all art; like real foundations, it may be little thought of when a brilliant fabric is raised on it; but it must be there and And thus, though we want the thoughts and feelings of the artist as well as the truth, yet they must be thoughts arising out of knowledge of truth, and feelings arising out of contemplation of the truth...nothing can atone for the want of truth, not the most brilliant imagination, the most playful fancy, the most pure feeling, and not the most exalted conception, nor the most comprehensive grasp of intellect, can make amends for the want of truth, and that for two reasons: first, because falsehood is in itself revolting and degrading; and secondly, because nature is so immeasurably superior to all that the human mind can conceive, that every departure from her is a fall beneath her, so that there can be no such thing as an ornamental falsehood.

John Ruskin; Modern Painters, 1843

As soon as one mill is at work, occupying two hundred hands, we try, by means of it, to set another mill at work, occupying four hundred. That is all simple and comprehensible enough but what is it to come to? How many mills do we want? Last week I drove twenty miles from Rochdale to Bolton Abbey and naturally, the valley has been one of the most beautiful in the Lancashire hills; one of the far away solitudes full of old shepherd' ways of life. At this time there are no speak deliberately and I believe quite literally there are not, I think, more than a thousand yards of road to be traversed anywhere, without passing a furnace or mill.

John Ruskin; The Two Paths, 1859

John Constable (image)

Objective Description

The large wooden boat dominates the lower front center of the picture plane. The well-highlighted boat rests on dry land, diagonally placed (in linear perspective) to complete its formation at the river's upper edge. The narrow river placed approximately two thirds into the picture plane, divides a broad expanse of land (in the lower portion) from a larger expanse of sky and tree tops (in the upper portion).

There only appears to be four people within the compositional space, the most prominent being the male figure highlighted in the shadows center front. Two figures are placed left and right of the central boat, obscured by the landscape, and a third (in a blue shirt) on a boat on the river to the left of the larger boat.

Although the landscape and bright weather dominate the composition, the natural light highlights the surrounding activity, as well as the position of the central boat.

Subjective Analysis

The activity of boat making was prolific along the rivers and newly created canals of England. The central placement of the naturally lit wooden boat draws our attention to its prominence. Obviously hand made, and in a position to be launched, the wooden boat structure shadows the human figure in the foreground. All four figures within the compositional space appear to be subordinate to the natural surroundings and man made structures.

The inclusion of larger trees, soft focused and in the background adds to the value of nature and in an environment that must depend on those very trees to build the boats. Both coexist peacefully within the picture frame, and in a picturesque fashion.

How happily has England been preserved in the midst of these surrounding troubles! and Not that her state is altogether prosperous and secure. Wherever you look evils exist within her, threatening future consequences terrible to contemplate and On the whole, we do not have to witness much distress about here. Papa's mills give employment to so many, and the people in this village, having both better and more regular pay than the agricultural labourers, get many little comforts about them and are not reduced to starvation on the first disaster. You see books on their tables and muslin blinds in their windows, very often, and altogether a degree of civilization about the place which it is very comforting to witness.

Harriet Evans; Letter to Sebastian Dickinson, 1848

The Last In
William Mulready (image)

Objective Description

This composition revolves around a central image of a man who has removed his hat, and is bowing with his left hand held close to his chest. He is surrounded by young children, both male and female, in various positions. On the left, a disheveled and anxious looking young boy removes his hat as he enters the room. A heavily bolted door frames both the young boy and a little dog that follows him in. Framing the central figures, a large open window reveals a brightly-lit hill and trees. The floor is made up of large flat stones.

The central figure, as he bows, reveals his balding head and spectacles. In front of him appears to be a podium that has a small blackboard and some rags hanging in front. A yellow pitcher rests on a tree stump in front of the podium. A bonneted and matronly looking woman sits in a corner behind the bowed man.

The surrounding children affect various poses. The standing young girls look fairly placid. The tallest and most virtuous of them is wearing a white garment, and holds a book in her left hand. Her right hand held to her chest mimics the bowing figure. A younger curly haired girl bends to observe the action of the entering child. The three young boys in the right center do not face the viewer. Our attention is drawn to the entering child who does. He is standing in a slightly contrapostal pose, indicating movement. His eyes glance sideways to the bowed figure. His left hand grasps his book while his right reaches for his hat, revealing a flowing crop of blond hair. Two curious onlookers peer over his shoulder.

Subjective Analysis

At a time when educational reforms were being recognized, this painting reflects a contemporary middle class view of a rural school. In the drama of the scene, the schoolmaster mocks the entering young boy by bowing, removing his hat and holding his hand to his chest. The boy, through his anxious looks, knows not only of his crime of lateness, but also of the sarcasm and ridicule that is sure to follow. The standing young girls are involved in the action of the schoolmaster, while the seated boys appear to make haste with their schoolwork. All attention is focused on this young boy and the outcome of his tardiness.

The schoolroom holds more compelling information of the era and the idea of rural schools. The room is sparse and maintains an air of harshness due to the stone floors and dark rigid wooden walls. The door, fitted with several dead bolts, relays an attitude of the schoolroom being a fortress. The large window in the background contrasts this idea with its colorful idyllic natural scene. The generally overcrowded nature of the schoolroom itself is superseded by the drama being played out within.

Childishness in boys, even of good abilities, seems to me to be a growing fault, and I do not know to what to ascribe it, except to the great number of exciting books of amusements, like Pickwick and Nickleby, Bentley's Magazine, etc., etc. These completely satisfy all the intellectual appetite of a boy, which is rarely very voracious, and leave him totally palled not only for his regular work and but for good literature of all sorts, even for history and for poetry.

Thomas Arnold; letter to the Reverend G. Cornish, 1839

The position of a schoolmaster in society and has not yet obtained that respect in England, as to be able to stand by himself in public opinion as a liberal profession; it owes the rank which it holds to its connection with the profession of a clergyman, for that is acknowledged universally in England to be the profession of a gentleman. Mere teaching, like mere literature, places a man, I think, in rather an equivocal position; he holds no undoubted station in society by these alone; for neither education nor literature have ever enjoyed that consideration and general respect in England which they enjoy in France and in Germany. But a far higher consideration is this, that he who is to educate boys, if he is fully sensible of the importance of his business, must be unwilling to lose such great opportunities as the clerical character gives him, by enabling him to address them continually from the pulpit, and to administer the Communion to them as they become old enough to receive it.

Thomas Arnold; Miscellaneous Works, 1845

The Sempstress
Richard Redgrave (image)

Objective Description

In a darkened room, a young female sits working on some handiwork. She grasps some folded fabric in her left hand, while her right hand is in a clenched position. The middle right finger appears to be wearing a thimble. The woman, with her head placed on an upward diagonal, gazes towards the ceiling. She wears an unadorned red dress with a plain white shawl tucked in her upper bodice.

Partially illuminated on the table to her left appears to be a spool of thread. The canopied bed behind her also frames an illuminated clock that indicates the time as being 2:30. In the upper left-hand portion of the composition, a curtained window frames a cloudy early morning sky as well as the silhouette of a steepled structure. Below the window, in partial light, stands a pitcher supported by a broken bowl. A diagonal line is created from the pitcher to the clock, emphasizing the young woman's right hand and head.

Subjective Analysis

Six months before the exhibition of Redgrave's Semptress, Thomas Hood's poem, The Song of the Shirt, appeared in Punch magazine:

With fingers weary and worn
With eyelids heavy and red
A woman sat in unwomanly rags
Plying her needle and thread.
Stitch - Stitch - Stitch
In poverty, hunger and dirt
And still in a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the 'Song of the Shirt.'

This poem caught the fancy of the Punch reading public, tripling the circulation of the magazine. The public, through the imagery of a simple poem, was made aware of the working conditions and unhealthy lives of the piece workers as well as the factory workers.

The emphasis of this image is the solitary female pieceworker working long hours into the night. Her fingers are sore and worn; her upward glance looks for divine inspiration as she pauses for a moment in exhaustion. This singular reflection creates an emphasis for the viewing public as they too can connect with the solitary activity and servitude of the young woman.

During the course of my investigation into the condition of those who are dependent upon the needle for their support, I had been so repeatedly assured that the young girls were mostly compelled to resort to prostitution to eke out their subsistence, that I was anxious to test the truth of the statement. I had seen much want, but I had no idea of the intensity of the privations suffered by the needlewomen of London until I came to inquire into this part of the subject.

Henry Mayhew, 1849: The Unknown Mayhew: Selections from the Morning Chronicle, 1971

Pitmen Heaving The Coal
MW Ridley (image)

Objective Description

This graphic image is divided into two sections - left and right. The left-hand portion of the image portrays three scantily clad coal miners at work. They are illuminated by a lamp placed beneath the standing figures. This source of light, in a darkened shaft, illuminates the workers and their tools. The extreme left-hand figure is kneeling and in action. His left hand is about to beat the chisel that is poised at the wall. Behind him, a standing figure moves to the wall with his pick axe. The light shines on their upper torsos, indicating reasonably young men. A third worker pushes filled cart away from the wall, the cart being on tracks. His body is bent to the weight of the cart and he too is illuminated by the light beneath. Tools of the workmen lie beneath the workmen and cart.

The right hand portion of the composition is occupied with another drama. A young boy with a pony fills the right hand portion of the print. The viewer sees the pony first, as the animal is bathed in light from the illumination of the second lamp. The young boy's face is illuminated as well. An older man stands behind the filled cart and holds the lamp, while appearing to be in conversation with the young boy.

One gets the illusion of a closed and confined space, as the background walls are dark against the illuminated figures. The ground also appears darkened, focusing the viewer's attention on the figures.

Subjective Analysis

Images of the working class were often romanticized in Victorian English painting. This image, an illustration about the Durham coal miners, appeared in the magazine Graphic, and made no allusions to the 'romance' of working class life. Lifelike figures and compositions were often marked with contrasts of light and dark - drawing the viewer's attention to the nuances of facial and bodily characteristics as well as to the drama of the situation. The strong chiaroscuro (light and dark) of this image relays the sweat and hard work of the miners without any romantic allusions.

This image focuses on the aspect of the conditions of the men and boys working in the coalmines. Scantily clad men went deep into the mines to dig coal that could be brought to the surface via pony drawn carts. The three figures on the left rely on their own strength as well as the lamplight to guide them as they go about their tasks. The darkened shape of the coal cart conveys its own weight and is heightened by the fact that a miner is bodily pushing it. His tools lie on the surface to the right of his foot.

The young boy and pony form a curious addition. The pit boy is clothed, as is the other adult male in the composition. The pony is hitched up with a harness while the boy holds a rod in his right hand and looks as if he is about to hook up to the coal cart. The second lamp illuminates these actions. The contrast between a young child and strong horse highlights the brute strength of the miners themselves.

When the policemen saw the dangers that the miners worked in they said - "Why we would not work in such places for a pound a day." And the colliers might get a pound a day if they liked - for the coal was the spring of all commerce and industry, and a pound of it was worth more than a pound of gold. They had to sell their labour, and it was duty to sell it at the highest price. If all the colliers in the Kingdom were to lay down their tools and demand a high price for their labour they could get it.

Notes by the Chief Constable of Staffordshire--Meeting of Colliers, 30 August, 1858

Charles Allston Collins (image)

Objective Description

This printed image concerns itself with human figures surrounding a centrally placed bottle labeled 'Fine Cordial Gin.' To the right of the bottle, a standing male figure points to the gin bottle and instrument on the floor while looking at the figure on the left. The standing male figure also holds the limp arm of the closed-eyed female figure in the bed. Next to the bed, a young girl holds a baby who is facing and reaching for the figure on the bed. An additional child rubs its eye and bends its head.

To the left of center, a ragged figure leans against a wooden chair, looking towards the bed, table and standing figure. The broken table holds the bottle of "Fine Cordial Gin", an empty glass and what appears to be a pipe. A poker, placed diagonally on the floor, points in the direction of the bed. To the left of the leaning man, an open door frames a young child and an adult with a stovepipe hat. Left of the doorframe, a semi-curtained window frames several onlookers as well as another stovepipe hatted individual.

Subjective Analysis

The proliferation of drink was considered an evil among the working poor. Cheap gin was available at a very low price, and offered to the working class an escape to the drudgeries of everyday life. The boom in gin drinking began in the 1720s, when the government freed gin from many of the restrictions controlling its sale. By 1751, gin's availability was restricted as higher taxes were imposed.

The leaning drunken man has beaten his wife to death. The instrument of murder, the poker, lies on the floor pointing directly to the dead wife in the bed. The murderer shows no remorse, only casual and grim acceptance.

The centrally placed and erect doctor, meanwhile, holds the limp hand of the dead wife who fades into the shadows of the drawing. The motherless children weep, setting up a deliberate situation of emotional morality. The child in the doorway is left to explain the situation to the constable as he too appears grim faced.

Both central players in the drama (the murdering husband and the moral doctor) are placed on either side of the gin bottle. Both figures face each other as well as the true 'instrument' of death, deliberately positioned and shaded so that viewers would be able to recognize the evils of drink.

A first effect of poverty is the confiscation of a poor man's best time and thought, from sheer necessity, to the task of providing food and clothing for himself and his family. A man can work hard, if his work is also felt to be a source of refinement, of instruction, of discipline, of recreation; if it enlightens his mind, if it purifies his affections. As a rule, a poor man's work is not of that description: it is, from all points of view save that of the wages it yields, unremunerative, because it is more or less mechanical. Another effect of poverty is that it often blights those domestic scenes of happiness which prepare the way of religion in the soul. In the natural course of things, kindliness, courtesy, refinement, are the products of home life; the home is the center and the manufactury of these natural graces. It is to his family that a man escapes when his day's toil is over. At home he forgets the passions and the rivalries, be they great or small, of his public life at home the finer side of human nature has a chance of growing, as being sure of its nutriment and welcome...two things are needed: competency and order. And how often are these wanting in the households of the poor! A comfortless home is often more fatal to character than to health. It chills the affections; it sours the temper; it ends by doing more. Nothing is more common than to hear severe language applied to the poor man's habit of spending his evenings at the public house It is the road to ruin without a doubt.

Henry Liddon; Sermon, 1876

On Strike
Hubert Von Herkomer (image)

Objective Description

The monumental figure dominates the center of this composition. His face appears angry and grim. His tense fingers hold a crumpled hat and pipe. His well-worn clothes and shoes belie the outfit of a working man, as he leans against the corner of the brick wall, outside of the house. The sorrowful female figure leans against the male, draping her right hand over his shoulder while holding a young child in her arms. She is framed by the dark doorway and stands within the confines of the home. Her pinafore is illuminated drawing our attention to the trinity of figures within the compositional center. In the shadows, behind the mother and child, an older child stands with clasped hands looking at the figures before her. Her gaze is pensive, and her position completes the diagonal perspective of the figures as they recede into the doorway.

Subjective Analysis

As the 19th century progressed, labor disputes and strikes became more frequent. Violent action at the workplace was often commonplace as demands for better working conditions and wages were put forth. Elizabeth Gaskell's romanticized literary imagery portrayed non-violent and reasonable striking workers in North and South. This tense and forceful figure is a contrast to the both the idea of an angry, violent striking worker and a romanticized non-violent image. By placing the monumental figure in the foreground, outside of the home, our eyes are drawn to the character of the figure himself. On strike, the male figure is feeling the ramifications of no work as well as still having to support his family. Herkomer has portrayed this figure with a powerful forcefulness, as the viewer is meant to identify with the grim reality of the situation and perhaps do something to effect change.

The domestic scenario, heightened by the representation of the sorrowful mother and children within the home, illustrates a sense of hopelessness. Herkomer has placed the youngest child's head at the same level as her parents, indicating an importance of the plight of children as well. The child holds a spoon in her hand, sympathetically reminding the viewer of the lack of food, as there is no work for the parent. The child's red dress is an eye-catching device to hold the viewer to the central figures, as well as to balance the coloration of the surrounding bricks.

That trade unions have had certain injurious effects on the character of the working men, as well as on the relations between them and their employers, seems not to admit of doubt. Thus much the evidence which we have collected appears to us to establish. But in respect to the special character and extent of those effects, there is, as might be expected, great discrepancy between the witnesses and The workmen, looking rather to the approval of their unions than to that of their employers, are less anxious than of yore to stand well with the latter; and the employers on their part no longer feel under the same obligation to look after the interests of their workmen and to assist them in periods of difficulty and To this it is replied on the part of the unions, that their real tendency, considered in a wider and more equitable view, is to raise, not depress, the character of the workman, by making him feel that he is not an insulated agent, subjected to oppression, or at all events to accidents over which he has no control, but a member of a strong united body, capable at once of defending his rights and ensuring him a resource in case of temporary need. It is maintained also that the practice of having a code of working rules agreed to between employers and workmen, such as the better unions seek to establish, embracing a book of wages, of laws, and of trade rules, is attended with the best results; that it tends to diminish and usually to extinguish the occurrence of strikes, and to establish a spirit of cooperation between masters and workmen.

Majority Report of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions; 1867-69


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  4. Herrman, Luke. Turner: Paintings, Watercolours, Prints and Drawings. London: Phaidon, 1975.
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  7. Payne, Christiana. Rustic Simplicity. Nottingham: Djanogly Art Gallery, 1998.
  8. Plumb, J.H. The Pursuit of Happiness. Yale Center for British Art: New Haven, 1977.
  9. Treuherz, Julian. Hard Times: Social Realism in Victorian Art. London: Lund Humphries, 1987.
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Picture sources

The Awakening Conscience: slide, Tate Gallery, London.
Boatbuilding: slide, private collection.
Charity: Treuherz, p. 16.
The Dinner Hour: Treuherz, plate VII.
Drink: Treuherz, p. 30.
Iron and Coal: Johnson, p. 217.
The Last In: Payne, p. 44.
Leeds: Herrman, plate 69.
On Strike: Valentine, p. 121.
Pitmen Heaving the Coal: Treuherz, p. 60.
Rain, Steam and Speed: slide, National Gallery, London.
The Sempstress: slide, private collection.
A Tea Party: Payne, p. 49.