Sunday, March 23, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Familiarity Breeds Contempt, c. 1880

"Familiarity Breeds Contempt"
Joseph Clark, Nineteenth Century
Watercolor study for a larger composition.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Ah, Joseph Clark…his name may not be immediately familiar to you, but I bet you’ve seen a print of at least one of his paintings (I assume this because, if you’re on this web site, you have some familiarity with antiques and art). Clark (1834-1926) painted many, many, many sentimental oil paintings of children, which were hungrily gobbled up by the Victorian public who had a genuine fascination with images of healthy children (mortality rate and all that, what). Clark may have been popular with the public, but, I suspect that his frequent showings at the Royal Academy were met with a few tongue clucks of “too sentimental.”

Clark was a very precise painter and, before starting any canvas, made series after series of studies, sketches and watercolor tests of the composition before working in oils. You may see that his paintings often depict very similar-looking subjects. He typically used his own family members and pets as models.

Here’s one of his many pre-painting sketches. This watercolor shows a mother and her daughter in the kitchen of their cottage. They appear to be witnessing an awkward encounter between a chicken and a curious kitten. The drawing is undated. However, it has been given an appropriate title: “Familiarity Breeds Contempt.”

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