Monday, March 24, 2014

Painting of the Day: Playing with Baby, 1795

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Playing with Baby
John Cranch, 1795
From the Townshend Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted in 1795 by John Cranch (1751-1821), this work of oil on panel was bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncey Hare Townshend in 1868.

Townshend (1798-1868), the son of a landowner, was educated at Eton and Oxford, and took holy orders although he never practiced his vocation. Instead, Townshend worked as an essayist, poet and writer on mesmerism.

However, we remember Townshend today not for his work, but for his collections of jewels and paintings. Townshend’s dear friend Charles Dickens dedicated “Great Expectations” to him, and it is believed that Townshend was the inspiration for the character of the collector Mr. Fairlie in “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins (1824-1889). According to the V&A, in addition to the monumental collection of 154 flawless gemstones, “At his death he left his collection of over 350 oil paintings, watercolours and prints to the then South Kensington Museum [now the V&A].” This painting by Cranch typifies the Reverend’s collection. He favored, rather as I do, genre paintings and portraits. John Cranch worked principally as a genre painter, especially of rural and interior scenes which allowed him to portray different qualities of light in one composition. This painting depicts an intimate family moment, showing a woman by a fire entertaining a baby by shaking a rattle above its head. Various family members punctuate the scene which is set in a favored setting of the artist—a rustic room with a low-beamed ceiling and plastic walls which are slightly crumbling.

Cranch became associated with somewhat eccentric and highly detailed compositions. It was the quirkiness and attention to detail of the artist’s paintings which appealed to the Reverend Townshend whose collection is filled with similarly unique and charming works.

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