Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Masterpiece of the Week: Rustic Civility, 1833

Rustic Civility
William Collins, 1833
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the early to mid Nineteenth Century, oil paintings with sentimental or genre scenes of children in the countryside became popular with Victorian collectors.
 Two of the most prolific collectors of these kinds of paintings were the celebrated John Sheepshanks and the famous Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend (whose collection of jewels we’ve examined many times).

This painting from 1833 is by William Collins who trained at the Royal Academy and went on to become a popular painter of landscapes and rustic genre scenes like this one. Collins had a special fondness for depicting children and did so with an unrivaled skill and tenderness.

This painting is actually a smaller version of a larger original by Collins. John Sheepshanks subsequently commissioned this smaller replica from the artist so that he could add it to his collection.

Collins often incorporated a simple puzzle into his works.
  Here, the puzzle is: for whom have the children opened the gate?

The answer to this question is given by the shadow of a horseman on the ground. The children have assisted the horseman—for whom opening the gate would have been difficult while atop his steed—demonstrating the “rustic civility” for which the painting is named.

Both large and small prints of this and other similar works were highly collectible and very much in fashion with the Victorian public.  Often these sorts of genre paintings were printed in polychrome on trade cards and calling cards which would be collected in albums. 

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