The Family and Sentiment


The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood
An exhibition at the University Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley
August 23 - November 19, 1995

The institution of the family found ardent champions among writers and artists from as early as 1740. Most sought to imbue the gentry with what were fundamentally middle-class values. This led to a blurring of class lines during the period. Among these values was domesticity-a cult of family and hearth that lay at the very core of the Romantic movement. Similarly, many writers and artists promoted a cult of "sensibility," which sought and highly valued heightened emotional response to life and art. Morally didactic scenes built on sensibility, such as George Morland's revealingly titled pair The Comforts of Industry and The Miseries of Idleness, followed in a long tradition of didactic images, but ladled on an extra serving of emotion. They often, as in Morland's two paintings, focused on the family, hoping to teach parental devotion by exhibiting the rewards that awaited virtuous parenting.

Other images of heightened emotion (including scenes of parental devotion) move beyond the didactic. Often sentiment is so heightened that it paradoxically distances the viewer from the reality of the social ills portrayed, placing children safely in a flagrantly idealized world. Following the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, this kind of cozy sentimentality often takes the upper hand.

George Morland
1763-1804
The Comforts of Industry
1790
Oil on canvas
12 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. (31.1 x 36.8 cm)
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh


George Morland
1763-1804
The Miseries of Idleness
1790
Oil on canvas
12 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. (31.2 x 36.9 cm)
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

John Constable
1776-1837
A Suffolk Child
1835
Watercolor
7 1/4 x 5 3/8 in. (18.5 x 13.7 cm)
The Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Julius Caesar Ibbetson
1759-1817
The SailorŐs Return Home
1795
Watercolor
11 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (29.8 x 40.1 cm)
The Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Isaac Cruikshank
1757/58-1810/11
The Child Found
about 1790
Watercolor
12 1/2 x 9 15/16 in. (31.7 x 25.2 cm)
The Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Studio of Joseph Wright of Derby
1734-1797
Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery
about 1768
Oil on canvas (grisaille)
17 5/8 x 23 1/2 in. (44.8 x 59.7 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Valentine Green
1739-1813
Experiment with the Air Pump
1769
Mezzotint engraving after Joseph Wright of Derby
18 1/16 x 23 3/16 in. (45.9 x 58.9 cm)
Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, UCLA


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