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.
The Comforts of Industry
Oil on canvas
12 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. (31.1 x 36.8 cm)
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Julius Caesar Ibbetson
Studio of Joseph Wright of Derby