BIGG, After William Redmore (1755-1828)
Saturday evening The Husbandman's return from labour
London: J. Brydone, 31 January 1795. Stipple-engraving, by William Nutter, after Bigg. Image size (including text): 18 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches. Sheet size: 20 7/8 x 24 5/16 inches.
A fine stipple engraving depicting a rural idyll in 18th-century England.
The image shows a family outside the door of their cottage. The father has just returned from the field. His wife hands him his youngest child, whom he kisses fondly. His other four children are gathered companionably to his left: the eldest daughter sits quietly darning some stockings, her younger sister washes a younger brother. A second brother watches attentively as a pair of piglets eat the scraps from a wicker basket.
What became known as the "deserving poor" was an ever growing Romantic concern throughout the 19th century, as the industrialization of England took hold. The Romantic ideal of families living in a hard but harmonious relation to the soil was already in 1795 fading away, as the long process of enclosure deprived people like these of the land they worked, forcing them to seek jobs in towns. So this was, at the time of publication, an already somewhat nostaligc look a rural family life.
William Bigg "was a pupil of Edward Penny, R.A., and by choice of his subjects at least a faithful follower of his master. In 1778 he entered the Academy schools. Bigg delighted in depicting... children. The first of many engaging works of this class was exhibited in 1778, 'Schoolboys giving Charity to a Blind Man.' It was followed a year later by one similar, 'A Lady and her Children relieving a Distressed Cottager.' Besides these his 'Palemon and Lavinia,' the 'Shipwrecked Sailor Boy,' and 'Youths relieving a Blind Man' were highly popular works, and were all engraved. Two good pictures from his easel are preserved in the Cottonian Museum at Plymouth.... by choice of subjects and general manner of treatment he would rightly be classed with Wheatley and Morland. He was highly popular in his day, and the best engravers were employed upon his work." (DNB).