SMITH, John Raphael after William Redmore BIGG
A Lady and her Children relieving a Cottager
London: Published by J. Birchall, 1 March 1784. Mezzotint. In excellent condition with the exception that the lower margin is trimmed along the plate mark. Image size (including text): 16 7/8 x 21 5/8 inches. Sheet size: 18 1/8 x 22 5/8 inches.
A beautiful mezzotint after the sentimental genre painting by William Redmore Bigg.
William Redmore Bigg (1755-1828) was a popular London genre painter, who is best known for his family tableaux depicting acts of charity. Of these, this scene in which an aristocratic lady, attended by her daughters, young black servant and dog, visit a poor "cottager", is one of the best.
The original painting (1781) is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. John Raphael Smith (1752-1812) engraved the mezzotint for John Boydell, the leading London printseller, which tells the story admirably. It is a sentiment expressed without irony, though we now consider the black servant boy in livery and turban politically insensitive. He too looks on the poor woman and her sleeping child with pity. Nor are the silk dresses,extragant hats, lap dog and silk parasol that the Lord's family sport intended for criticism: this is an idealised version of recommended behavior. The littlest girl, overcome by this encounter with poverty, cries as she hands over the money, and we understand that this is part of her moral education.
The composition is appealing and successful. The Lady, whose fine country house can be seen in the distance, forms the apex of the pyramidal group, just as her generous act is the apex of a good and stable society. At this time, virtually all "welfare" was local and critical to the large portion of the English population lived in want. Nevertheless, it was only beginning to be thought that the wealthy had any obligation to the poor, and it was generally accepted that acts like these were and ought to be wholly voluntary.
This is an ideal example of the print, clearly an early impression in which silks and satins gleam, curls and ribbons swirl.