WHEATLEY, Francis engraved by G. KEATING
London: Published by John Jefferys, 1 January 1796. Mezzotint. Open lettered proof. Image size (including text): 19 x 25 1/8 inches. Sheet size: 22 1/2 x 27 3/4 inches.
A stunning impression of this rare open letter proof of Wheatley's charming picture illustrating the rural life in England.
Wheatley was born and trained in London, and in 1769 was one of the first students admitted to the newly founded Royal Academy. Although he initially practiced as a landscape painter, by the mid 1770s he had become a popular painter of small-scale portraits and informal 'conversation-pieces'. From the 1780s onwards, Wheatley turned increasingly to sentimental domestic scenes that were perfectly attuned to the genteel sensibilities of the period. Today he is generally remembered for his Cries of London, which depicted street vendor such as milkmaids, and fruit sellers engaged in their trade on the street sides. This series was a great success, and inspired a myriad of different engravings and copies by celebrated artists such as Johan Zoffany and J. G. Huck. Wheatley's pretty genre paintings of rural and domestic life were a great source of inspiration for contemporary engravers who reproduced his work with industrious vigor. The popularity of these engravings greatly enhanced Wheatley's reputation, and made him one of the most celebrated painters of his day. There is nothing in modern art like the genre paintings and prints of late 18th and early 19th century Great Britain, in which "generic" types illustrate common and uncommon events of, usually, rural life. The Dutch had looked at social life in Holland but in quite a different, frequently critical, way. In the great rural, genre scenes of this period of British art there were no villains depicted, no bizarre events, no crimes or tragedies. The artists sought to evoke warm feelings, a sense of our shared humanity. Since there are not individuals shown in these genre scenes, the body language of the participants needed to be noted with precision, for the whole story is told in the postures, tensions, frowns and furtive glances. Here, a homeless young man, possibly selling a raffle ticket of some kind, stoops submissively at an appropriate distance from two sisters who listen with a mixture of fear and sympathy.
Roberts, F. Wheatley, R.A. His Life and Works p.43.