Social Realism in Victorian Art


Fildes Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward 1874

Victorian life was full of contrasts – rich and poor, magnificent dwellings and slum conditions, urban prosperity and rural deprivation, modern technology and persisting old fashioned attitudes. Many artists depicted these contrasts and have left a rich legacy of social realism in painting and prints.

Bramley Frank – For Such is the Kingdom of Heaven 1891

This lecture examines the many social problems of the period – vagrancy, workhouses, migration, prostitution, unemployment, strikes, alcoholism, sweat shops, slum dwellings – through the eyes of artists such as Frank Holl, the Pre-Raphaelites, Luke Fildes and Hubert Herkomer.

It also examines Charles Dickens’ role, in particular his close friendship with the William Powell Frith who painted masterpieces of Social Realism such as ‘Derby Day’ and ‘The Railway Station’.

Dore Over the City by Railway

In the 1880’s attitudes changed and a new generation of artists went to live amongst their subjects – the Newlyn School who lived and worked amongst the fishermen and women of Cornwall and George Clausen who depicted the agricultural workers of Hertfordshire and Essex.

Clausen – Collecting Potatoes

Their artists were recording a passing way of life in the same manner as Thomas Hardy looking back nostalgically on a changing world.

This a lecture full of interesting and little known images which encourages the audience to view the Victorian period in a different way.