Published 25th January 2016
One function or purpose of a picture is to tell a story and in western art the heyday for narrative or genre painting was through the 18th and 19th centuries. History painting, with important narrative purpose, is high-up in the hierarchy of painting genres, and some way down comes story painting of everyday life. What could be more everyday than peeling vegetables in a cottage interior?
This 19th century Dutch painting by Johann Bernard de Hoog (1867-1943) shows a relaxed young woman quietly completing a daily chore and if we look carefully she is also minding her child who is having an afternoon nap in a crib on the floor. Beyond this, a traditional Black Forest clock ticking away with the dual purpose of marking out the time for the subject, but also reminding the viewer that this is a captured moment upon which we are voyeurs.
George Goodwin Kilburn (1839-1924), born in Norfolk in 1839, was one of the most sought after and well known British genre artists of his generation. Leaving school at 15, he went to work in London as an apprentice wood engraver with Dalziel Brothers, quickly earning a reputation as one of their "most satisfactory pupils ever". This time served him well and he was able to hone his skills for accuracy and detail, characteristics of his closely observed paintings, until he left the firm at 22 to become a professional painter. Living at addresses in Hampstead and Swiss Cottage, Kilburn had seven children, his namesake becoming a well-known painter of animals, figures and sporting subjects.
Kilburn's paintings often described the young ultra-fashionable upper classes and here is a prime example titled The Next Dance. This is bursting with narrative and innuendo depicting six beautiful young ladies, each wearing a carefully chosen silk dress being lead away by their male escorts up a flight of stairs to hopefully a ballroom. The other Kilburn watercolour is slightly smaller and contains fewer figures, but the narrative is probably even more direct and immediate; two beautiful coy and giggly girls watching a dandy young man parade himself along a path in fine garden setting.
To tell a story is a great reason to make a picture
The Art of the Narrative was written on Monday, 25th January 2016.