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Humorous scenes of village life became popular in the early 1800s. They presented a supposedly simple and honest rural lifestyle which appealed to urban audiences. Mulready specialised in such scenes, but overstepped the mark with this early work.

This picture was exhibited in 1809 as Returning from the Ale-House, but was not well-received. Critics attacked the 'disgusting spectacle' of drunken men surrounded by children. Mulready exhibited it again in 1840, making it brighter and changing the title to Fair Time. This gave a festive excuse for the men's behaviour, making the picture more acceptable. It was bought by the collector Robert Vernon.

February 2004