BP Spotlight: The Nature of Common Life: Drawing the Everyday 1800–60
Tate Britain: Display
28 October 20132 November 2014
Free
Part of the series BP Spotlights

This Spotlight Display explores 19th-century daily life by artists such as as William Mulready, J.M.W. Turner and David Wilkie

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  • John Varley, 'Studies of Peasants, Barges, Etc.' date not known

    John Varley
    Studies of Peasants, Barges, Etc. date not known
    Chalk on paper
    support: 337 x 265 mm
    Purchased as part of the Opp Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

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  • John William Inchbold, 'Two Men Scything' 1861

    John William Inchbold
    Two Men Scything 1861
    Pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper
    support: 177 x 254 mm
    Purchased as part of the Opp Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

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  • Sir David Wilkie, 'Five Preliminary Studies for Figures in 'The Village Holiday'. Verso: Two Preliminary Studies for Parts of Figures in 'The Village Holiday'' 1809-10

    Sir David Wilkie
    Five Preliminary Studies for Figures in 'The Village Holiday'. Verso: Two Preliminary Studies for Parts of Figures in 'The Village Holiday' 1809-10
    Chalk on paper
    support: 184 x 278 mm
    Purchased 1984

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  • William Mulready, 'James Leckie and Little Mary' ?circa 1828

    William Mulready
    James Leckie and Little Mary ?circa 1828
    Pen and ink on paper
    support: 165 x 114 mm
    Purchased as part of the Opp Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Internal of a Cottage: a Study at Ely' exhibited 1796

    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Internal of a Cottage: a Study at Ely exhibited 1796
    Pencil and watercolour on paper
    support: 204 x 270 mm
    Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Breton Peasants Dancing' circa 1826-8

    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Breton Peasants Dancing circa 1826-8
    Watercolour, gouache and pen and watercolour on paper
    support: 132 x 190 mm
    Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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Drawing heavily on the Oppé Collection of works on paper, this display highlights the preoccupation with everyday life seen in the work of early nineteenth-century artists such as William Mulready, J.M.W. Turner, John Varley and David Wilkie. The works, in a range of media and including several never before displayed, demonstrate artists’ compulsion to observe and depict the world around them, from the bustle of street life or the industry of rural labourers, to the intimacy of the family home.

The focus on scenes of everyday human interest coincided with a new emphasis on close looking and description of detail. This is exemplified by the work of John Varley, who encouraged his students to study small fragments of a scene to hone their observation skills. Many of the exhibits are swiftly drawn sketches, including a letter over which David Wilkie has jotted ideas for his painting The Village Holiday. More highly finished works, such as Turner’s An Old Woman in a Cottage Kitchen, represent the prevalence of everyday subjects in contemporary exhibitions and their popularity with consumers of art.

The artist and writer William Henry Pyne encapsulated this emphasis on observing the everyday by advocating in 1806 that the artist should not make ‘an imaginary nature his model, or any other nature, but the nature of common life’.

This display has been curated by Amy Concannon