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The Simple Life: Cottages and Gainsborough’s Cottage Doors

  • Ann Bermingham
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)

Abstract

In quest of the simple life we find ourselves at the cottage. Embowered by trees, covered in flowering vines, roofed in thatch, and walled with timbers, brick and roughcast, the cottage stands in eighteenth-century thought as the natural domain of domestic peace and happiness. In romantic Britain the cottage was an alternative to all that was cold, formal and forbidding. For as one cottage enthusiast, the architect and drawing master James Malton, declared in comparing the cottage to the manor house:

The matured eye, palled with gaudy magnificence, turns disgusted from the gorgeous structure, fair sloping lawn, well turned canal, regular fence, and formal rows of trees; and regards, with unspeakable delight, the simple cottage, the rugged common, rude pond, wild hedgerows, and irregular plantations. Happy he! Who early sees that true happiness is distinct from noise, from bustle, and from ceremony; who looks for it, chiefly, in his properly discharging his domestic duties, and by early planting with parental tenderness, the seeds of content in his rising offspring, reaps the glad harvest in autumnal age.1

Keywords

Rural Habitation Simple Life Architectural View Farm House True Happiness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    James Malton, An Essay on British Cottage Architecture (London: Hookham & Carpenter, 1798), pp. 6–7.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Helpful architectural histories of the cottage include: Olive Cook, English Cottages and Farmhouses (London: Thames & Hudson, 1982); John E. Crowley’s Picturesque Comfort: The Cottage, in his The Invention of Comfort: Sensibilities and Design in Early Modern Britain and Early America (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp. 203–29; Tony Evans and Lycett Green, English Cottages (New York: The Viking Press, 1983); Sutherland Lyall, Dream Cottages: From Cottage Orneé to Stockbroker Tudor (London, Robert Hale Ltd, 1988). The cult of the cottage has been explored by John Dixon Hunt, ‘The Cult of the Cottage’, The Lake District: A Sort of National Property (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988), pp. 71–84. On the ‘simple life’ see Maren-Sofie Rmstvig, The Happy Man: Studies in the Metamorphoses of a Classical Ideal, 2 vols (Oslo: Norwegian Universities Press, 1954).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Marc-Antoine Laugier, Essay on Architecture (Los Angeles, CA: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1977), p. 12.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wolfgang Herrmann, Laugier and Eighteenth-Century French Theory (London: A. Zwemmer, Ltd., 1962), pp. 173–84. See, too, Joseph Rykwert, On Adams House in Paradise: The Idea of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981).Google Scholar
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  6. 6.
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    Edmund Bartell, Hints for Picturesque Improvements in Ornamental Cottages and Their Scenery: Including some Observations on the Labourer and His Cottage. In Three Essays (London: J. Taylor, [1800], 1804), p. vii.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    The classic formulation of emulation is Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899); more recently Neil McKendrick has used this model to describe the marketing successes of Josiah Wedgwood (see N. McKendrick, J. Brewer and J.H. Plumb, The Birth of Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, 1982).Google Scholar
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    John Wood, A Series of Plans for Cottage or Habitations of the Labourer (London: J. Taylor, 1806, first edition 1781), p. 3.Google Scholar
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  13. 21.
    William Atkinson, Cottage Architecture, Including Perspective Views and Plans of Labourers Cottages, and Small Farm Houses (London: J. Barfield, 1805), pp. v—vi.Google Scholar
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    Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000), pp. 25–32.Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, in The Works of Hannah More (London: H. Fisher, R. Fisher & P. Jackson, 1834) III: 44.Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    John B. Papworth, Rural Residences, Consisting of a Series ofDesigns for Cottages, Decorated Cottages, Small Villas and Other Ornamental Buildings (London: R. Ackerman, 1818), p. 25.Google Scholar
  17. 29.
    T.D.W. Dean, Sketches in Architecture Consisting of Original Designs for Cottages and Rural Dwellings, Suitable to Persons of Moderate Fortune, and for Comfort and Retirement (London: J. Taylor, 1807), p. 5.Google Scholar
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    Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, ed. R.W. Chapman, 5 vols (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1982) I: 251.Google Scholar
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    Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), p. 46.Google Scholar
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  21. 36.
    Ibid., p. 48.Google Scholar
  22. 37.
    John Hayes, ed., The Letters ofThomas Gainsborough (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 68.Google Scholar
  23. 38.
    Ibid., p. 152.Google Scholar
  24. 39.
    See Marcia Pointon, ‘Gainsborough and the Landscape of Retirement’, Art History, 2 (December 1979), pp. 441–55; John Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, 2 vols (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983) I, pp. 149–56; Michael Rosenthal, The Art of Thomas Gainsborough: ‘A Little Business for the Eye’, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 204–11.Google Scholar
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    Susan Sloman, Gainsborough in Bath (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 112–17, 179.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 112.Google Scholar
  27. 43.
    The four large cottage doors are: The Woodcutters Return, Belvoir Castle, c. 1772–73 (58 x 48 inches); Cottage Door with Children Playing, Cincinnati Museum, RA 1778 (48 1/4 x 583/4 inches); The Cottage Door, Huntington Museum, RA 1780 (58 x 47 inches); Peasant Smoking at Cottage Door, University of California, Los Angeles, Spring 1788 (77 x 62 inches). The Scudemore painting, Cottage Door with Woman Sweeping and Girl with Pigs (38 3/4 x 48 3/4 inches), is now in the Ipswich Museum. A copy of The Woodcutters Return (Belvoir Castle), made by Gainsborough, is the Fuji collection in Japan.Google Scholar
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    Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, I, p. 150.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Robyn Asleson and Shelley Bennett, British Paintings at the Huntington (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 112.Google Scholar
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    Asleson and Bennett, p. 112, and John Constable, John Constables Discourses, ed. R.B. Beckett (Ipswich: Suffolk Records Society, 1970), p. 67.Google Scholar
  32. 48.
    The only variation from this formula is the Scudemore Cottage Door with Women Sweeping and Girl with Pigs (Ipswich) which shows a dejected young girl seated at the steps of a cottage observing a pig while a woman stands at the door with a broom.Google Scholar
  33. 49.
    Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (1919), in Collected Papers, ed. Joan Reviere, 4 Vol. (New York: Basic Books, 1959) IV, pp. 376–7, 399, 403.Google Scholar
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    See his ‘Gainsborough’s Rural Vision’, The Listener, 12 May 1977, pp. 615–16, and The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting 1730–1840 (Cambridge, London, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne, Sidney: Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. 65–77.Google Scholar
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    Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape, pp. 70–7 and ‘Gainsborough’s Rural Vision’, pp. 615–6.Google Scholar
  36. 52.
    On Kinkade’s commercial empire see Susan Orlean, ‘Art for Everybody: How Thomas Kinkade turned Painting into Big Business’, The New Yorker (15 October 2001), pp. 124–31.Google Scholar
  37. 53.
    In short, the tax burden in the United States has been shifting steadily downwards so that those classes least able to afford to pay taxes and those most in need of what taxes can secure are one and the same. Meanwhile corporations and the upper 10% of householders who currently hold more than 96% of the nation’s wealth pay less that 10% of the nation’s income tax. Thus the middle and lower classes, who bear an inordinate tax burden because of these gross inequalities, come to resent a tax system which has become increasingly oppressive. For this reason, the right-wing agenda to dismantle the federal and state tax systems continues to enjoy popular support. On this subject see, among other political analysts, Paul Krugeman, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Centuty (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).Google Scholar

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© Ann Bermingham 2005

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  • Ann Bermingham

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