The Other Half of the Landscape: Thomas Heaphy’s Watercolour Nasties

  • David H. Solkin
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


In The Dark Side of the Landscape, John Barrell uses The Guardians prescription for pastoral poetry by way of introducing his classic study of ‘the constraints — often apparently aesthetic but in fact moral and social — that determined how the poor could, or rather how they could not be represented’ in English eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century art.1 His book puts forward a persuasive argument that the painters of rural life had to balance the demand for a mythic portrayal of ‘delightful’ contentment and social harmony against the equally pressing requirement for sufficient realism, if they were to succeed in ‘deluding’ and thereby satisfying contemporary viewers. Of all the painters whom Barrell examines, only George Morland (1762/3–1804) seems to have offered any resistance to this imperative — and he did so only rarely, in a small number of exceptional works that ‘offer a comment on the attitude of the rich to the poor which might almost be made on behalf of the poor themselves’.2 On these occasions Morland may have hinted that the rural poor were neither as happy nor as industrious as most pastoral art (including the vast majority of his own pictures) supposed them to be; but if the results perturbed some of his early biographers, their unease was as nothing compared to that provoked by the genre scenes of Thomas Heaphy (1775–1835), who sprang into prominence a few years after Morland’s death.


Dark Side Water Colour Rural Poor British Artist Fortune Teller 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: the rural poor in English painting 1730–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 1.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., p. 128.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Heaphy’s Fish Market (SPWC 1809; private collection) sold for £400; the 42 works he exhibited at the Society between 1807 and 1811 were valued at over £4,200, and prior to 1811, when his market seems to have dried up, all but a few of these were.sold. See Greg Smith, The Emergence of the Professional Watercolourist: Contentions and alliances in the artistic domain, 1760–1824 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), pp. 143–5; further information on Heaphy can be found in Smith’s ‘The watercolour as commodity: the exhibitions of the Society of Painters in Water Colours’, in Andrew Hemingway and William Vaughan (eds), Art in Bourgeois Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 45–62. I would like to thank Dr Smith for bringing Heaphy’s art to my attention, and for his unstinting practical help and intellectual generosity.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    ‘Ephraim Hardcastle’ [pseud. for William Henry Pyne], ‘The Rise and Progress of Water-Colour Painting in England’, Somerset House Gazette; or, Weekly Miscellany of Fine Arts, Antiquities, and Literary Chit Chat, I, no. 13 (1824), p. 194. I have found no record of Heaphy ever producing an image of young criminals carousing in the basement of a tavern, so this description may be the product of Pyne’s still troubled imagination. For an exemplary discussion of his own very different portrayals of the working classes, see John Barrell, ‘Visualising the Division of Labour: William Pyne’s Microcosm’, in The Birth of Pandora and the Division of Knowledge (London: Macmillan, 1992), pp. 89–118.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Barrell, Dark Side, pp. 128, 5.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Heaphy’s Young Gamblers was sold to a Mr W. Peters (possibly the artist Matthew William Peters?) for a similar price. Most of my information on the details of Heaphy’s career comes from William T. Whitley, Thomas Heaphy (1775–1835), First President of the Society of British Artists, Royal Society of British Artists’ Art Club Publications no. 1 (London 1933). This short monograph remains the most comprehensive study of the artist and his work. Charles, 8th Lord Kinnaird (1780–1826) also purchased Heaphy’s Inattention (Illustration 3.3) from the SPWC exhibition of 1808. Although 35 gns. was a relatively high price for a watercolour, here it may be worth recalling that in April 1807 Kinnaird bought Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (National Gallery, London) for 3,000 guineas.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Jane Rendell, ‘“Serpentine allurements:” disorderly bodies/disorderly spaces’, in Iain Borden and Jane Rendell, eds, InterSections: Architectural Histories and Critical Theories (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 255.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Richard Payne Knight, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (London, 1805), p. 194.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Gary Harrison, Wordsworths Vagrant Muse: Poetry, Poverty and Power (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1994), p. 64.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Uvedale Price, An Essay on the Picturesque, as Compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful, 2 vols (Hereford, 1794–98), I (1794), p. 166.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Edward Dayes, The Works of Edward Dayes (London, 1805), p. 199.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    John Middleton, View of the Agriculture of Middlesex (1798), q. Patrick Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, 6th edn (London, 1800), p. 87.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Ibid., p. 84.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    The catalogue of the 1808 Society of Painters in Water-Colours exhibition identifies the nine genre scenes in question as follows: Disappointment, or the lease refused (catalogue no. 26); The Poacher Alarmed (no. 100); Boys disputing over their days sport (no. 174); Inattention (no. 183; Illus. 3.3, Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection); Return from the Bakers (no. 206; Illus. 3.6; London art market, 2003); Tired Pedlar (no. 214); Chiding the Favourite (no. 241); Credulity (no. 255; Illust. 3.5; British Museum); and The Louts Reward (no. 290). Of these only the three works for which I have provided locations now appear to be extant.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Anthony Pasquin [pseudonym for John Williams], A Liberal Critique of the Exhibition of the Royal Academy (London, 1794), pp. 31–2.Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    Wheatley’s Rustic Benevolence is reproduced in Mary Webster, Francis Wheatley (London: Routledge, 1970), p. 182.Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    Sean Shesgreen, Images of the Outcast: The Urban Poor in the Cries of London (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 179.Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Hannah More, ‘Black Giles the Poacher’, in The Works of Hannah More (London, 1801), V, pp. 416–7.Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    Colquhoun, Treatise on the Police, p. 116.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    This phrase, taken from an unattributed source of 1805, is quoted in R.K. Webb, The British Working Class Reader (London: Allen & Unwin, 1955), p. 26.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    See, for example, Hannah More, ‘The Sunday School’, in Works, IV, p. 379. Presumably the broadsheet held by the hawker was a popular version of the song Tom Trueloves Knell, from Charles Dibdin’s entertainment Great News, or a Trip to the Antipodes, first performed in 1794. Here Tom Truelove figures as a sailor whose sweetheart dies; Tom finds consolation in thinking that he still has a best friend, but he, too, comes to an early end. Then Tom himself is killed in battle, and names his lost love with his dying breath. All the details can be found in an undated bound volume of Dibdin’s Songs, BL G.382.1–73. I am grateful to Scott Wilcox for his help in deciphering the inscriptions in Inattention. Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    The condemnation of Wheatley’s Cries of London as ‘meretricious and theatrical’ comes from Edward Edwards, Anecdotes ofPainters who have resided or been born in England (London, 1808), p. 269. For the best discussion of Rowlandson’s series, and for the issue of anti-pastoralism in Cries imagery, see Shesgreen, Images of the Outcast, pp. 136–48, 173–95.Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    George Crabbe, The Village (London, 1783), I, lines ll. 33–4.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    Barrell, Dark Side of the Landscape, pp. 14, 87, and passim. Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    This phrase comes from an anonymous review of Crabbe’s The Village in The Gentlemans Magazine, Lm (Dec. 1783), p. 1041.Google Scholar
  26. 31.
    Critical Review, xx (July 1810), q. Arthur Pollard, ed., George Crabbe - The Critical Heritage (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 108.Google Scholar
  27. 32.
    See, for example, [Francis Jeffrey], Edinburgh Review, xvi, no. 31 (April 1810), pp. 34–8.Google Scholar
  28. 33.
    Martin Archer Shee, Elements ofArt, A Poem; in Six Cantos (London 1809), p. 53n.Google Scholar
  29. 34.
    [John Landseer], Review of thePublications ofArt, no. 2 (1808), pp. 186–8.Google Scholar
  30. 35.
    John Barrell, ‘The Private Comedy of Thomas Rowlandson’, in The Birth of Pandora and the Division of Knowledge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), pp. 15–16.Google Scholar
  31. 37.
    Repository of Arts, I (June 1809), p. 492. This was probably written by William Henry Pyne; see note 40 below.Google Scholar
  32. 39.
    [Robert Hunt] ‘State of British Art as Evinced by our late Exhibitions’, Examiner (2 July 1809), p. 426.Google Scholar
  33. 48.
    Heaphy enjoyed his greatest financial success between 1808 and 1810; at the SPWC of 1811, where he returned in a minority of exhibits to the ‘vulgar’ subjects that had previously been so popular with rich collectors, his major works remained unsold. In 1812 he abandoned the Society in favour of showing at the Royal Academy, where he was represented by a mix of genre scenes and portraits, and thereafter he concentrated almost exclusively on portraiture. For a discussion of some of the other factors that may have been responsible for the downturn in Heaphy’s fortunes, see Smith, Emergence of the Professional Watercolourist, p. 145.Google Scholar
  34. 51.
    Donna T. Andrew, Philanthropy and Police: London Charity in the Eighteenth Centwy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 165.Google Scholar
  35. 52.
    Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor, Sir Thomas Bernard, ed. (London 1798–1808), 5 vols, II, pp. 35–6.Google Scholar
  36. 53.
    Hannah More, ‘Tawny Rachel; or, the Fortune Teller: with some Account of Dreams, Omens, and Conjurers’, in Works, V, p. 448.Google Scholar
  37. 54.
    More, ‘Parley the Porter. An Allegory. Shewing how Robbers without can never get into an House, unless there are Traitors within’, in Works, IV, pp. 455–6.Google Scholar
  38. 61.
    David Wilkie, diary for 24 May 1810, q. Allan Cunningham, The Life of Sir David Wilkie, with his journals, tours, and critical remarks on art; and a selection from his correspondence (London: John Murray, 1843), 3 vols, I, p. 298.Google Scholar
  39. 62.
    Catherine Hall and Leonore Davidoff, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780–1850 (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 111.Google Scholar
  40. 64.
    The Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Water Colours. The Third (London, 1807), p. 14, no. 273.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David H. Solkin 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David H. Solkin

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations