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The Representation Of Family In Nineteenth Century English Art

2093 words - 8 pages

The Representation of Family in Nineteenth Century English Art

19th century art gives us a great insight into Victorian society and
culture, its hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, its ambitions and failures
and its preconceptions and contradictions (The Victorian Web, 2003) .
Each picture tells a story and provides us with a great record of
Victorian culture and the thoughts and pre-occupations of people
throughout the 19th century. The home and the family became the
centre of 19th century life and the family was the most common of all
Victorian paintings. Domestic ideology became the dominant ideology
and the family was seen as a sign of order; it was perceived as the
foundation of social stability and progress (L Nead 1988 pg 36).
Strong discourses were set out in the paintings during the 19th
century but were these paintings true to life or true to how the
Victorians wanted us to see their lives?

“The cult of domesticity developed with the separation of the home and
the workplace during the late eighteenth century and the early
nineteenth century”. “The establishment and maintenance of the
domestic unit was the basis for social stability and order. Society
was seen to be composed of a community of homes and each of these
units was a microcosm of society. Regulation, control and peace in
the home ensured national security and prosperity” (L Nead 1988 Pg 32
& 33). The dominant view of the homes and families in paintings
would be middle and working class families. These ideologies of the
family and their home were maintained by the influence of women. A
respectable woman was at the forefront of Victorian families. Men and
women had two very different roles in the family though these two
different roles were seen as complementary. Men were not seen as
being above the women but rather the women was seen as being
different, though her differences were very valuable as they
complemented male attributes. “The patriarchal conjugal family, man
and wife each acting within their proper sphere, and the containment
of sexuality within legal matrimony, became the keystones of social
stability and moral progress” (J Howarth, Gender, domesticity, and
sexual politics, class handout). A woman was expected to look after
the home, the children and prepare for the home coming of her
husband. The husband would have had a long hard day at work in either
a factory or laboring and the woman was there to make his life easy
when he arrived back.

A good example of this discourse can be easily seen in the painting
Preparing Tea by Jane Maria Bowkett. This painting clearly shows a
mother and her two daughters busily preparing tea in anticipation for
her husband and their fathers arrival back from work. The little
girls are helping their mom by preparing toast and bringing in their

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