Work Is A Visual Metaphor For The Social, Political Concerns Of Contemporary Victorian England

Work Is A Visual Metaphor For The Social, Political Concerns Of Contemporary Victorian England

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Begun in 1852 and completed by 1863, Work is a visual metaphor for the social, political concerns of contemporary Victorian England. Ford Maddox Brown’s painting foregrounds, through compositional decisions, the issues of emigration, public health, class and industrialisation formed due to the installation of a new water works main, in 1852, by the New River Company. Central to Brown’s composition is manual labour alongside many other characters that juxtapose each other due to class - the idle rich, the poor, the unemployed, the street sellers and the Irish immigrants. Work encompasses all forms of labour in a visual form with “every inch of …. (a) canvas pregnant with meaning and thought” (Curtis, 1992, p. 624)

Towards the left behind the buildings, one can see the reservoir, which was completed by 1856. Brown witnessed these excavations, which aimed to “connect a planned reservoir on The Mount to Hampstead proper” (Curtis, 1992, p.624). Brown experienced this “living condition of “extreme poverty” on High street in Hampstead.. near the scene of Work” (Curtis, 1992, p.625). Victoria England suffered from water pollution due to disposed water from factories and water closets during the time. As well as a lot of pollution caused by the poor drainage and sewerage systems in London. Many people still drank from river water due to the lack of accessibility to clean water which lead to over “11,000 individuals in London alone (who) died in a major cholera outbreak” (Curtis, 1992, p.625). This is a key environmental issue that Brown tackles throughout the painting through the characters and the reservoir at the centre of the painting. It relied on many labourers and craftsman to solve the issues occurring between the water supply and...


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... address. At the heart of Work, Brown centralises the hardworking labourers that, in turn, showcase his moral affinity with supporting the plight of the poor and the working class. The navvies are contributing to society by installing the waterworks main, in hope of improving the contemporary concerns of the time, the rarity and high expense of water which developed many issues such as: alcohol consumption, the unemployed, cholera and death. Brown’s passion for hard work is also highlighted in the proscenium archway- the highest section of the painting, in hierarchal terms, above the upper class which encompasses Brown’s overall message that he strives to voice: the importance of the water supply, the problem with the increase in water pollution and the involvement of the labourers in attempting to improve public health, despite their deprivation.

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