The Trailblazers of Victorian Portraiture

Do you call yourself an expert who collects this genre of art or a novice who has had limited contact and information on the subject? Either way, it doesn’t matter. Hancock Gallery’s deep dive will leave you loaded with information on the topic and give you a new artist to add to your watchlist.

Everybody has heard of Victorian portraiture in one form or another. Do you call yourself an expert who collects this genre of art or a novice who has had limited contact and information on the subject? Either way, it doesn’t matter. Hancock Gallery’s deep dive will leave you loaded with information on the topic and give you a new artist to add to your watchlist.

 

First thing is first, what is Victorian portraiture? 

Portraits that were created within the time span of 1837 to 1901, the period that Queen Victoria reigned over the British Empire. The Victorians took their portraiture very seriously, using it as a tool to document the time in which they lived and displayed the seminal figures of the period. Frequently the portraits of males were styled to convey strength through hyped up masculinity that was believed to be needed to push the industrialised commercial power forward that was the British Empire.

 

What art movements were occurring at that moment in time? 

The Pre Raphaelite-Brotherhood founded in 1848 in England, coming together to resuscitate painting and commit their practices to the truthful study of nature. The collective encompassed artists such as: William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. They brought a sense of notoriety to British art as they brought a new realism to sacred subjects after rejecting the loose brushwork that came before. 

The Pre-Raphaelites later works show females with luscious hair and idyllic imagery of cherub like children. However, that wasn’t always the case. Depictions of religion and literature flooded the early parts of the movement that angered seminal figures of the time. Charles Dickens himself, once dedicated a front page of his magazine to review Christ in the House of His Parents (1849–50). Dicken’s commented that the female within the piece was ‘ugly’ and a ‘monster’. While reviewing the red headed child as, ‘wry-necked’ and ‘blubbering’.  

 

Technological advancements.

The new focus the PRB created within their work made spectators question whether they had in fact used the new technology of photography to paint from to gain sharp depths of field, even though this was not the case as the movement painted mostly from life or sketches. It’s clear to see that the art movement was not always popular within its time. Not in the way that it is today with the likes of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia that pretty much consistently tours the world.

 

How did the Victorians view animals in art?  

The theory of evolution was at the heart of many debates in the 1800’s; sentimentality within the relationship between domesticated animals and their owners also became an important topic of the time. At the same time the hunting and taxidermy of wild animals was vastly popular. The most popular pet of the Victorian era was most definitely the dog. Mostly due to the fact that the Monarch herself respected and owned dogs.  

The portraits created throughout Queen Victoria’s reign have cemented Its place within art history with the lasting impact it has had on informing contemporary artists practice and output of work. 

 

Our selected artist to talk about the influence of Victorian portraiture, is Justin Coburn. A North East artist who paints depictions of animals, mostly dogs. Reflecting on the relationship between man and nature through manifestations on an ethical, symbolic, and religious level; further exploring the perception of our own insecurities as we walk through the world. The team at the Hancock Gallery are excited to announce that his works will be available in the gallery in Autumn 2021, sign up to our newsletter to be the first to know when Justin's new work arrives. Until then, here is a sneak peak of some of Justin's work.