Also known as The Faggot Gatherer, Tanworth Well’s large painting is really a portrait. Rather than a picturesque rendering of the gatherer’s domestic task, the artist has concentrated on her face, bathing it in the unexplained source of light favoured by the Netherlandish Old Masters, and typified by Rembrandt. The effect is compelling. In the centre of the large, dark canvas the woman, whose lined and suntanned face and hands tell their own story, is painted with extraordinary sensitivity. Precisely described with delicate brushwork, her upturned face has an almost transcendent expression, her humble activity somehow imbued with dignity – a woman, one senses, not trammelled by a life of work.
Henry Tanworth Wells was born in London in 1828. Initially he trained as a lithographer, but soon turned to painting miniatures. In 1846 he exhibited at the RA and four years later he studied in Paris under the portrait painter Thomas Couture. Although a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he painted in a more academic style with deference to Old Masters. Hugely successful in his own time, his painting of Queen Victoria’s accession Victoria Regina was reproduced across the country.
Faggot is another word for a bundle of sticks used for fuel (prescribed as being two foot wide and three foot long). Gathering faggots was an essential job for working people, that frequently fell to women and the activity was a recorded, if a little whimsically, by many painters from Gainsborough to Corot.
Dimensions (approximate): Image: H:110cm, W:84cm, framed: H:125cm, W:96cm, D:5cm
Oil on canvas
Framed, original gilded (on gum arabic) moudled gesso wooden frame, unglazed
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