The Dinner Hour, Wigan, by Eyre Crowe (1824-1910). 1874. Oil on canvas. 76.3 × 107 cm; 30 x 42 1/8 inches.) Collection: Manchester Art Gallery, purchased from A. E. Knight, 1922, acquisition no. 1922.48A. Image kindly made available to be shared and re-used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Some critics find this a refreshingly objective view of the mill-workers' situation. Lionel Lambourne, for example, describes it as "that rarity, a Victorian painting of the working class which is not laboriously making some point about oppression" (384). Instead of showing the women at their work in the mills, it shows them relaxing and interacting during their mid-day break, and indeed the artist seems to have no axe to grind about industrialisation. Lambourne points out that even the smoke from the mill chimneys can be seen in a positive way. It is not filthy, black and belching forth as if to pollute the whole. Rather, it can be seen as a sign that everything is now in full swing at the mills, after the cotton famine of the sixties caused by the American Civil War. But not everyone is so appreciative. Jeremy Paxman tells us that Crowe bought in some petticoats and shawls at a local pawn-shop, in order to depict the scene in realistic detail, but, he adds, these and other such works presented a "decidedly rose-tinted" view of the situations of industrial workers (65). — Jacqueline Banerjee
Lambourne, Lionel. Victorian Painting. London and New York: Phaidon, 1999.
Paxman, Jeremy. The Victorians: Britain through the Painting of the Age. London: BBC Books (Ebury), 2009. [Review]
Last modified 27 June 2020