Bonhams to Auction Paintings Showing 19th Century London Poverty

Three paintings by Augustus Edwin Mulready of London street scenes inhabited by impoverished children, are to be sold at Bonhams 19th Century Paintings auction on 29th September 2010, New Bond Street, London.

Mulready (1844-1904) frequently highlighted the social issues of the Victorian era in his works, particularly the poverty experienced by homeless street children who he often depicted gazing despairingly out at the viewer. He returned again and again to the subject of London street scenes with despondent figures in an attempt to draw attention to their plight. A special feature of his paintings is the inclusion of street posters in the background, the text of which creates additional social and political context.

Of all the artists who engaged with the field of social realist genre painting in the nineteenth century, Mulready’s paintings are the most emotionally direct. The slightly harder edge of his works, with an undercurrent of social commentary, separates them from the majority of Victorian genre scenes which often focused purely on joyful elements of childhood. The narrative element to his work and its applicability to contemporary social issues are particularly evident in the works for sale in this auction with their Dickensian themes. His works form a genre charged with a socially reflective mood and personal circumstance all underpinned by a rigorous technique.

‘Uncared for’ (estimate £10,000-15,000), is the largest of the works on offer. A pale, waif-like girl stares miserably out at the viewer, whilst next to her a young boy desolately buries his head in his hands. They contrast powerfully with the wealthy Victorians in the background, and above their heads is a torn street poster ironically proclaiming ‘The Triumph of Christianity’.

The other two works for auction are ‘The Flower Girl’ (£3,000-5,000) and ‘Fatigued Minstrels’ (£4,000-6,000).

“This is a fascinating group of pictures, and it is particularly poignant to be selling them at a time when the plight of the urban poor is so much in the public eye,” comments Charles O’Brien, Head of Bonhams 19th Century Paintings Department.

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