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C O U R S E 
Sexing the Canvas: Art and Gender
Jeanette Hoorn, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Gainsborough's Cottage Door: Charity and Sensibility
Notes taken on December 22, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
Charity and Sensibility
Gainsborough painted this painting towards the end of his career
one of several pictures on this theme
how the representation of the rural poor and the theme of charity became part of the civic culture of the 18th century
many of Gainsborough's works include references to labor and the working class
one theme was impoverished mothers and their children
presented with the aim of
1. eliciting sympathy with the viewer
2. reminding the public of its own capacity for carrying out good works
Cottage Door series
show country folk gathering around a cottage door
using in the clearing in a forest
the theme first appeared about 1770
many paintings
18 published drawings on the theme
many show a mother with a baby in her arms
sometimes accompanied by other women
surrounded by other children ranging in age
sometimes a dog plays with the children
in one portrait, pigs are feeding nearby
feeling evoked
a happy but not a prosperous rural life
innocence and simplicity
draws attention to poverty in the English countryside
gentleness and complacency
related to strands of the culture of sensibility
an interest in sensation
style, palette, lighting
theatrical devices
palette is high pitched, designed to draw the eye of the viewer
the composition is closed as though it might be on a stage
lesson of charity
the viewer may conclude that it is the responsibility of the well-to-do to fee sympathy for and assist the poor
especially mothers and their babies
1784 Charity Relieving Distress
1783 A Sea Piece, A Calm
a brush stroke was so scratchy
difficult to make out subject of the work
emulated Rubens, Claude, Rosa, Murillo
admired the work of Adriaen van Ostade, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Aelbert Cuyp
pictures show evidence of rapid enclosure of common land
the poor being driven through a countryside with carts laden with their meager possessions
concerned with the social reality of the English countryside
"to him that feels it with great sensibility, a mind able to see common incidents in their real state is disposed by very common incidents to very serious contemplation"
in valuing what is seemingly insignificant, sensibility set a store by things that seemed meaningless and was moved with profound feeling in the presence of the ordinary
sensibility is an interest in and an awareness to others, and an ability to enter into them
the ability to feel with another
studies of the ordinary
but also about empathy
predominantly about women and usually more than one figure
some only pictured one woman
Girl with Pigs
more commonly, he represents women and children
figures performing labor
man returning to cottage
none of the figures look out at the viewer
aware that they are the subject of the gaze
life is too busy for that
clothing is simple if not ragged
child eating soup
another child reaches for it
Gainsborough had a concern for the care of mothers and their children
he was involved with the London Founding Hospital
painted of the hunger suffered by rural women and their children
some say, however, that the child figures appear to be relatively well fed and attractive
he shows the rural poor in a palatable manner
literature that refers to impoverished mothers and their children
no society could be happy when more than half the members are poor and miserable
it was the role of aristocratic and middle class women in particular to perform acts of charity
they should visit poor cottages and relieve their necessities
Mary Wollstonecraft
when a governess in Ireland
visited the cabins of the poor
tender sympathy and wholesome counsels to the indigent and industrious cottages
given the number of paintings of the poor
we can conclude the Gainsborough had an interest in the fate of the rural working women and their children
as a man of sensibility, it was his duty to teach these sentiments to others