Pyne (1769-1843)

William Henry Pyne

William Pyne produced hundreds of pictures of working people specifically to assist amateur and professional artists. In the introduction to his ‘Rustic Figures for the Embellishment of Landscape, 1814-1815’ he stated that many artists did not put the same effort into representing figures as they did with the landscape, and often left them to add later. He urged his readers to study his drawings, which he claimed were from nature, to assist them in producing realistic portraits which recommended should be drawn on the spot so that ‘groups then assume the air of nature: their occupations are mostly accordant to the scene: and they are consequently appropriate in action, character and every essential that constitutes fitness of propriety.’ He advised artists to ‘study the works of those artists who have most excelled in forming pictures representing the peasantry of our country’ whom he named as Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Richard Westall (1765-1836) whose ‘Boy of Glamorganshire’ and ‘Girl of Caernarvon’ were produced as prints; Joshua Cristall, ca.1767-1847 who was in Wales at the beginning of the century; Thomas Barker of Bath (1769-1847), who was born in Pontypool and George Morland (1763-1804). By the beginning of the 19th century, prints were available in quite large numbers and it was these that he was probably recommending: Morland in particular, produced vast numbers of prints but most were sentimental. Pyne didn’t mention Francis Wheatley (1747-1801) who seems to have produced more genre subjects than the others and W.R. Bigg (1755 – 1828) who also produced rather sentimental views.

The fact that these works were produced and were popular and his suggestion that representations of rustic figures were not produced on the spot suggests and that artists copied his examples in their own works puts in doubt the reliability of many studies of working costume. In addition, the use of the word ‘picturesque’ in the title of his Microcosm confirms the view that rustic costumes, especially those of gypsies and tramps were considered a better embellishment of landscapes than ordinary costumes. Many genre studies are of young, healthy and active people who were not necessarily typical of the population as a whole. The costumes worn by most of the women by all these artists (except Gainsborough) are very similar and generally consist of a short-sleeved bedgown, long skirt, shawl and cotton cap, all in light, plain fabrics. The straw hat is not uncommon, some wear coal-scuttle bonnets and many are shown wearing a hooded cloak; stays are rarely represented and almost all of the women in English setting are shown wearing shoes.

Pyne’s Welsh views

Pyne produced two views of women washing in Wales, the most famous of which was published in his ‘British Costumes’. The most distinctive feature is the striped, heavy-looking fabric which is quite distinct from the fabrics shown in most of his other studies of women.

Welsh Peasants Washing

This was published in ‘Pyne’s British Costumes’ (1804-1808) with a detailed description of the washing process. The colours vary considerably on the surviving prints. The round-topped felt hat over the kerchief is typical of other artists’ portraits of Welsh women, but the representation of the clogs made entirely of wood is unique. The cap and the waisted bedgown were possibly influenced by modern fashions. (NLW (89), NLW PA7611)

Pyne, W.H., The Costume of Great Britain (William Miller, 1805) [1804 and 1808?] 60 full-page plates of professionals, tradesmen and peasants with text by Pyne. Many of the prints in this book are of men in their working or ceremonial costumes. Republished as Pyne’s British Costumes by Westminster Editions, Poole (1989).

Washing in Wales

This was published in Microcosm, 1808. It includes a washing bat like the one in his ‘Welsh Peasants Washing’, but doesn’t include the wooden clogs or the felt hat. Like most of the illustrations in the book, these women are wearing a low-cut bodice, possibly part of a short-sleeved gown, cotton caps and calf-length skirts.

Ackermann commissioned Pyne to produce ‘Microcosm, A Picturesque Delineation of the Arts, Agriculture, Manufactures, etc of Great Britain in a series of above 600 Groups of Small Figures …’ which consisted of 641 groups in 120 aquatints by J Hill after Pyne’s drawings of people in rural settings at work, rest and play. It was first published in 30 sections between 1802-1807, then as a book in 2 volumes in 1808 by William Miller, and finally by Ackermann in 1824. It is said that some of the original drawings were by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin. It was republished as Picturesque Views of Rural Occupations in Early Nineteenth-Century England (also known as Rustic Vignettes for Artists and Craftsmen) by Dover Publications, New York, 1977

Pyne also produced: The World in Miniature: England, Scotland and Ireland, Containing A Description of the Character, Manners, Customs, Dress, Diversions, and Other Peculiarities of The Inhabitants of Great Britain. (1821 –1827); Etchings of Rustic Figures for the Embellishment of Landscape, (London: M. A. Nattali, 1814-1815); Cottages and Farm Houses in England and Wales (1815) and On Rustic Figures in Imitation of Chalk by W. H. Pyne (London: R. Ackermann, 1817)

Further reading:

Myers, Harris, William Henry Pyne and his Microcosm (1996)

Chloe Wigston Smith, Dressing the British: Clothes, Customs, and Nation in W. H. Pyne’s “The Costume of Great Britain”, Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture – Volume 38, 2009, pp. 143-171

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