Gallery 6 – The Industrial Revolution.

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The alarm felt by many at the rapid onset of the Industrial Age and the passing of old ways as a result, is neatly summed up, albeit from a religious standpoint, in the well known first plate (Fig.1) of Augustus Pugin’s Contrasts, first published in 1836, with a rather larger edition following in 1841. As already indicated in Appendix 4g, the lower half of the Plate shows “a Catholic Town in 1440”, a semi-rural scene dominated by fine Gothic churches, an abbey, the town Cross and a Guild Hall. The upper half of the Plate shows “The Same Town in 1840”, a built-up landscape in which are a New Parsonage & Pleasure Grounds, a Jail, a Gas Works, a Lunatic Asylum, a New Town Hall with Concert Room, and an Iron Works – plus – and here is the religious angle – architecturally nondescript churches and chapels relating to the likes of the Baptists, the Unitarians, the Wesleyans and the Quakers – not to mention the Socialist Hall of Science.

Just how easily the Industrial Revolution came to be associated with Satan and Hell is provided by Philippe de Loutherbourg’s painting “The Ironworks at Coalbrookdale” (1801) (Fig.2). As indicated in the notes to Gallery 4, de Loutherbourg was a something of a mystic with apocalyptic leanings – witness his painting “The Vision of the White Horse” (1798), based on the Book of Revelation (Rev.6.2), shown here (Fig.3) – so it is quite possible that his painting of the ironworks does involve some hellish symbolism.

As already mentioned in Appendix 3, another contrast of old and new is found in Alfred William Hunt’s painting “Travelling Cranes, Diving Bells &etc” (1867) (Fig.4), in which the ruins of a 12th century priory are to be seen through the modern industrial apparatus being used the build the Tynemouth Pier.

Again, in Turner’s painting “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway” (1844) (Fig.5) we have another contrast of old and new, its ploughman and rustic dancers representing the old, the steam train representing the new. In addition, perhaps, the huge hurtling train, heedless of the forces of the storm, represents Industrial Man, whilst the tiny hare running along the track in front of the train represents Nature, ‘on the run’. See also the account of the painting given in Appendix 3.

As regards Watts’s paintings, some useful insights are to be found the book already referred to in Gallery 3G, The Vision of G.F.Watts, edited by Veronica Franklin Gould, and published in association with the Centenary Exhibition at the Watts Gallery in 2004.

In “Mammon” (1884) – or “Mammon (Dedicated to His Worshippers)” to give it its full title (Fig.6) – the gross and cruel figure representing Wealth and Materialism, whose lap is full of money bags, clearly cares nothing for his worshippers. He tramples a naked man beneath his feet, and crushes the head of a naked woman with his right hand, without so much as glancing at either. (Gould p.74)

In “Progress” (1888-1904) (Fig.7) a figure on a white horse leaps forth from a golden blaze to rouse three near oblivious human figures – an aged scholar poring over a book, a rich man grubbing for more gold, and a dozing figure (Gould p.87), the latter, presumably,  representative of the mass of humanity. As stated in Appendix 3, the painting seems to be Watts’s complaint that despite Man’s increased learning and physical prosperity, he is nevertheless not making the progress of which he is capable. The Rider on the White Horse would appear to be that of Revelation 6.2, and thus represents Conquest – presumably conquest of the inertia of the three human figures in the foreground.

“The Minotaur”(1885) (Fig.8) is an excellent example of how Watts’s symbolism is frequently so obscure that one really needs the help of the artist’s own notes to understand what is going on. One has to look closely to see the little bird that the Minotaur is crushing in his hand (representing the crushing of childhood innocence), and even then the link with child prostitution would be unfathomable without some explanation from the artist himself. Nevertheless, the painting is a powerful one, with the Minotaur, like his counterpart in Greek mythology, looking out to sea for the arrival of his next victim(s). (Gould p.70)

“Can these bones live?”(1898) (Fig.9) shares its title with the painting of Henry Bowler’s described in Gallery 4 – indeed, both take their title from Ezekiel 37.3. As indicated in Appendix 3, though, Watts’s painting is not about skepticism concerning the promise of resurrection, but about the unhealthy aspects of the overthrow of traditional ways of life by the Industrial Revolution. The skeletal remains of a man lie beneath the dead bough of an oak tree which is weighed down by a golden pall. The painting represents Watts’s view of the state of England (the man and the oak), suffering from the corrupting effects of wealth (the golden pall). Traditional symbols of honest toil (like the blacksmith’s anvil) lie abandoned on the right, and corruption is indicated by a drunkard’s cup and dice for gambling. Everything is set in a dark and gloomy landscape, though all is not without hope, for the oak has sprouted a single living shoot. (Gould p.86)

Finally, as mentioned in Appendix 3, de Groux’s painting, “The Great Upheaval” (“Le Grand Chambardement”) of 1893 (Fig.10) shows a group of medieval figures leaving a scene of complete devastation, in the centre of which is a toppled cross, not just toppled, but shattered from its pedestal To the left is what looks to be an overturned and decapitated statue of a saint (?). The painting would seem to be symbolic of the collapse of traditional values, particularly Christian values, in the face of rapid modernising change, but unfortunately there is little information available as to what de Groux actually intended to convey in this painting. (There is little in English on de Groux, but there is some reference to him in Robert L. Delevoy, Symbolists and Symbolism (1978), particularly the biographical note on p.230. In French, see José Pierre, L’Univers Symboliste: Décadence, Symbolisme et Art Nouveau (1991), p.166 and p.174 – the latter for “Le Grand Chambardement”, the former for the painting which brought him some notoriety in the early 1890s, “Christ Reviled” (“Le Christ au Outrages.”) A key source of information about him and his works is the French journal La Plume (1899), p.193-288. The journal devoted its two April issues of that year to de Groux, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t give us much of an insight into Fig.10. However, for an interesting online look at the painting see the following web-site: