Art Friday: Work

The village tailor by Albert Anker (1894)
Art Friday: Work

When we climb into our car,  walk around our homes,  prepare the evening meal, visit the doctor when we are sick, do we ever think of all the people that make things happen.  The farmers, the scientists, the construction workers, the manufacturers, the people who work in retail and in offices, the road builders, the doctors and even the lady at my local library. They all contribute to make the world turn round and without them we would all be in a pickle.

A coal miner by Norman Rockwell
We have an army of workers who get up every day and go to work to provide everything we need. Without them, the economies of the world would collapse and you or I would not be able to buy the milk we need, the meat we have for dinner, the books we read, the medicines that keep us alive or even the shoes on our feet.

Today I would like to remember the workers. Most don't go to work because they love their job or to go on a grand holiday (just think of the man who collects your garbage) - they go to earn a wage to support their families.

But think of those in the 19th century where coming home wasn't always guaranteed as mortality rates were very high in some occupations such as mining.

Factory workers (Switch Works), 1945
Teachers - painting by Haddon Sundblom

For those women who didn't marry in the 19th century, teaching (or being a governess) was considered to be a very suitable and ladylike occupation. 
Miners (Homeward) by Frank C Kirk (1930s)

Between 1850 and 1914, over 90,000 men and boys died in the United Kingdom from mining accidents. Many more were injured. This was one of the most dangerous occupations (and still is in many countries ) and without these men, the Industrial Revolution wouldn't have happened. At that time, 1 in every 10 men worked in the mines in the UK.  Sadly two miners died this week in Australian mines, it is still a dangerous occupation. 
Farming (Gathering potatoes) by George Clausen (1887)

Farming is hard work and for many centuries the lack of technology as we know today made it back breaking and very tough. Many women worked the land along side their husbands - especially at harvest time. 
Construction workers (Skyscraper) by Owen Smith
Fisherman - Jose Mongrell Torrent
The postman
Woman ironing by Edgar Degas

Most women from the lower classes in 19th century Britain either worked as domestic servants or in the factories. They worked, not by choice but in order to help support their families. It was hard labour and involved very long hours.  Some servants worked from 5am to 10pm at night. 

By 1870 (in the US), almost a million women were employed in domestic serve. 
Window washer by Norman Lerner (1950s)
The Optician by Paul Albert Guillaume
Mending the nets by Winslow Homer (1881)
Sometime life became even tougher when workers were laid off or went on strike to fight for better conditions. We can thank many of these men for the conditions we have today because they were willing to stand up and say no.  It often cost them their homes and everything dear. 

On Strike by Hubert von Herkomer
No work in the Victoria era =  no money which resulted in no homes for many families.  Life wasn't pretty as the following two paintings illustrate. Tragically many ended up in the Workhouses and many never left - a living hell.  We can thank the changes to the welfare system in Britain that led to the current system we have today. At least if one looses their job today they have some assistances to lean on - however many do still loose their homes as they can no longer afford to pay the mortgage. 
Out in the Cold by Leon Bazile Perrault
Homeless by Thomas Kenningston
High mortality rates among workers during the Industrial Revolution, especially those men and women working in factories where employers had never heard of the concept of work health and safety left many children orphaned.  Whilst many paintings portray the Victoria Era is beautiful and delicate, for many it was nothing like that. 

Orphans by Thomas Kenningston (1885)



  1. Beautiful post. I better get back to work now ;)

  2. Enjoyed this one, Jo! :) The invention of technology has increased the workforce and now it takes many, many more people to do the work that few did in the past...
    The Victorian era was a very sad era for most people - the orphans, the homeless. Very sad. :(

    1. Things are made quicker thanks to technology, however the tailor or cobbler, whilst taking much longer to make their wares, took pride in their work and produced a higher quality than we see today. We have sacrificed speed for quality and even paying higher prices doesn't result in improved quality.

      We tend to glorify the Victorian age with women in their pretty dresses and whilst there were those who did very well and live lovely lives, anyone who were poor suffered badly. This class, men and women had to work and the conditions were appalling - just think "North and South". I wouldn't swap my working conditions for theirs at all ;)

    2. That's probably what makes technology so irritating. We pay more (or relationally the same) for lower quality in many instances. That's stupid.

  3. Jo, I confess I didn't read any of your words for this post. I may go back later. But, I did scroll through the pictures several times and had SO MUCH pleasure. What a great collection you have provided us! Beautiful! How noble and worthy and beautiful work seemed when seeing this collection together. Thank you.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this post - I think we undervalue work (perhaps because people spend so much time complaining about it), but if we all stopped what a mess everything would be from the garbage to the lack of basic necessities such as power, water and sewage.

      Have a lovely Easter weekend:)

  4. Thank you for providing a lesson for me! =) Not that the art was in itself discussed, but we talked about different jobs and the safety issues of them =)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it - mining in particular in Wales was such a dangerous occupation and for the wives that not only sent off their husbands but their sons as well, it must have been tough when accidents happened. Today construction is one of our most dangerous occupations with many accidents and sadly deaths.


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