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ID number:  BIRRC-A0261
Institution:  Research and Cultural Collections
Named collection:  Campus Collection of Fine and Decorative Art
Artist / Maker:  Hughes, John Joseph (1820-1909)
Title / Object name:  A Plesant (sic) Lane at Hampstead
Object type:  Painting
Culture:  British
Date made:  1865
Materials:  Oil on canvas
Measurements:  61 cm diameter
BIRRC-A0261.jpg

The striking circular shape of this work is by no means the most interesting thing about this painting. This idyllic vignette of country life is in fact far-removed from the reality of nineteenth century Birmingham and is thus very revealing of Victorian attitudes towards the countryside and towards landscape painting in general. By the mid to late 1800s Birmingham’s reputation as the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution was set. Despite appearances Hamstead was the site of one of the largest cotton mills in the city and was a busy hub of activity. Nevertheless the artist has chosen to focus on a small area of woodland, Handsworth Wood, on the outskirts of Hamstead. The version of Birmingham Hughes presents us with is one untouched by technological advancements, where rosy-cheeked peasants wander country lanes and livestock roam freely in picturesque surroundings. In this respect Hughes could be seen as reacting to the Romantic Movement in art and current intellectual debate which developed as hostility towards the new industrialisation. By emphasising the natural over the man-made, Hughes is aligning himself with the romantic sensibility in landscape painting and pandering to the desire of his bourgeois patrons to escape the harsher realities of modern urban living. John Joseph Hughes was a Birmingham landscape painter who painted extensively in Wales and the Lake District. Between 1862 and 1908 he exhibited a total of 360 paintings at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. Two other paintings by Hughes are in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: The Hamstead Mill, Handsworth and Farm in Woods Lane, Handsworth.

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