A Pair of George III Stipple Engravings
Engraved by Charles Knight (1743-1826) after Henry William Bunbury (1750-1811)
45.3 cm x 48.6 cm (Framed)
Framed and glazed
A pair of oval shaped, stipple engravings printed in sepia ink, engraved by Charles Knight after drawings by Henry William Bunbury, published in London by W. Dickinson 1787.
In one plate a young women carries a bundle on her head, another with a wheat sheaf under one arm gestures towards where they are to walk. A young girl carrying a bundle beside them looks tired and frustrated and an older women in the background gathers together another bundle of corn. In the second plate three young women also gather corn into bundles whilst, nearby, a shepherd boy in a hat plays a 'shawm' with a dog sitting beside him, a church can be seen in the distance.
A pair of prints on the subject of "Gleaners" (rustic folk, gathering up leftover corn following the harvest). In England, up until the late 18th century, 'gleaning' was seen as an inherent right for landless tenants and poor "cottagers". The practice, customarily undertaken by women, had carried on for centuries, based on the Biblical precedent of Leviticus 19:9-10 which proposed the idea that landowners had an obligation to provide for the poor and marginalized by leaving field edges and gleanings "for the poor and the foreigner" (King James Version). In some parishes the church bell was rung (possibly signified here by the church tower in the print) to signal the times during which gleaners could operate.
Interestingly, at the exact time that these prints were published, during the era of 'Enclosure' (following the passing of the Enclosure Act of 1773) the rights of gleaners was being questioned and challenged in the courts for the first time. Over the harvests of 1785–1787 disputes had arisen between land owners and gleaners in the village of Timworth in Suffolk leading to prosecutions. In the case of Worlledge v Manning (1786), heard in the Court of Common Pleas, it was decided that a stranger from outside a Parish had no right to glean. This ruling was a catalyst for other cases to be brought and in 1788 (the year after these prints were published) a ruling in the case of Steel v Houghton et Uxor effectively extinguished the rights of anyone to glean harvest from a private field. This has been referred to by a number of authorities as "The Great Gleaning Case". The verdict stated gleaning was not a right but a privilege and so to glean was to trespass on another's land.
Therefore, although lost on a modern audience, Bunbury's images of "Gleaners" were extremely topical at the time of publication. Legal cases had stimulated a widespread public debate over gleaners' rights so it can be seen that the subject matter was highly charged. Bunbury was born in Suffolk and came from a family of wealthy landed gentry; his childhood home at the Manor House, Mildenhall and its substantial estates were only 10 miles from Timworth where the events surrounding the cases of Worlledge v Manning and Steel v Houghton took place. The wholesome and innocent depiction of rural life here, suggests that Bunbury, the son of a Anglican clergyman baronet (who was Vicar of Mildenhall), may have had sympathic leanings towards "The Gleaners" and the images are much more political than they might first appear.
Framed in “faux bois” varnished frames with ornate gilt stretchers within. Attractively toned and patinated with age. Framed with the loss of the publication line.
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