Charity
Frank Stone


c1844
Watercolor
Warrington Museum and Art Gallery


 
Objective Description
      Two standing women dominate this composition. Both women wear dark garments with bonnets and lace shawls, and are placed right of center near an opening in the room. The woman on the right holds a book in her right hand. In the lower right foreground, a man kneels next to a basket whose top lies next to it on the floor. A printed cloth extends from the opened basket to the top, pointing towards the figures on the left. The man holds a rounded object that appears to be a bread or cake.
      The figures left of center form a family grouping and balance the female visitors. A woman sits next to the hearth surrounded by four young children, three of which are physically connected to her. The fourth, a toddler, stands with her hands to her face and looks in the direction of the male visitor. While the mother figure looks upward to her female guests, the two young girls also look towards the male visitor. The infant, with crossed legs and outstretched arms, wears a bonnet that surrounds its head. The height of the family group is below that of the well-dressed women.
      Furnishings in the cottage are sparse. Below the hearth and pointing into it is a bellows. On the mantelpiece above rests various objects. A picture and a key are pinned to the wall. A cupboard falls into the shadows behind the family group. The edge of the side of the cupboard lines up vertically with the older girl's left arm and baby's outstretched left hand. A dark shadow beneath the infant's arm sets the toddler apart from the family group. A stool is placed in front of the mother holding a beet root and knife. The knife points to the mother, while the tip of the beet points to the toddler.

Subjective Analysis
      This romanticized genre image depicts poverty within the confines of a cottage setting. Two fashionably dressed and centrally placed young women are contrasted with the frugal surrounds of the domestic interior. Their importance is signified by height in that they stand and are above the rest of the figures. Their darkened and opulent garments contrast to the dullness of the interior and simple garb of the family group. The visual center is the right hand of the central woman resting on the toddler's head. The toddler is unaware of the visitor's benevolence as her eyes are only for the anticipation of the gift of food. The kneeling manservant has removed a loaf of bread from the basket. He too is below the level of the women visitors, and assumes a position similar to a Magi bearing gifts to the infant Christ.
      The contrast of light and dark is also marked by the placement of the figure groupings. The women visitors are placed near an outside opening, and are apart from the family physically as well as socially. The family group is placed next to the center or warmth of the family home, the hearth. This is verified through the placement of the key above the mantelpiece. The humbled mother, her belongings and family surrounding her, looks to her visitors for the gift of food, something that she has trouble providing as displayed by the single beet root on the stool.
      This watercolor, which has been attributed to Frank Stone, relates to England's District Visiting Movement of the 1820s and 1830s. The New Poor Law of 1834 abolished 'outdoor relief' as well as state sponsored charity to able-bodied poor in their own homes. Voluntary charity, as depicted here with two obviously wealthy women, is the focus rather than the receivers, as everyone pictured knows their place.

Go where you will, you will see specimens of the style—mawkish sentimentality, Goody Families, Benevolent Visitors, teaching children. There is nothing more detestable than these milk and water affectations of human kindness; all the personages are fools, and as far as their little senses will let them, hypocrites.

Blackwood's Magazine, 1848