The Dinner Hour: Wigan
Eyre Crowe


1874
Oil on canvas
Manchester City Art Galleries


 
Objective Description
     Young women at rest are the focus of this composition. The young women (primarily placed in groups of two) read, chat, drink, walk and rest along a stone wall in the lower third of the composition. They are dressed simply—most with white aprons and in simple solid color garments. The viewer's eye is drawn to the two centrally placed women who wear skirts of red and blue, respectively. Balance is achieved by the inclusion of other red and blue garments placed to the left and right of the central women. Most wear a heavy clog type shoe, although the woman right of center is shoeless. The women's hair is pulled back in a netting and several wear striped shawls over their shoulders. In the lower left-hand corner, an older woman bends down to attend to some drinks pails. Her dark and patterned shawl covers her head as well as shoulders.
      Tall brick and large windowed buildings serve as the backdrop for this composition. Two narrow and smoking chimneystacks dominate the top left. The negative space in between the chimneys balance the factory building on the right, as another chimney is obscured by the building. The roofs of the taller building sport what appear to be skylights.
      The center of the composition, behind the two centrally placed young women and enclosed in the perspective of the lane between the buildings appears a figure in a dark coat and hat. He walks with a cane, and in the opposite direction of the young women in the foreground.

Subjective Analysis
      A later 19th century image, this painting depicts women factory workers at rest rather than at the laborious tasks of the cotton mills. As the conventional trends of the time dictated, pictorial painted images needed to be easy for the eye as well as the conscience.
      Although not within their place of work and pictured outside the walls of the cotton mills, the mill girls themselves appears to portray the Victorian sentimentality of the workplace and a middle class sensibility of rest. No evidence of hard work is portrayed, and the reference to the working class is illustrated through the womenÕ s poses (classical and relaxed), cleanliness, simple garments, hair netting and bare feet. A sense of camaraderie is portrayed through the placement of the young women in pairs.
      The solid, angular and austere factory buildings in the background serve as a backdrop for this image. They appear impenetrable, with their windows darker still. The smoking chimneys give evidence to the technology of the steam engines that power the speedy looms, but no evidence is given to the conditions inside the workplace—save for the netting on the girls' hair (pictured as a reference to the danger of accidents to the hair.)
      Perhaps the most obscure image is the most important. The tiny central image of a dark and silhouetted man serves as the center of the young womenÕs universe. The mill owner is the figure around which their life depends and is focused. The action of the painting illustrates this as well.

The clothing of the working-people (of Manchester), in the majority of cases, is in very bad condition. The material used for it is not of the best adapted. Wool and linen have almost vanished from the wardrobe of both sexes, and cotton has taken their place… the dresses of the women are chiefly of cotton print goods, and woolen petticoats are rarely seen on the wash line… the Irish have introduced… the custom, previously unknown in England, of going barefoot. In every manufacturing town there is now to be seen a multitude of people, especially women and children, going about barefoot, and their example is gradually being adopted by the poorer English.

Friedrich Engels; The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844.