H. W. Petherick’s London Characters
These London Characters were drawn by Horace William Petherick, a painter and illustrator who once contributed pictures regularly to the Illustrated London News. He also collaborated on some children’s books with Laura Valentine, who wrote under the pseudonym Aunt Louisa, and the prints you see here are the product of such a collaboration.
When I first came across these pictures in the collection at the Bishopsgate Institute, they caught my eye at once with the veracity of their observation. I am fascinated by all the prints that were made through the ages of the street people of London, and I have seen so many now that I have learnt to recognise when these images become generic. Yet, although in form and composition, H.W.Petherick’s London Characters draw upon the traditional visual style of the Cries of London, there is clear evidence of observation from life in his vibrant designs.
The subtleties of posture and demeanour in each trade, and the fluent quality of vigorous movement, are true to those of working people. He captures the stance that reveals the relationship of each individual to the world, whether haughty like the Beadle, weary like the Dustman, playful like the Acrobat, deferential like the Cabman or resigned like the old wounded soldier working as a Commissionaire. In these images, they declare themselves as who they are, both the products and the exemplifiers of their occupations.
It was the Lamplighter that first drew my attention, gazing with such concentrated poise up to the light, which is cleverly placed outside the frame of the composition – indicated only by the cast of its glow. In the foggy street, the Lamplighter pauses for the briefest moment for the flame to catch, while a carriage rolls away to vanish into the mist. An instant later, he will move on to the next lamp, but the fleeting moment is caught. All these Characters are preoccupied with their business – walking with intent, pouring milk steadily, carrying a loaf carefully, cutting meat with practised skill, scrutinising an address on an envelope, pasting up a poster just so, or concentrating to keep three balls up in the air at once.
They inhabit a recognisable city and they take ownership of the streets by their presence – they are London Characters.
The Butcher Boy
The Cat’s-Meat Man
The Street Boy
The Chimney Sweeper
The Orange Girl
The Telegraph Boy
The Muffin Man
The Basket Woman
The Railway Porter
The Newspaper Boy
The Bill Sticker
The Organ Grinder
Images copyright © Bishopsgate Institute
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