No. 760: Marshalsea Road, SE1
Marshalsea Road, London, SE1. Photo © Roger Dean 2012
The Little World of London; or, Pictures in Little of London Life – Charles Manby Smith, 1857:
It must have been somewhere about the time of Hogarth’s death that some ingenious fellow, with an excellent eye to business, hit upon the mode of manufacturing those paintings on glass which for more than threescore years have deluged the country, and which even now are sold in considerable quantities, though the traffic in them has declined, according to the testimony of a rather extensive manufacturer, to less than one-twentieth of what it was within his recollection. These paintings, which the reader will immediately call to remembrance, are nearly all of two uniform sizes – 14 inches by 11, or 14 inches by 22. They are what they profess to be – oil paintings on glass; and having an undeniable title to this description, they took amazingly with the common people, and sold in immense numbers. We may form some notion of the traffic from the fact that it is hardly possible even now to walk through a village or market-town without seeing them exposed for sale, or to enter the cottage of a poor man, or the farmer’s kitchen, without finding a pair of them, and it will be oftener half-a-dozen, hanging on the walls. The smaller size predominates, the larger ones being comparatively rare – a circumstance which may be accounted for by their liability to fracture, the cheapest and thinnest glass being invariably used. Viewed at a little distance, they have a striking resemblance to old oil-paintings; they have all dark rich backgrounds – are mostly on sacred subjects – show strong contrasts of light and shade, and but a small variety of tints, for a reason which will be obvious presently. A slight blow cracks the thin glass, and then they are ruined until the pedler comes round with a duplicate of the same subject, and for a couple of shillings or so makes all right again. We must not omit to notice one peculiarity in these glass-paintings. Though their number is legion, and their designs almost endless in variety, yet these are all, or nearly all, the property of the manufacturers; it is rare indeed that one meets with an instance of piracy from the works of living artists, or even of copies from standard and classical works – the only exceptions being in the case of single heads, such as Madonnas and Ecce Homos. It is but fair to state, however, that this recommendatory fact is not attributable to the honourable independence of the manufacturer – we shall not call him artist – so much as to the necessities of his trade, which drive him to the use of the simplest design and the fewest possible tints, in order to make the more profit. Most of these pictures are made in London, and the manufacturer generally has recourse to some struggling artist for his design, who, for a couple of guineas or so, will supply him with what he wants, and he can get the engraving done for even less.
[ For more missing letter fun see the fabulous Missin Letters by clicking here. R.D.]