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Joseph Francis Gilbert 1791-1855
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A view in the Lune Valley, Lancashire, from Caton looking north-east towards Gressingham, with Ingleborough Peak and the Pennines in the distance and Caton Mill in the middle ground.
Oil painting on canvas size 29.5 x 49.5 inches, and contained within a carved and giltwood frame
Provenance: [perhaps commissioned by Thomas Eskrigge, (b. circa 1801) cotton manufacturer of Warrington, and be descent to his son]:William L. Eskrigge (b.1828), mill owner, and by descent to his son W L T Eskrigge of Stockport, Lancashire, (b.1860).........
Ownership inscriptions by William Eskrigge are attached to labels on the reverse of the canvas
Mason, the friend of the poet Gray, thus described the view looking east from Caton: ‘The scene opens just 3 miles from Lancaster. To see the view in perfection you must go into a field on the left. Here Ingleborough, behind a variety of lesser mountains, makes the background of the prospect: on each hand, up the middle distance, rise two sloping hills, the left clothed with thick woods, the right with variegated rock and herbage; between them in the richest of valleys the Lune serpentines for many a mile, and comes forth ample and clear through a well-wooded and richly-pastured foreground. Every feature which constitutes a perfect landscape of the extensive sort is here not only boldly marked, but also in its best position’ (Quoted verbatim in Baines’ Lancashire Directory volume II page 30 (1895) and Victoria County History of Lancashire (Volume 8, Lonsdale Hundred page 79)
Joseph Francis Gilbert was born in Chichester, Sussex, in December 1791, the son of a watch- and precision-instrument maker. The details of his instruction as a painter are unknown, but there is a clear debt in his painting style to the works of the earlier painters George and William Smith of Chichester (to whom the present painting was at one time erroneously attributed) and William Pether, who were all landscape painters working in Chichester. He began exhibiting paintings at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and the Society of Artists from 1813. His work essentially continues the Georgian romantic topographic tradition, with an emphasis on the “sublime” and “picturesque”. Towards the end of his career, his style became rather more “homely” and early Victorian. His output was largely curtailed by a paralytic stroke in 1850, though he did not die until 1855. He is buried in St. Bartholomew's Church in Chichester.
Gilbert seems to have painted a series of views of Lancashire and the Lake District, all of which are of virtually identical size (some 30 x 50 inches). These presumably depend from a trip to the Lakes at some time around 1820, and the drawings from that trip were re-used in his studio over a period of up to 15 years (the Abbot Hall Ullswater is actually dated 1834; an inscription on the reverse of the original canvas shows that it was painted in Chichester in that year)
Joseph Francis Gilbert : A view of Ullswater in the Lake District (London: Mallett Antiques; canvas 29.5 x 48.5 inches)
Joseph Francis Gilbert : A view of Ullswater Head in the Lake District (Kendal, Lancashire, Abbot Hall Art Gallery; with Lane Fine Art Limited 1990. Canvas 30.5 x 49.5 inches)
Joseph Francis Gilbert Panoramic River Landscape (Government Art Collection, no.5035; canvas 31.0 x 49.5 inches). This may be a rather romanticised view of Rennie's 1791 masterpiece, the Aqueduct of the Lancaster Canal over the River Lune, a view also painted by Turner.
The Eskrigge family were minor yeomen living in North Lancashire in the 16th century; their surname is a toponym from the hamlet of the same name which is close by the village of Gressingham. Like many ambitious families, they were involved in the burgeoning cotton industry towards the end of the 18th century, when they had moved south to Warrington, where two generations of cotton manufacturers (both called Thomas) worked. As the importance of Manchester grew during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, members of the family moved to Stockport, just outside Manchester, where they developed a large cotton-spinning business, which, as the 1861 Census notes, employed 2,341 people. This mill was run by William Eskrigge, Alderman and Justice of the Peace, the first certainly recorded owner of this painting, who had been born in Warrington in 1828. Eskrigge enjoyed a certain notoriety as an employer, to the extent that he is held up as an example of the “wicked capitalist” in Karl Marx's Das Kapital. It appears that he largely ignored the new laws passed by Parliament to limit the amount of child labour in factories. He was on the Bench as a JP when one of his colleagues (who was possibly no more than a stooge for his own factory) was charged with failing to observe the strictures of the act limiting the hours that children were allowed to work. The members of the bench, all cotton-spinners and mill-owners, inevitably found that there was no case to answer, and the charges dismissed.
It is notable that the present painting includes a view of Caton Mill in the Lune valley:
(detail of the present painting) the Mill at Caton, Lancashire.
This mill was functioning by 1808, and belonged to Isaac Hodgson, who employed 150 people there, 70 of whom were his “apprentices” who were wholly maintained by him. The remainder were men women and children on weekly wages. Of the 70 apprentices, 30 were under fourteen years of age, and were maintained at an average cost of two shillings and eight pence per head; the total cost of their board and lodging (including a prayer and sermon in house on Sundays) amounted to £1001-3s-4d per annum. The author of “A History of Lancashire” writing a few years later in 1825 (about the date of the present painting) considered this a good arrangement, and noted that the children “have a remarkably healthy appearance”, though he notes that under Mr Greg, who bought the Mill in 1815, “the apprentices are now paid weekly wages for their maintenance and live with their parents.” Doubtless this “wage slavery” saved money, an economy which would have appealed to the careful Messrs. Eskrigge.
The old hamlet of Eskrigge lies at Gressingham, which is about six miles from the viewpoint of the present painting, just by the bend in the river. It seems inevitable that this is the reason for Eskrigge's owning the picture, melding as it does a view of the most beautiful part of their home county with a prospect of the village from which they derived their surname, and with the view of a cotton mill of a type which was the source of their considerable fortune. William Eskrigge's views on the activities of his niece Edith Eskrigge (1872-1948), leading Suffragette, political radical and social worker, can only be imagined.