Just like us, the Victorians loved a good story. This lecture examines the rise of narrative paintings – pictures that told moral stories with all the verve and excitement of modern soap operas.
Victorian Britain saw the rise of the affluent middle classes, a stratum of society that expected all things to have a purpose and, preferably, a moral message. In the era of Dickens, Trollope and George Eliot, painters also became fascinated by narrative and morality. Here we see the results; cads, bounders and fallen women jostle with gamblers, philosophers and honest workmen in the wonderfully detailed canvases of mid-nineteenth century artists. This lecture looks at the development of such paintings – initially considered profoundly shocking, but soon relished with a delight that foreshadows our fascination with the TV soap opera.