Linton- Life in the Collections
Edward Duncan and W. J. Linton:
53) Agricultural Pictures. in: The Illustrated London News. Vol. VIII.
These two volumes of The Illustrated London News contain some of Linton’s best editorial graphics, among them freestyle reproductions of paintings and an extraordinary piece of Hogarthian comic realism, the very lively pictorial sequence The Break of Gauge at Gloucester, published on June 6, which depicts the tumultuary events during a railway stop. But particularly noteworthy is a series of six images of rural scenery after sketches of Linton’s friend Edward Duncan. Linton remembers him as a “talented water-colour painter, at that time an aquatint engraver, engraving portraits of horses and of ships.” (Memories)
Duncan’s and Linton’s series Agricultural Pictures, which depicts farming activities like lambing, trashing, unstacking wheat and harvesting possesses an extraordinary realism. As the accompanying text emphasizes, all the pictures showed “scenes of actual life – not painter’s compositions.” The commentator links them to the famous accounts of rural life by the radical William Cobbett, which were published in the 1820s in whose own periodical The Weekly Political Register under the title Rural Rides. Like Cobbett’s perceptive literary sketches, the Agricultural Pictures communicate a rather authentic prospect of rural life, a no-holds-barred view on the trials and tribulations of agricultural existence and its late-feudal dependencies.
The depiction of actual rural conditions in the Agricultural Pictures can be read as a kind of supplement to the communitarian utopia of the second part of the Bob Thin poem, on which Linton and Duncan had collaborated the year before. Both works were created against the background of demands by leading members of the London Working Men’s Association to nationalize land ownership. Linton was one of the main propagandists of this dispossession campaign. He also supported, albeit with many reservations, the Chartist Land Plan from 1845, which was to distribute collectively acquired, agricultural land to the impoverished industrial proletariat. Their large-scale re-training to small-scale farmers proved to be an almost unsolvable problem. The realistic descriptions of agricultural activities in Linton’s and Duncan’s series of illustrations served a dual function. They were both instructions to and a critique of feudal romanticism dominant at the time.