This painting, one of two, has been hanging in my mum’s cottage in Wales for years. I’ve always been drawn to the paintings, though mid-Victorian they retain a freshness and vibrancy of colour that comes from the fact that they were painted directly on glass in reverse, with the foreground painted in first and the distant background last.

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There’s a brief summary of the history of the art in Tony Lewery’s excellent ‘Flower’s Afloat’ where he argues that the glass paintings were one amongst a number of commercial art practices, including hand-decorated pottery; painted faces on long clocks and the japanning of tea trays that were at the root of the canal boatmen’s ‘Roses & Castles’ style.

He states:

There was one other further area of popular art that would seem by its similarity of subject matter and commercial approach to be related to the canal boat tradition. Cheap landscape paintings on glass appeared in considerable numbers sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, and because of the permanence of the technique – the paint is directly applied to the back of the picture glass – they have survived in large numbers. Nearly all are 24 inches by 16 inches, mounted in a maple veneered bolection moulded frame with gilt slip. The great majority exactly fit the landscape formula of mountains, castles or cottage, trees and lake, complete with sailing boats in the distance. pg. 45-46

Lewery may see them as rather crude, but I still find the technique fascinating, and the link to canal art as compelling. I’d like to find more examples.

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4 thoughts on “Painting in Reverse

  1. Your paintings are very similar to one that I have. I wonder if it is even by the same person . I cannot see a signature on mine. The colours are the same . Mine belonged to a great aunt I think.

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    1. Hi Caroline

      It’s possible that it was done by the same person, though more likely these were ‘artisan’ pieces rather than ‘artist’ pieces and would have been done in job lots by (albeit highly skilled) people who’d perhaps initially been trained to add designs to pottery. Many of them also have a very similar range of images, the cottage/castle, the woodland setting etc.

      I find them fascinating.

      best wishes

      Nick

      Like

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