A NEW exhibition charting the history of art in Warrington has arrived at the museum.

As reported previously in the Warrington Guardian, the museum has joined forces with Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery to bring three important works by celebrated Warrington artists to the town, thanks to a grant from The Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund.

Among them is The Widower by Luke Fildes, pictured above.

Janice Hayes, heritage manager at Culture Warrington which runs the museum, takes up the story of this picture.

She said: “At first glance this oil painting appears to show a widowed father cradling his youngest sleeping child, while the eldest daughter has taken her mother’s role in watching over the three younger children playing with a puppy in the corner of the room.

“Look more closely and the full tragedy of the scene is revealed in the light cast by the small cottage window. The baby’s head has slumped back in death.

“Luke Fildes had already established a reputation for depicting scenes from the life of the poor of London, perhaps influenced by his grandmother Mary Fildes who had been a radical female political activist, a century before the suffragette campaigns.

“His engraving of Houseless and Hungry appeared in the first edition of The Graphic Magazine in 1869 depicting homeless paupers seeking overnight shelter in a London workhouse.

“Re-worked as a colourful large oil painting called Applicants for Admission to the Casual Ward the picture caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874 and drew crowds of admirers.

“One of the most striking figures in both pictures is a man cradling a child in his arms who Fildes had painted in his studio, recalling: ‘He got tired of standing and took a chair behind a screen.. There I saw the motive for the Widower. The child had fallen asleep, and there was this rough fellow, possibly with only a copper in the world, caressing his child; watching it lovingly’.

The Widower got mixed reaction from the critics. The Art Journal declared that: ‘It may be said to stand at the head of that class of pictures in which the poetry of common life has been placed on the canvas’.

The Times newspaper was more scathing, commenting: ‘’Parental and sisterly love into such contact; intense painfulness, overstrained expression are all qualities which make pictures unpleasant to live with.”

• Apart from The Doctor (1891) Fildes turned his back on the poor in favour of more colourful and commercial scenes of Venetian life and portrait commissions.