Diane Levesque

Big Man with Little Girl
acrylic on canvas
48 x 40 in. | $6,000

“The Penny Dreadful Project” began as I was researching the history of the Staffordshire figurine potteries’ working conditions from 1740-1835 and the themes of the figurines produced at that time. I was intrigued to find that from 1810-1835, the company added new themes that reflected common lower class idealized pastimes and some rather horrific contemporaneous events. The depictions of infamous murders, notorious lawbreakers, public hangings, mauling by lions and tigers, and animal baiting/fights as well as the abuse of women were explicitly and implicitly conveyed as sentimental decorative household items.

These gaudily colored objects sold as mantelpiece decorations and served as the equivalent of three-dimensional “penny dreadfuls,” satisfying the need of pre-Victorian and Victorian tastes for sensationalism in the public imagination. Many of these figures seem to simplify and disguise the actual living conditions of the working poor during this time, and to trivialize the impoverishment of women’s experiences, yet they were very popular with middle class consumers.

For this project, I wanted to explore these figure groups by exaggerating the implied violence and sexuality of the themes through the amplification of the gaudiness and randomness of both the application of color and decorative motifs. I also removed the quaint aura and sentimentality of the original figures. My intent is to utilize the trope of the material culture critique as a form of social commentary in art.

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© Diane Levesque