• 3 June 2020
  • The British Art Talks podcast is a new audio series from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. It features new research and aims to enhance and expand knowledge of British art and architecture.

Painting of a man, woman, and two small children resting on the side of a country lane This talk focuses on a key instance of the social realism that played an important role in late Victorian art and culture. Hubert von Herkomer’s Hard Times (1885), has to do with conditions of migrant and insecure labour at the time. Artistically, and in its address to vital social issues, it is an intriguing and complex creation. It continues to strike a chord nowadays, partly because its conception has a certain bearing on present day concerns. Our concerns, though clearly very different from those governing work such as Herkomer’s, have not entirely left behind, or succeeded in radically modernizing, the Victorian conditions this work visualised, and which key figures at the time, most notably Karl Marx, subjected to such powerful critique. At the same time, the ambitions and representational configurations of the late nineteenth-century realist painting of modern life continue to inform much of the art work that examines the fabric of the modern world’s social environments.

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Alex Potts

    Alex Potts is author of the books Flesh and the Ideal: Winckelmann and the Origins of Art History (1994 and 2000), The Sculptural Imagination: Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist (2000), and Experiments in Modern Realism: World Making, Politics and the Everyday in Postwar European and American Art (2013). He is co-editor of The Modern Sculpture Reader (2007). His recent publications on sculpture include the catalogue essays “Melvin Edwards’ Sculptural Intensity” (2015) and “Martin Puryear: The Persistence of Sculpture” (2016).