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Oil painting - Playing with Baby
  • Playing with Baby
    Cranch, John, born 1751 - died 1821
  • Enlarge image

Playing with Baby

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    1795 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cranch, John, born 1751 - died 1821 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev., Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Museum of Childhood, Babies Gallery, case EXP


1795 (painted)


Cranch, John, born 1751 - died 1821 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'CRANCH / 1795'
Signed and dated by the artist


Height: 10.75 in estimate, Width: 15 in estimate

Object history note

Bequeathed by Chauncey Hare Townsend in 1868. Chauncey Hare Townsend (1798-1868) was born in Godalming, the son of a landowner. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. He took holy orders although he never practiced his vocation. Townsend worked as an essayist, poet and writer on mesmerism. He was a friend of the literary critic and collector John Forster (1812-1876) and the writer Charles Dickens (1837-1896), who dedicated Great Expectations to him. Townsend is believed to have been the inspiration for the character of the collector Mr. Fairlie in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1824-1889). At his death he left his collection of over 350 oil paintings, watercolours and prints to the then South Kensington Museum. The collection included works from Northern European artists.

Historical significance: John Cranch, (1751-1821) worked principally as a genre painter. Born in Kingsbridge, Devon, Cranch spent his early life working as a clerk in Axminster, Devon. Apparently self-taught, he first exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1791 and is documented living in London in the same year. He specialized in rural genre scenes that combine the lighting effects of Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)with the rustic figures and settings of George Moorland (1719-1797). Cranch was a close friend of J. T. Antiquary Smith (1766-1833) and both of them had an influential role on the young John Constable (1776-1837). In 1796 Cranch made a list of books for Constable to read, warning him that the Discourses of Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), delivered between 1769-1790, could bias the young artist against "Familiar nature" and its representation. Cranch published two treatise; On Economy of Testaments (1794) and Inducements to promote the fine arts of Great Britain by exciting native genius to independent effort and original design (1811). During the latter part of his life the artist lived and worked in Bath where he died in 1821.

This interior scene is typical of Cranch's work. It shows a lady sat in front of a fire by a table. She entertains a baby, who lies on her knee, by shaking a rattle above its head. To her right sits a cloaked woman. At the far right of the composition a man stands by an open door drying his hands with a towel while looking across to the women and baby in the foreground.

The setting of room in which the figures gather, with its low beamed ceiling and plaster coming off the wall around the chimney is typical of rural genre scenes of the early nineteenth century. One of the greatest exponents of such paintings was the Scottish Artist David Wilkie (1785-1841), who created similar paintings. These works were influenced by earlier genre scenes by Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century masters including David Teniers the younger (1610-1690) and Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1684). This work shows strong similarities to that of David Wilkie and earlier Dutch and Flemish artists. The theme of a family and Child recalls that of Gerrit Dou’s (1613-1975) The Young Mother (Private Collection), while the observation of the peasants recalls the work of van Ostade in his Interior of an Inn (National Gallery, London) and Jan Steen (1628-1679) in his Celebrating the Birth (Wallace Collection, London). As in the work of Dou, Steen and van Ostade, Cranch introduces still lifes within the composition. This can be seen in the barrel, baskets and pots which are propped up at various angles in the centre foreground. This group of objects has been depicted in minute detail. While demonstrating the artist's skill at painting, these objects also conjure up the feeling of domesticity. This is also the case with the rack on the chimney breast at the back left of the painting that holds a saw, hammer and chisels which have been placed in at different angles bringing the feeling of having just been left in this place by one of the figures in the painting. Cranch’s familiar observation of such domestic details reflects his own rural background.

Historical context note

"Genre", derived from the French for 'variety' or 'type' is the term used for scenes of everyday life. In classical antiquity it was seen as a low form of the arts. This attitude was inherited by Renaissance theorists. The term was used until the late eighteenth century to describe subjects including animal, landscape and still-life paintings, all of which were seen as minor subjects. The seventeenth century saw a rise in genre painting in the Netherlands. This was partly due to the fact that artists were responding to the taste of their bourgeoisie patrons, unlike patrons in Catholic Europe who were working almost entirely for the Church and court. Despite academic opposition demand for small cabinet paintings in Europe resulted in a growing popularity for the genre in the eighteenth century. Everyday scenes flourished as a genre in Britain in the early nineteenth century. This was partly the result of a widespread reaction against the Grand Manner of painting that had been encouraged by the academy. Instead of the Grand Manner, which favoured History subjects showing man doing heroic deeds, there was a conscious desire to consider the common man. The first major exponent of this was Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841). In the paintings of Wilkie and his contemporaries scenes of everyday life reflect those of the earlier Dutch masters combined with a sentimental observation of the scenes that reflects contemporary attitudes to life.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Playing with Baby', John Cranch, 1795

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Wilson, A. Eccentric Painter of the Rustic Genre: John Cranch, of Bath. Country Life, October, 1972, pp.906-908.


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted





Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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