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Oil painting - Johnny Going to the Fair
  • Johnny Going to the Fair
    George Morland, born 1763 - died 1804
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Johnny Going to the Fair

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    late 18th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    George Morland, born 1763 - died 1804 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

A rustic scene set at the door of a cottage. A young woman is seated by the door, talking to another, who leans out of the door. On the right stands a man, his gaze directed at the viewer. On the ground in front of the young woman are chickens.

Place of Origin

Britain (painted)


late 18th century (painted)


George Morland, born 1763 - died 1804 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 18 in approx., Width: 13.5 in approx., :

Object history note

Bequeathed by John Jones, 1882
John Jones (1800-1882) was first in business as a tailor and army clothier in London 1825, and opened a branch in Dublin 1840. Often visited Ireland, travelled to Europe and particularly France. He retired in 1850, but retained an interest in his firm. Lived quietly at 95 Piccadilly from 1865 to his death in January 1882. After the Marquess of Hertford and his son Sir Richard Wallace, Jones was the principal collector in Britain of French 18th century fine and decorative arts. Jones bequeathed an important collection of French 18th century furniture and porcelain to the V&A, and among the British watercolours and oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A are subjects which reflect his interest in France.

See also South Kensington Museum Art Handbooks. The Jones Collection. With Portrait and Woodcuts. Published for the Committee of Council on Education by Chapman and Hall, Limited, 11, Henrietta Street. 1884.
Chapter I. Mr. John Jones. pp.1-7.
Chapter II. No.95, Piccadilly. pp.8-44. This gives a room-by-room guide to the contents of John Jones' house at No.95, Piccadilly.
Chapter VI. ..... Pictures,... and other things, p.138, "The pictures which are included in the Jones bequest are, with scarcely a single exception, valuable and good; and many of them excellent works of the artists. Mr. Jones was well pleased if he could collect enough pictures to ornament the walls of his rooms, and which would do no discredit to the extraordinary furniture and other things with which his house was filled."

This painting is referred to on p.138/9; "Among the pictures are... a very fine Morland (No.541)...".

Historical significance: George Morland (1763-1804), landscape and genre painter, was the son of Henry Robert Morland, painter, engraver and art dealer. His father encouraged his early artistic promise, training him through copying old-master drawings. At 14 Morland began an official seven-year apprenticeship with his father, during which he made a particular study of 17th century Dutch landscapes and genre scenes, copying works which his father sold as original works. He also made copies of shipwreck subjects by Cluade-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) and landscapes and fancy pictures by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). These subjects had a great impact on his mature work. Once freed from his apprenticeship he embarked on the life of drinking and association with low-life characters for which he became notorious. By 1786 he had embarked on a fruitful partnership with the engraver William Ward and John Raphael Smith, also a printmaker and a publisher. Morland became established as a painter of moralizing and domestic genre subjects, most of which were intended for the popular print market. As the DNB notes "The subjects were usually of a didactic, moralizing nature, portraying contrasting virtues and vices". Modelled on the work of William Hogarth, they were more in tune with late 18th century ideas of sensibility and were more refined, even sentimental. In 1790 however Morland made the decision to move away from such clear narrative content, painting genre subjects in which there was no narrative or subject matter as such. This seems to have been a response to a shift in taste away from essentially elegant domestic genre, to the picturesque. At the same time he began to modify his style to a less finished, more painterly, even rough handling. He found his new subjects in the village of Paddington where he now lived, opposite an inn frequented by drovers and other country characters. He was hugely prolific and sold most of paintings to dealers. He also continued to work closely with the printmakers and publishers. However, he was no businessman and was often in debt. The last years of his career he was in decline, physically and professionally.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [viewed online 2/9/09] Valentine's Day is Morland's earliest known dated work (about 1786/7). A print after this painting formed part of a series of 4 prints called the Progress of Love produced in collaboration with fellow painter Francis Wheatley (1747-1801), and engraved and published by John Dean. As the DNB comments, Wheatley's "success as a painter of sentimental genre no doubt influenced Morland". This painting, like Girl with a Dove (V&A, 235-1879) dates from the early years of Morland's career when he was experimenting with a number of types of painting of a generally sentimental or moralizing tendency, with an eye on the popular print market.

The two paintings by Morland for the Progress of Love, were engraved as Valentine's Day and The Happy Family (for copies of both see the British Museum, "Search the collection" online database, prints by John Dean after George Morland, registration numbers 1877,0512.594 and 1877,0512.598). Wheatley's two paintings were published as The Marriage and The Love-Sick Main (for copies of both see the British Museum, "Search the collection" online database, prints by John Dean after Francis Wheatley, registration numbers 1877,0512.629 and 1877,0512.628).

George Morland did not exhibit a painting at the Royal Academy with the title Valentine's Day or Johnny going to the Fair; the latter title seems to be one that the painting acquired when in the possession of John Jones. The Catalogue of the Jones Collection; Part III - Paintings and Miniatures, cat. 511, gives it the multiple title of, Johnny going to the Fair, or, Valentine's Day - "The Fairing"'. A note comments confusingly that "A mezzotint engraving of this picture by R. B. Parkes, after J. Dean, was published under the title, Valentine's Day, - "The Fairing" by J. Dean, Bentinck Street, Shoho, 15th November, 1787. The engraving is reproduced on page 77 of George Morland, by J. T. Herbert Baily, 1906." In fact the original print by J. Dean, a copy of which is held by the British Museum, is entitled only Valentine's Day. The longer title Valentine's Day, - "The Fairing" seems to have been added in the edition by R. B. Parkes after the earlier edition by J. Dean. The connection between this painting and the subject of Valentine's Day was possibly one concocted by the engraver and publisher John Dean, and was not the original subject of this painting. In fact the connection between the four paintings by Wheatley and Morland, and between each painting and its respective title in print form seems equally tenuous. In Morland's so-called Valentine's Day it is indeed hard to see any obvious link between the figures depicted and Valentine's Day, and one would find it hard to guess the subject once the title is removed from the picture. In fact the male figure, who walks away from the two women, does not seem of interest to either of them, who seem engrossed in their conversation, and certainly his departure does not seem a matter of regret to either. Similarly, he does not look at them, but glances over his shoulder directly at the viewer. It is an unresolved subject, and the alternative title, Johnny Going to the Fair is no more helpful in understanding the true nature of this oddly disconcerting image.

Historical context note

Taken from Lionel Lambourne, An Introduction to 'Victorian' Genre Painting, from Wilkie to Frith, (Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1982).
"...Throughout the eighteenth century, as the capital [of London] grew in size so did the nostalgia among sophisticated Londoners for the joys of a rural Arcadia. [Francis] Hayman's decorations for the supper boxes at Vauxhall Gardens, the famous London pleasure garden, which portrayed boys sliding on the ice and other rural games, and the charming freshness of milkmaids on May Day [V&A, P.13-1947 and P.12-1947] mark the first phase in the characteristic English development of the 'fancy picture', of which Thomas Gainsborough was the greatest exponent [with his Cottage Door paintings]. Such pastoral themes were to prove hardy perennials in the English genre tradition. As the eighteenth century came to a close, a new note was introduced into pastoral painting by the work of artists like .... W R Bigg. The title alone of Bigg's 'A Cottager at His Door' [V&A, 198-1885] might lead one to expect a fancy subject similar to Gainsborough's frequent treatment of this theme, but the painting's uncompromising note or realism reminds us of the actualities of rural life behind the idyllic Arcadia of the pastoral painters. These qualities are found to an even greater degree in the work of George Morland (1763-1804).

Morland's erratic genius has been long neglected as a subject for serious study. In his own lifetime he became a legendary figure, the public delighting in seeing him as an intemperate genius, always in debt, who miraculously never lost a happy facility for turning out pictorial combinations of pigs and pretty girls. In fact, a closer study of his work reveals both a surprisingly wide acquaintance with contemporary artistic theories and literature (he illustrated Voltaire), and a considerable knowledge of the Dutch School acquired during his apprenticeship to his father, Henry Robert Morland ... Thus equipped, George Morland was able to give to his chosen rural themes a surprising strength [see V&A, The Reckoning, FA 237]. Occasionally, in a work like Johnny Going to the Fair [also called] The Valentine [V&A, 541-1882], a note of ambiguity is introduced which distinguishes the treatment from that of [later] 'Victorian' painters who sometimes were less subtle and understanding in their approach.

The work of Bigg and Morland should be seen against the background of social upheaval in the Agrarian Revolution of the later eighteenth century. The rural life they recorded was soon to be affected also by the remorseless growth of the manufacturing cities, and a dramatic increase in population. The middle classes which arose during these difficult years of economic reconstruction and expansion after the Napoleonic wars still felt a nostalgia for their rural roots, which was to be reflected in the painting which they purchased with the fruits of their new-found prosperity" [end Lambourne].

For an alternative interpretation of the depiction of the rural poor in the genre paintings of George Morland and in the prints after his work, see John Barrell, The darkside of the landscape: The rural poor in English painting 1730-1840, (Cambridge University Press, 1983 [paperback], pp.89-129).

Descriptive line

Johnny Going to the Fair. Oil painting by George Morland, late-18th century.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Cottage; Women; Man; Chickens; Ribbons




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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