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Not currently on display at the V&A

An Anxious Hour

Oil Painting
1865 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Farmer specialised in genre scenes, often with sentimental subjects. An Anxious Hour reflects the high death rate of Victorian children from disease. The sitter is probably the artist's sister Emily, a watercolourist who painted similar subjects.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
oil on panel
Brief description
Oil painting, 'An Anxious Hour', Alexander Farmer, 1865
Physical description
Oil on panel.
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 11.875in
  • Estimate width: 16in
  • Framed height: 51cm
  • Framed width: 62cm
Dimensions taken from Summary catalogue of British Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973
Style
Marks and inscriptions
'Alexr Farmer 1865' (Signed and dated by the artist)
Credit line
Bequeathed by Miss Emily Farmer
Object history
Bequeathed by Miss Emily Farmer, RI, 1905



This painting was exhibited in the 1970 exhibition Charles Dickens. The catalogue entry stated: "The theme of the sick child is frequent in Victorian art and literature; the large families and high mortality rate made the event one which was all too familiar in real life. Dickens not only treated it in such fictional passages as the deaths of Little Nell and Paul Dombey; he made one of his finest speeches in support of the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, in 1858."



Historical significance: Two paintings by Alexander Farmer (1817-69), 'An Anxious Hour' and 'No-one knows where the shoe pinches but he who wears it', were bequeathed to the museum in 1905 by Miss Emily Farmer, the younger sister of the artist.



Farmer was a genre and still-life painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1855 and 1867. 'An Anxious Hour' was shown there in 1865. Farmer lived at Portchester House, Portchester, Hampshire, with his mother and two sisters.



A mistake in Graves' published dictionaries of Royal Academy and British Institution exhibitors, where Alexander Farmer is referred to as 'Mrs A. Farmer', has led to ongoing confusion over the artist's sex. The problem was compounded when two paintings by Farmer, entitled 'Lost' and 'Found' (both 1861), included in an exhibition entitled The Victorian Scene at M. Newman's Gallery, Duke Street, London in 1962, were incorrectly catalogued as by Alexandra Farmer.



However, in each of the relevant RA exhibition catalogues between 1855 to 1867, during the artist's working lifetime, the reference is to 'A. Farmer', not 'Mrs. A. Farmer'. It is likely that Mrs Alexander Farmer never existed, and that confusion between Alexander and his sister Emily, a professional watercolourist and miniature painter, resulted in the creation of a fictional 'Mrs Farmer' when the two were conflated.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Farmer specialised in genre scenes, often with sentimental subjects. An Anxious Hour reflects the high death rate of Victorian children from disease. The sitter is probably the artist's sister Emily, a watercolourist who painted similar subjects.
Associated object
Bibliographic references
  • Susan Owens, 'Alexander Farmer (1825-69): A Male Artist Rediscovered', British Art Journal, Volume X no. 2, Winter 2009, p.43
  • Victoria and Albert Museum Charles Dickens: An exhibition to celebrate the centenary of his death London: HMSO, 1970. P.77. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, June-September 1970.
Collection
Accession number
541-1905

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Record createdDecember 15, 1999
Record URL
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