Oil Painting
late 18th century-early 19th century (painted)
Courtship thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A


object details
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief Description
Oil painting, 'Courtship', Henry Singleton, late 18th century-early 19th century
  • Estimate height: 12in
  • Estimate width: 10in
Marks and Inscriptions
'1840' (Signed, and dated)
Credit line
Bequeathed by Henry Spencer Ashbee
Object history
Bequeathed by Henry Spencer Ashbee, 1900.

Historical Significance: Henry Singleton was brought up by his uncle William Singleton, a miniaturist and portrait painter. Singleton started his career very early, working as a professional portrait painter from the age of sixteen. He attended the Royal Academy schools and received a gold medal for Alexander’s Feast in 1788.

Singleton was certainly considered a promising painter, as indicated by the commission to paint the General Assembly of the Royal Academy in 1793. The resulting canvas, The Royal Academicians in General Assembly, (1795; Royal Academy of Arts London.), is an imposing showcase of the most important figures in the Academy under Benjamin West (1738-1820). Singleton never became a full academician himself, despite two attempts to join, in 1807 and 1811.

Many of Singleton’s work represent historical or contemporary events, such as Paul I Granting Liberty to Kosciuszko (1797) and The Death of Captain Alexander Hood after Capturing the French 74 ‘L'Hercule’, 21 April 1798. Many of these were engraved in mezzotint and consequently became popular.

Another large group of Singleton’s works are based on mythological, biblical and Shakespearian themes, for example Manto and Tiresias (exhibited 1792, Tate Britain) and Ariel on a Bat’s Back (exhibited 1819, Tate Britain). He also painted some portraits, for example of the writer James Boswell (1740-1795) (c. 1795; Edinburgh, National Portrait Gallery).

Singleton has never fully developed his potential as a history painter. His later works, smaller in scale and less confident in the depiction of figures, can be described as sentimental. He produced many book illustrations, and was one of the first English lithographers.

This painting depicts a scene of idyllic rural courtship. The girl is sat at a spinning wheel whilst the man appears in the clothes of a farmer. The dress appears to be late eighteenth-century, which would be considered old-fashioned at the time of the painting. T. This emphasises the sentimental tone of the picture. Genre scenes of this type are influenced by the style of artists such as George Morland (1763–1804) and Francis Wheatley (1747–1801). The quality and style of the painting indicates that it was made for reproduction

The painting has been reproduced in engraving. A coloured impression by William Nutter (1754-1802) features in <i>The Connoisseur</i>, Oct. 1915. Nutter cooperated with Singleton on a number of images. Another painting by Singleton in the V&A collection, catalogued under 1834-1900, was also engraved by him.

Singleton turned into producing images for engraving late in his career. Although he had never achieved the status of a respected history painter, he was nevertheless very successful and popular through his prints and book illustrations. Cooperation with engravers was an effective and profitable method of answering the growing demand for him images.

Accession Number

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record createdMarch 21, 2007
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