John Dempsey’s Street Portraits
November 9, 2018 1:13 AM   Subscribe

Dempsey was an itinerant jobbing artist without any formal training who created ‘Likenesses of Public Characters’ in London and the provincial cities of England [in the 1820s], as he travelled around in search of commissions for portrait miniatures and silhouettes.’

Bonus: ‘John Thomas Smith drew compassionate portraits of the beggars of London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.’ Also Julius Mendes Price’s London Types (cigarette cards, 1919). Street Life In London (photography, 1870s).
posted by Bloxworth Snout (12 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
These are great, thank you.
posted by paduasoy at 1:43 AM on November 9, 2018

I wasn't aware of Dempsey, thanks! These are very nice: technical shortcomings aside, there's always more imagination and life in painted portraits than photographs.

The reduced size and softer detail of the subjects' surroundings (as in Mark Custings (commonly called Blind Peter) and his boy, Norwich, 1823) also makes them rise above their circumstances.
posted by cenoxo at 1:43 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

...wonderful characterization and excellent draftsmanship by John Thomas Smith also.
posted by cenoxo at 2:04 AM on November 9, 2018

Based on the excellent 2017 exhibition, Dempsey's People, at the Australian National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition website includes a lot more images and detailed commentary.
posted by verstegan at 2:36 AM on November 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

There's real scope for a talented artist to undertake a similar project with London's beggars and street people today. As cenoxo says, photographs just aren't the same.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:04 AM on November 9, 2018

What I like about the Dempsey portraits is their straightforwardness. They don’t seem to be aiming either for pathos or the picturesque.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:26 AM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

These are great! Thanks for posting!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:49 AM on November 9, 2018

Neat! Among other treats, now I know what the muffin man looks like.
posted by Samizdata at 5:35 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wonderful view of the times.
posted by gryphonlover at 8:00 AM on November 9, 2018

I would now like to be referred to as "Bobby Re-caning a Chair."
posted by rhizome at 12:26 PM on November 9, 2018

These are fascinating - thank you.

From one of the comments about the first portrait of the porter at Charing Cross (it made me check back & I'm glad I did...):

Great attention to detail,note the Porter with bandaged gouty/ulcerated leg having to wear a soft slipper,to make his vigil bearable.

posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:00 PM on November 9, 2018

These are gorgeous! I sincerely want to know more about all of these people, so I followed verstegan's link and have spent the last half an hour happily reading backstories.
posted by theweasel at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

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