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George Morland: Poet of English Country Life Opens at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
"The Last Litter," 1803, is a hand-colored mezzotint on wove paper by George Morland (British, 1763-1804), as engraved by William Ward (British, 1766-1826). Photo by Rosemary Smith, © 2009 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

RICHMOND, VA.- Drawn from the extensive holdings of British works on paper in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Paul Mellon Collection, this display features prints and paintings by the 18th century English artist George Morland (1763-1804). The exhibition is remarkable for both the glimpses it offers of 18th-century country life and the aesthetic charms of the artist.

"This display, featuring one of the most well-represented artists in the Mellon collection, provides a thorough exploration of Morland's unique contribution to the art of the English countryside, which became a national obsession in 18th-century England," says Corey Piper, curatorial assistant for the Mellon collections.

"Morland's innovative vision can be found across the different media presented in the exhibition - including drawings, paintings and prints."

Morland was a prodigious artist who, although he lived only 41 years, produced as many as 4,000 paintings, many of which were reproduced as etchings and mezzotints. Morland was a popular artist during his lifetime, though his work was sometimes criticized for being too base and for adhering too closely to nature while lacking the uplifting qualities found in the country scenes of artists such as Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788).

Unlike the other sporting artists in the VMFA collection, Morland was mainly concerned with the people who populated the countryside - the farmers, peasants and gypsies. Morland not only focused on these subjects, he also felt most comfortable in the company of the rural lower classes. According to early biographers, he often dressed as a jockey or coachman and could frequently be found holding court in the village alehouse.

"The rich visual delight of Morland's work is seen in the way the artist presents seemingly sentimental or charming scenes in a serious and somewhat realist manner," Piper says.

"Despite his brief career, Morland left behind an overwhelming body of work, and his popularity and the proliferation of his art during the 18th and 19th centuries meant that he had a profound influence on the way that the people, customs and landscape of the countryside were perceived in popular culture. He had an understanding of both the rural ideal in 18th-century England and the actuality of English country life"

Piper will present a lecture titled "Rustic England: Country Life According to George Morland" at 6 p.m. June 17th at VMFA. His talk is free, but advance tickets are required: telephone (804) 340-1405.

He will focus on the exhibition and on Morland's interesting biography, replete with tales of drunken exploits and clever escapes from his ever-looming debts - all of which came to dominate discussion of the artist following his premature death from the effects of chronic alcoholism. Piper's lecture will delve beneath the myths that surround Morland's life and into the significant contribution that the artist made to English art.

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