The Cottage Door

The Cottage Door
Oil on Canvas, c1785
Thomas Gainsborough


"It is really very wonderful how inextricably the violets have got mixed up with the vipers in this higgledy-piggledy world! Look on this exquisite little painting, executed by Miss Diana Eaton, eldest daughter of the Honourable Mr. Eaton. It is a dainty sketch in water colours of Phoebe Crowhurst's cottage near Abchurch. It hangs, as Mark Rutherford tells us, in the great drawing-room at the hall, and is considered most picturesque.

'Lovely! What a dear old place!' said the guests.

'It makes one quite enamoured of the country,' exclaimed Lady Fanshawe, one of the most determined diners-out in Mayfair. 'I never look at a scene like that without wishing I could give up London altogether! I am sure I could be content. It would be so charming to get rid of conventionality and be perfectly natural. You really ought to send real drawings to the Academy, Miss Eaton!'

Here are the Violets!

And yet, in reality, the romantic little cottage was a wretched, insanitary little hovel in which neither health nor comfort were possible. The room in which Phoebe died of consumption had no fireplace, and great patches of plaster had been brought down by the rain. Just underneath her window was the pig-sty!

Here are the VIPERS!

Mark Rutherford gets angry! 'That we should take pleasure,' he says, 'in pictures of filthy, ruined hovels in which health and even virture are impossible! It is more than strange that people should go into sham ecstasies over one of these pig-sties, should give a thousand pounds for its light and shade, while inside the real sty, at the very moment when the auctioneer knocks down the drawing amidst applause, lies the mother dying of dirt fever; the mother of six children starving and sleeping there -- starving, save for the parish allowance, for the snow is on the ground and the father is out of work!'



From the essay "Violets and Vipers" in the book The Golden Milestone by F.W. Boreham.