Ever since, I have been fascinated with the way artists have captured street life and found a way to bring it to life with a brush or through the lens. Our 2018 display, London Street Encounters, showed over 250 years of the capital's vibrant and ever-changing street life.
I discovered quickly that this has changed dramatically over the years. Some of the earliest images of Londoners selling their wares on the streets were produced in the 16th century and feature hawkers, beggars and even prostitutes who lived and made a living on the streets of London.
These depictions became known as ‘Street Cries’, referring to the lively calls from vendors that would echo through Europe’s cities. The early ‘Street Cries’ focused on sellers as ‘types’ and were very formulaic. As the subject was explored further by artists, the street sellers began to demonstrate individual traits.
What was also noticeable were the differences in the way the subject was rendered from country to country. The English portrait and landscape painter, Francis Wheatley (1747-1801) depicted the street traders in an idealised and sentimental way. His romanticised take on the subject and his exhibition of 13 oil paintings at the Royal Academy in 1792 resulted in the mass popularity of the Cries depictions in London.