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High Life Below Stairs

1763
Origin: England, London
Unframed: 28 x 41 3/4in. (71.1 x 106cm) and Framed: 34 11/16 x 48 1/4 x 2 1/2in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Cora Ginsburg
Acc. No. 1991-175,A&B
A genre picture near the center of which sits a lady's maid having her hair dressed by a man in grey livery with red facings. She wears fashionable clothes, with a fine white cotton lawn apron over her skirt and a ribbon around her neck. Her proper right foot in its red, buckled shoe rests on a broken, red earthenware basin, with a fan o the floor beside her. Her hat rests on the floor, one of its ribbon ties stretched up onto the table. She sits beside a table covered with a torn and tattered tablecloth. The hair dresser uses a small comb and wears a ring on his little finger.
At center, a heavyset, older woman stands leaning her hands on the table and watching the hair-dressing operation; she wears a plain striped scarf fastened with an artificial flower ornament and, on her nose, a pair of spectacles. At far left, a couple sits closely together,singing, she also playing an English guitar. In front of them, a dog sits at their feet, on and beside prints and sheets of music, his mouth open, "singing along" with them. A cat paws at the second ribbon tie (on the floor) from the lady's maid's hat.
At the right, a window admits light onto the scene. In front of it stands a little girl supporting a doll seated on a book laid on a stool. At far right, a washer woman bends to her task, a doll on the floor beside her and a flat iron on the floor behind her. The table is set in front of a fireplace whose mantle supports various bric-a-brac (candle in a stick, tea pot, ceramic figures, etc.) and the walls of the room are adorned with a miscellany of objects: assorted prints, a tricorn hat, cane, lady's straw hat, bed warmer, cribbage board, lantern, etc. A black-and-white bird leans out of the open door of its wooden cage, which is suspended from the ceiling, to peck at the hair dresser's head.
Label:This is one of the earliest of Collet's paintings of humor and satire in the manner of Hogarth's well-known work. It shows servants in their own quarters (below stairs) aping the fashionable behavior and posturing of their master and mistress and their circle of friends. It is more successful than many of Collett's scenes of lowlife, weakness, and debauchery, even though it lacks the potent moral force of Hogarth's work. Its details of daily life and mundane possessions are particularly appealing and historically valuable.
Provenance:Through undocumented hands to Christopher Lennox Boyd, Culham Nr Abingdon, England; to Mrs. Cora Ginsburg, who was CWF's donor.
Inscription(s):Signed lower left "I. Collet pinxit 1763".
Note that some of the following inscriptions have been overpainted/changed; transcriptions following are for inscriptions currently visible. On the print on the floor at lower left is "Solomon in all his Glory".
On a page of the open book behind the dog is "A TRIO/by/Sigr Sustenuto".
On a page of the open book in front of the dog is "Musick/has/charm".
On a page of the music book under the dog's paw is "Voi Amante."
On a sheet in the middle of the floor is "Miss Snips Compls/to Miss Suds hopes to/have ye pleasure of meeting/her at [White Cyndick?] House/on Sunday next".
On the edges of the pages of the book under the fan is "NOVELS".
On the edges of the pages of the book under the doll is "Pamela in high/Life".
On the three portrait prints in the left background are "Eliz. Canning", "THE EMPRESS OF RUSSIA", and "Moll Flanders".
On the lower margin of the print over the fireplace is "THE ORDER OF PROCESSION AT THE CORONATION".
On the print at far right near the washerwoman's elbow is "Cleopatra".