This aquatint print illustrates different aspects of the process of brickmaking. Men, women and children are seen working together to make bricks. The print is taken from a publication titled ‘Microcosm’, which was first issued in parts and the images were intended to provide amateur artists with illustrations of figures, which could be copied into their own landscape paintings. In 1808, the plates were collected together and published as two volumes, accompanied by text written by C. Gray, which gave background information on the various acts of industry depicted.
In late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain bricks were made using heavy clay at locations close to large towns. Often an entire family, including the children and both parents, carried out the process. Gray’s text for ‘Microcosm’ describes the scenes of brick-making in Pyne’s images as follows:
‘A girl prepares a quantity about the size of the mould. A man, perhaps the father of the family, with a constant activity and exertion bending forward to mould it, and then puts it aside. It is now placed on a long barrow; and when a cargo of these wet bricks is made up, they are carried and placed in rows to dry. When dried, they are piled for burning.’
William Henry Pyne was born in London; the son of a leather dresser. He studied at the drawing school of Henry Pars, before being apprenticed to engraver William Sharp at 14. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1790. In 1804 he was involved in founding the Society of Painters in Watercolours but resigned five years later in protest to its exclusivity. In his late 20s he began to collaborate with publisher Rudolph Ackermann on books from which amateur artists could copy. He also wrote text for Ackermann’s ‘Microcosm of London’. Writing became his principle source of income and he worked as an art critic and penned a novel. In 1828 he was confined to the King’s Bench Prison for debts, returning there in 1835. He died of a stroke, aged 73.
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