Dempsey’s People: A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844
John Dempsey created portraits that bring to life the street sellers, chimney sweeps and town-criers of 19th-century Britain. A remarkable collection of compelling watercolours, the portraits highlight those who are often overlooked by history.
Featuring 52 rarely-seen portraits, the exhibition will profile the stories of town-criers, match-sellers, chimneysweeps, street-food vendors, and numerous other characters populating the urban landscape of Regency-era and early Victorian Britain. Remarkable in their incisive realism and providing rare visual documentation of people otherwise overlooked by history, Dempsey’s portraits bring to life the fictional worlds of writers like Charles Dickens, presenting a vivid and distinctive survey of street people in British cities and towns. Similarly, the life and work of John Dempsey stands as representative of a substantial but uncelebrated layer of pictorial production in this era, a pre-photographic cultural infrastructure of journeyman oil painters, watercolourists, miniaturists, popular portraitists and cutters and painters of shades.
Curated by guest curator Dr David Hansen, Associate Professor with the Centre for Art History and Art Theory at the ANU, Dempsey’s people will be accompanied by a full-colour, scholarly publication and promises to be an exciting feature of the National Portrait Gallery’s 2017 exhibition program.