Paintings, prints and other representations of rural life enjoyed great popular appeal throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. In a time of change and social instability - caused by the migration of impoverished peasants to urban centers and the rise of industrialization - cities grew rapidly and without control, becoming crowded and dismal. Rustic images offered a pleasant contrast, a refuge from social concerns and harsh day-to-day realities, while visually preserving a bucolic, often idealized landscape that was quickly disappearing. Artists in this exhibition worked in a tradition going back to Classical Antiquity and known through such writings as Virgil´s Georgics (29 B.C.) and European painting beginning in the Renaissance. This pastoral tradition sought to fulfill an idyllic dream, where man lived with his surroundings in an Arcadian world of harmony. Carefully painted and accurately observed in details, these literary and visual works are paradisiacal views that, ironically, eliminate any reference to the often miserable realities of living conditions in the countryside.
The 19th century saw the triumph of anecdotal genre scenes over more erudite and noble history paintings, in great part because of the patronage of a growing middle class. Pictures of peasants, farm animals or domestic scenes that posed no ideological threat to the social order onjoyed by 19th-century patrons found a ready market. The small size of these works and a subject matter more accessible than the more learned categories of officially sanctioned art, mythology for example, perfectly fitted bourgeois taste and the scale of their homes.
As the century progressed, an increasing number of artists found the road to success in highly specialized genres - peasants, animals or village life, for example - recording a way of life and culture that was irreversibly changing. Nostalgic yearning found romantic images. Artists aspired to convey the nobility of a simple existence spent close to the soil, so unlike the crowded and complicated urban life. They stressed positive, rural values, rather than actual social conditions, and fulfilled the city dweller´s longing for an ideal world of tranquillity and innoncence.