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Creator:
William Collins, 1788–1847, British
Title:

May Day

Date:
between 1811 and 1812
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
37 x 44 inches (94 x 111.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Jean M. Harford
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1997.20
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
apron (main garment) | baby | basket | beggar | bonnet | celebration | child | children | costume | crying | dog (animal) | drinking | drummer | drums (membranophones) | fair | feather | festival | flora | flowers (plants) | food | genre subject | hat | holiday | houses | inn | kite | leisure | May Day | mother | pagan | people | pub | shawl | shawls | tree | trunk | village | women | wood | working class
Access:
Not on view
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:6153
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William Collins, father of the novelist Wilkie Collins, was primarily a landscape and genre painter. This boisterous scene, exhibited in London in 1812, depicts a motley crowd of revelers celebrating a traditional May Day holiday. Young chimney sweeps in elaborate costumes lead the merrymaking outside a village inn while begging for coins in exchange for dancing. Despite the festive atmosphere, however, life as a chimney sweep was brutal, so much so that it was compared to slavery. Indeed, in 1822 the essayist Charles Lamb described England’s soot-blackened chimney sweeps (many of whom had been abducted and sold into the trade) as “young Africans of our own growth” who are “raw victims,” while the Quaker poet Bernard Barton lamented in 1824, “BRITONS! holding freedom dear, / Abject slavery greets you here; / HOME-BRED SLAVERY!—dire disgrace! / Borne by childhood’s helpless race.”

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

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