What is 19th Century Naïve Animal Art?

The Blackbrook Gallery specialise in 19th Century  Naïve Animal art by an acclaimed collection of artists such as Benjamin Marshall, Richard Whitford and Henry Crowther, but what is 19th Century Naïve Animal Art?

With ‘Naïve’ referring to the classification of art and ‘Animal’ simply to the portrait’s subject, this style of painting is often characterised by its simplicity in focus and technique.

Portraits within this classification are best known for their childlike, simplistic nature and are usually created to appear as though the artist has little or no formal art training. However, this is not always true as, with the implementation of academies, some artists within this style working in the late 20th Century and onward have studied or received tuition on the specific technique and subject matters in order to create Naïve Animal Art. Artists working within this classification who have received formal training are sometimes referred to as Pseudo Naïve Artists or Faux Naïve Artists as their work can be considered more self-conscious or restrained than that of the untrained or ‘true’ Naïve Animal Artists working within the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Within the genre of Naïve Art, the traditional rules of perspective taught with formal training are often disregarded. With reference to the Progressive Painters of the Renaissance, these rules are defined as follows:

  • The size of objects should be decreased proportionately with distance
  • Colours should be muted with distance
  • Detail and precision should decrease with distance

As the classification encourages Naïve Artists to ignore these rules in order to create their signature style, the results of this are often as follows:

  • An incorrect or distorted sense of perspective within the image
  • Strong colour and bold patterns running throughout the portrait with no subdued tones or strokes to identify depth or background
  • Accuracy and detail encompassed in all aspects of the painting including those often blurred within more formal styles

Focussing on animal subjects in particular, 19th Century Naïve Animal Art often depicted horses, cattle, dogs or birds with prize winning or show animals being a popular subject matter and receiving a significant number of commissions for artists within this genre. A common work setting for 19th Century Naïve Animal Artists was at horse and cattle shows where the winning animals would be of key interest to the painter. Similarly, these artists would also attend horse races where the portraits would often be commissioned of the racehorses – sometimes with their rider.

Looking at Chessel Vigo by William Albert Clark and The Viscount by E. Mitchell, the techniques outlined above can clearly be seen in both portraits.

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Taking note of the trees displayed in the background of these images, it is apparent that both artists offer an equal level of colour vibrancy throughout the entire picture and pay the same attention to detail to the greenery shown in the front of the image as those that appear to be in the background.


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