Like most humans, I have whimsical tastes and occasional outbreaks of covetousness. Today, while looking for images of milliners, I found this book for sale online, and while I cannot dream of owning it, I am delighted by this image, and by the others shown on the bookseller’s site. The British Museum has a copy, but only a few images online; Yale has a copy at the Center for British Art, but no images online.
Searching a little more only improved the results… Dog groomers! I have got to get hold of this book.
While these engravings satisfy my delight with the absurd, more seriously, they provide some insights into daily life in the 1820s. It’s not the United States, but it’s a helpful place to start, because despite the humour in these, there isn’t a layer of satire that has to be peeled off before we can begin to understand the image.
Full-on satires, like those of Hogarth, Rowlandson and Gilray, can be hard for us to interpret: we’re so far away, we no longer get the joke, so the joke is now on us if we take what is shown for exact truth. The prints in “Twenty-four subjects exhibiting the costume of Paris” have a gentler humour.
I don’t think I’m ready to portray a 19th century dog groomer, but I am stunned that I never considered how long they’ve been around. How many other everyday occupations do we overlook when we think of the past?