A Still Life with Cheese, Bread and Beer

attributed to James Booth Higginson

about 1870

Oil on Canvas

68.8 x 78.8 cm

J B Higginson is listed in the 1869 Directory for Madely, Staffordshire, as a painter and decorator. Other known works by him are of a similar composition. However, a recent analysis by James Ayres suggests that this oil may be by another hand.

Unlike comparable still-life scenes in our Naples collection, where fruit and vegetables assume metaphorical value, this modest meal is recorded purely topographically. It is seen close-up, is phrased in a restricted palette of colours, and the objects are placed against a dark background – just like a Dutch still life of the 17th century.

The dominant elements of the composition are the cheese and the bread. While the picture may have been devised to show off the artist’s skill, it may alternatively have been intended as an advertisement for a locally-made cheese. Historically a farmhouse industry, British cheese began to be mass-produced from 1870 with the opening of England’s first cheese factory at Longford, near Derby. The tableware below the cheese serves as evidence of British glass and cotton damask production in factories at the time.