The turn of the century brought with it swift and brutal political upheaval and dramatic social transformation. While industry and commerce flourished and the affluence of the middle-class increased, the lower working-class, thrown off their land and into overcrowded cities, lived wretchedly. For many 19th century artists, classic myths and ancient legends were a source of inspiration, a means of escape, and a medium for expressing their fury over the great inequalities of wealth and power.
Thomas Benjamin Kennington, a notable 19th C. British artist, depicts the mythological character Pandora after opening a box (given to her by Zeus) which contained all the evils of the world. The moonlight streams through the darkened forest, offering a somber vision of a world in decay and implicitly articulating the artist’s anxieties about contemporary society.
Thomas Kennington (British – 1856-1916)
Kennington trained at several prestigious schools: the Liverpool School of Art, the Royal College of Art in London, and the Academie Julien in Paris. Exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy, he became a respected portrait artist, painting Queen Victoria in 1898. Passionate about social reform, he established an independent institution that provided exhibition opportunities for artists rejected and discouraged by the dictatorial Academies.