Victorian Norwich captured in online art challenge

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Black Charley" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Black Charley" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite/Getty Images - Credit: Archant

Historical art pieces showing life in Norwich in the 1820s have been brought to life as part of an online lockdown challenge.

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Black Charley" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Black Charley" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite - Credit: Archant

The Getty Museum launched the challenge for people to recreate artwork at home.

Peter Brathwaite, who lives in Bedford, has attracted thousands of likes on Twitter for his reworking of paintings by the artist John Dempsey, of pictures of two Norwich residents.

Mr Brathwaite, a musician, has been taking part in the challenge for several weeks and wanted to highlight lesser known artworks, and began using the hashtag #blackportraiture when uploading his efforts.

Both Dempsey pieces were created in 1823 and are entitled “Cotton” and “Black Charley of Norwich”, which formed part of the artist’s extensive folio of British street people.

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Cotton" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Cotton" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite - Credit: Archant


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The subjects of the paintings are captured in their professions as a “cotton” and “black Charley” during the 1820s.

A cotton is a person who sold threads, ribbons and cotton and a black Charley was a shoe maker and mender.

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Using his own clothes and props at home, his take on the two pictures have received more than 4,000 likes on Twitter.

Among the comments was praise from the Museum of Norwich, which wrote: “This is fantastic! We are really interested in Charley and Cotton. We think the whole archive is a wonderful survival and we would love to know more about them! Thank you for bringing him to life. It’s been a little ray of sunshine during museum lock down.”

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Black Charley" painting. Picture: Supplied Peter

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Black Charley" painting. Picture: Supplied Peter Brathwaite/Getty Images - Credit: Archant

Mr Brathwaite said: “The idea was to keep people engaged with art when we cannot go to the museum and arts at the moment. It’s great they [Getty] suggested the project, it’s really great to get people thinking creatively. They are really fantastic bits of art and it was a good opportunity to look at forgotten pieces and unknown pieces of art. The research from doing this made me realise I was not really aware of the pictures or art that have black sitters in them and I would look for other pictures

Mr Brathwaite said: “I wasn’t really aware of his [Dempsey’s] work before I started. He was a prolific artist who went around the country painting people working on the streets in Victorian England. They really capture the era.

“Having two Norwich residents is quite a thing. You get a sense of who these people are.”

He has been approached by the Museum of Norwich about possibly showing the pictures to young visitors after lockdown.

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Cotton" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite/Getty

Peter Brathwaite recreating John Dempsey's 1823 "Cotton" painting. Picture: Peter Brathwaite/Getty Images - Credit: Archant

Mr Brathwaite added: “That would be great to get young people enhgaging with art to see the huge breadth of variety there are in history which they wouldn’t expect to see, that is a real positive.”

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