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This book examines the functions served by nineteenth-century rustic genre paintings in their social and intellectual context. It also deals with the issues raised by their contemporary popularity and subsequent neglect in the twentieth century. This collection fills a gap in the historical analysis of nineteenth-century art. Rustic genre painting encompasses a variety of themes; charity, education, family life and piety. The book examines the political topicality of many of the paintings and their relationship to the extension of suffrage, to campaigns to improve working-class housing and to the roles prescribed for women. The universal themes of these paintings have an immediate appeal to the viewer; their closest analogy in contemporary society is probably television soap opera, and their continuing popularity is shown by their use on greeting cards and stationery. This book reproduces over 100 illustrations by artists such as William Mulready, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Newlyn School, as well as examining the relatively neglected work of David Wilkie, William Collins, Thomas Webster, Thomas Faed and Alfred Fripp.