Manchester Art Gallery

Art in Hard Times: The Walk to Dover by Spartacus Chetwynd and Victorian Paintings of Modern Life

Turner Prize nominee Spartacus Chetwynd’s film, The Walk to Dover, was exhibited alongside some of our most popular 19th century paintings.

Manchester Art Gallery
Saturday 14 July 2012–Sunday 8 September 2013


Made from stills photography and sound recordings, The Walk to Dover documents a seven day walk from London to Dover made by the artist and friends. It was inspired by Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical tale David Copperfield.

Dressed as ‘Victorian Urchins’, the group traced the journey that Copperfield made as a young boy from the harsh world of child labour in London to sanctuary with his aunt in Dover. For seven days, the ‘urchins’ attempted to live in the same way that Copperfield would have: living off the land and foraging for food.

Through the work Chetwynd explores the issue of debt. The piece draws comparisons between Victorian debt prisons (a recurring theme in Dickens’ narratives as well as being experienced by his own family) and contemporary Britain’s credit culture.

On loan from The Arts Council Collection, the short film was shown in the North West for the first time at Manchester Art Gallery. It was on display alongside five works from the city’s collection that also explore similar themes: Thomas Armstrong’s A Street Scene in Manchester; Hubert von Herkomer’s Hard Times; Briton Riviere’s His Only Friend; Frederick Barnard’s A Dress Rehearsal and William Powell Frith’s The Derby Day.

The late 19th century paintings highlight a Victorian fascination with their changing world of new social types and the rigid class structure of the time. Von Herkomer’s Hard Times, for example, features a Victorian family on a journey through the British countryside looking for work. While Rivière‘s His Only Friend depicts a homeless child by a roadside, and has strong echoes of Oliver Twist.


Spartacus Chetwynd The Walk to Dover 2005 – 2007 (still image)
Arts Council England Collection
© the artist. Courtesy Studio Voltaire