The Carpenters, the Wheelwright and the Turner

‘Carpenter’s Workshop’ (1884), charcoal on paper, private collection.

Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925) was a painter of working people. He was known as a realist and specialized in depicting people working in their homes, in workshops and the fields. As far as I have found, he completed three pieces featuring woodworkers: carpenters (above, featured previously on this blog), a wheelwright and a turner.

Looking at the  ‘Carpenter’s Workshop’ one gets the sense that if you could walk into the scene you would find yourself back in 1884. You would smell fresh wood shavings and wood smoke, hear the conversation between the men and perhaps have a quick greeting tossed your way.

‘The Wheelwright’ or ‘The Old Cartwright and His Wife’ (1897), pastel on paper, private collection.

The wheelwright’s wife sits close to her husband as he works and it is in her figure we see a sign of age, a reminder that there was no retirement. He will work until he no longer able.

‘The Lathe’ (1868), charcoal on paper, Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The turner, like the wheelwright, has been at his craft for many years. He works in a confined space with his tools just behind him. In concert with the other craftsman he has his chopping block and ax at the ready.

Today I caught up on a few saved entries on the ‘Spitalfields Life’ blog by the Gentle Author. The blog documents daily life in the East End of London. A few days ago there was an  anouncement of the death of the turner, Maurice Franklin, age 98. Mr. Franklin was interviewed for the blog in August 2011 when he was still doing part-time work. You can read his story here.

Mr. Franklin was apprenticed at age 13. When he was interviewed in 2011 he was quoted as saying, “I wake up every day and I stretch out my arms and if I don’t feel any wood on either side, then I know I can get up.” Wise words from a nonagenarian.

Suzanne Ellison

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11 Responses to The Carpenters, the Wheelwright and the Turner

  1. johncashman73 says:

    I just finished Jerry Whites “London in the Nineteenth Century.” I think you’d like it a lot.

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  2. Jim O'Dell says:

    Seems to be a pretty common theme to have an axe and a chopping block at the front of the scene (at least in these photos). I know they were probably in every woodworking shop at the time but so was a hand saw. Why were they not displayed more prominently like the axe and chopping block were? Maybe there wasn’t a reason but it caught my eye.

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    • jenohdit says:

      There are clear echos of Joseph and Mary. Look back at this blog and you will see numerous examples of Mary doing needlework while Joseph works at his bench.

      I’m suspecting symbolism of some sort with the axes, but no idea of what. They also solve a technical problem in the top two at least. The floor plane might appear to be parallel to the picture plane at the bottom without them there to tell us it continues to extend towards the viewer’s position.

      The vast majority of medieval and later Renaissance depictions of The Holy family in a workshop setting that Saucy Indexer has found for us, especially the Spanish ones, have complex geometrical foundations that draw the eye back up and help cheat with perspective.

      These later pics seem to be from observation (or copied from observed sketches) and don’t have much more than sketched rather than ruled layout. (e.g. Second picture, rafter from upper left ends at picture width from the bottom corner – making a square obvs- and there is a clear line from that point through the wheel hub. There a few other similar touches but no obvious calculations.)

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    • johncashman73 says:

      There are 2 hand saws right next to the chopping block in the carpenter’s shop, and at least 1 more next to the bench. Turners and wheelwrights did very little sawing.

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  3. Jack Rasmussen says:

    I love this stuff.

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  4. toolnut says:

    Thanks for posting the art work and the link to Mr. Franklin’s story. Good stuff.

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    • Bill Morris says:

      I second the thanks – I love the rabbit trails you provide for us to pursue – especially Spitalfields and Mr Franklin 😊👏

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      • saucyindexer says:

        As soon as I read about Mr. Franklin the image of Lhermitte’s turner came to mind and it was good way to honor his life.

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  5. Richard says:

    The more that things change, the more they stay the same.

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  6. Brian G Miller says:

    I just love these. Thanks for putting them up here.

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