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  • Although this painting is more commonly known as “The Silver Age”, it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1777 as “The Market Girl”. It has been suggested that in his travels to Paris Walton may have become acquainted with Chardin, whose influence can be perceived in the scale, composition, and tranquil mood of the scene. The genre paintings that Walton exhibited in the mid-1770s certainly constituted a shift away from his early portraits in style and subject matter. The model may be one of Walton’s nieces, who posed for several of his genre scenes. The publisher Valentine Green assigned the alternate title when he published an engraving after this work paired with another, after a painting by Benjamin West (probably “A Domestic Scene”, RA 1776, no. 321), as “The Silver Age” and “The Golden Age”, respectively. In Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, the Golden Age was one of “immortal spring” during which the earth “. . . yet guiltless of the plough, And unprovok’d, did fruitful stores allow. During the Silver Age, spring “was but a season of the year”: Then ploughs, for seed, the fruitful furrows broke, And oxen labour'd first beneath the yoke.” (Ovid, “Metamorphoses”, p. 5) The classical metaphor is not entirely apt, not least because “The Golden Age” depicts a view, through a doorway, of a man plowing a field. Green, however, may have intended a more general association concerning the passage of time and innocence. The sleeping baby in the foreground of West’s composition, blissfully unaware of the world’s travails, could be taken as a younger incarnation of the market girl, bundled against the cold, whose basket of chickens signals her participation in an agricultural economy.
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