There are many aspects of modern mid-19th century life that Petit does not paint, we should make that clear, dress, fashion and the wealthy’s country houses, for example, he has no interest in. But few, if any, other artists captured the positives and negatives of the Industrial Revolution, the impact of the vast factories and furnaces, the desolation caused by intensive mining, or the horror of prison ships.
1. Near Wolverhampton, 1853. More than any other work known to us this picture sums up the good and the bad, the power and the drudgery, the productivity and the smokey ruin in its wake. This picture, perhaps above any other, deserves to be widely known.
2. Sheerness, c1830. Petit manages to communicate something of the horror of the three prison hulks. It is the only known depiction of such a subject and the only artistic reference until Dickens’ sentences in Great Expectations 30 years later. According to the National Archives the worst was not the 25% death rate, disease, or brutality, but utter mental depression carried off with anyone fortunate enough to be sent on to Australia.
3. Bristol, c1850. This deliberately contrasts the trading ship with the church. Petit was well aware of the triangular slave trade from Bristol
4. Marseilles, 1854. The busy port as it was then
5. The Crystal Palace, 1853. Petit painted a series of views of this structure, inside and out, while his friend Philip Delamotte prepared photographs. It seems they were comparing what worked best for different views. Here also showing the archery targets of the local archery club.6. Louvain, Belgium, 1854. A rooftop view of the town