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David Mannings

Term current in 18th-century England to describe contemporary genre pictures of a sentimental realism, in which the artist’s own whimsy played a substantial part. Samuel Johnson defined ‘fancy’ in his Dictionary of the English Language (1755) as a synonym for ‘imagination’ but also in the subsidiary senses of ‘taste’ and of ‘something that pleases and entertains’. The usual subjects for fancy pictures are children and young women represented life-size or slightly smaller, though the term, never used very precisely, has also been applied to landscape paintings having a predominant figural element of a sentimental nature. The keynote in fancy paintings is a sort of contrived innocence, sometimes with erotic overtones. In style and treatment, though not in mood, they were often inspired by the genre scenes and character studies of such 17th-century masters as Rembrandt and Murillo; analogous works by 18th-century French artists, most notably Chardin and Greuze, were also influential in the development of the type. The fancy picture is now most commonly associated with works of this kind by ...