Philippa Howden-Chapman and Johan Mackenbach note that images of poverty in the nineteenth century played an important role in alleviating it:
“The pathways to and from poverty and poverty’s impact on health, however, have also vividly been represented in paintings, particularly in 19th century Europe. These paintings let us see what was considered important by the artist and by the wider society. Aspects of poverty that are directly or indirectly related to health were also frequently painted in the 19th century, which suggests that references to the health effects of poverty in these paintings were important in raising and reinforcing concerns about poverty. To early 21st century spectators, these paintings are visual reminders of the values that helped to create the modern welfare state.
In the 19th century the images in paintings had wide circulation, as they were often copied by engravers and reproduced in popular magazines such as Graphic and the Illustrated London News.The visual arts help to tell and re-tell important national stories and not only form a ‘collective memory’ that helps people to define themselves in relation to others but may also illustrate what Emile Durkheim called the ‘collective or common conscience.’”
Philippa Howden-Chapman and Johan Mackenbach, “Poverty and Painting: Representations in 19th Century Europe,” BMJ: British Medical Journal, Vol. 325, no. 7378 (21-28 December 2002): 1502.