Gillray produced a number of finished watercolour genre scenes during the 1790s. Many of these paintings were evidently intended for sale as individual works of art and were presumably traded among a small following of loyal and wealthy collectors. Others were simply retained by the artist in his sketch books, which were eventually broken up and sold off when the Humphrey family finally put their business into administration in 1835.
The subject matter of this piece reflects the contemporary fascination with idealized representations of the lives of the working poor. As a commercial artist and engraver, Gillray would have been acutely aware of the many reproductions which had been made of works by artists such as George Moreland and Francis Wheatley and was presumably keen to cash in on their popularity. Indeed, a number of similar painting by Gillray were listed in catalogue for the exhibition of Gillray’s works that appeared at London’s Tate Gallery in 2001. It is therefore possible that this image was part of a larger series of paintings of street traders and may have been influenced by Wheatley’s Cries of London series.
One interesting point to note about the execution of this piece is Gillray’s selective use of paint mixed with gum arabic. This has been applied carefully to add shading and a sense of texture to the basket and its contents, as well as parts of the figure’s clothing.