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Collection highlights: Bricklayers’ emblem

This vast oil painting is the work of the Royal Academician, A J Waudby who was among the foremost artist-designers of trade union emblems in mid-Victorian Britain. The Operative Bricklayers’ Society commissioned Waudby to paint the emblem. Completed in 1869, Waudby appears to have been paid £115, around £8000 today, for this large Bricklayers' Emblem portraitpainting which hung in the Bricklayer’s head office in London. Commissioned as a design, the painting was probably produced by Waudby to be copied by a professional firm of banner painters to form the centre panel of banners for the Bricklayers’ Society.

The emblem shows the society’s work. The central image is a proud depiction of the bricklayers trade. One cameo on the bottom left depicts a scene of injury at work; the other shows trade union compensation being given to the family of the injured or dead union member. The three female figures from left to right are truth, architecture and science.

The Operative Bricklayers’ Society was founded in 1818 and by the 1840s the union had 1400 members, roughly 2% of the total number of bricklayers in the country at the time.