Such pictures were about individual acts of sin and charity. They contained little sense of the social structure that lies behind poverty but instead served to strengthen the age old incentive structure for diligence based on individual and family responsibility. The poor in these paintings provided an opportunity for the prudent and beneficent wealthy to display their charity, such as in Beechey's Portrait of Sir Francis Ford's Children Giving a Coin to a Beggar Boy.
By the end of the 19th century, however, paintings of individuals' charity had given way to paintings critical of charity and alms-houses. For the first time, the itinerant and working poor were represented with dignity and a certain majesty, but also as a threat to the established order. The Danish painter Mastrand's An Englishman Pursued by Beggars in Rome shows begging by the hungry and disabled as an unwelcome intrusion. The collective power of the workers trudging to work in Adler's The Weary is understated. Increasingly, the poor look directly at the viewer, not at their benefactors. Their presence is a challenge to compassion and privilege.
Related to these ideas about charity was the awareness of the moral ambiguity of good fortune—the idea that life is brief, material goods are ephemeral, and much knowledge is vanity. With this religious compass, those who are rich one day may be poor the next, so those enjoying good fortune have a duty to help the unfortunate. There is a tradition of cautionary tales, also derived in part from the seven deadly sins, from which 19th century artists drew. The landlord in Danhausser's The Rich Glutton becomes a humble supplicant in the companion painting The Monastery Soup.