Object Image

The Woodman’s Child

A child sleeps while her parents are at work in the woods beyond. Such a scene is a development of the genre paintings of Wilkie and Mulready, who had been pre-eminent in establishing the Victorian taste for depictions of everyday life. The Pre-Raphaelite virtue of truth to nature is thoroughly honoured in this picture, where the various elements are painstakingly observed as if they were a still life. The soft autumn colours perhaps suggest ideas of mortality. However, the child is in no immediate danger, watched over by a squirrel and a robin. Hughes very probably used his own daughter as the model for the sleeping girl.

Detailed Description This is one of several genre scenes painted by Hughes in the 1860s. It shows a small girl asleep in the foreground, watched by a squirrel and a bird, as her parents work in the distance. Hughes's daughter probably posed for the little girl in the picture. The forest setting has been painted with painstaking attention to detail, in adherence to Pre-Raphaelite ideals. The artist worked on it at the same time as a larger companion picture, Home from Work (1861, Forbes Magazine Collection, New York), which depicts a woodman arriving home to be greeted by his two young daughters. Both paintings were commissioned by the collector James Leathart.

Although Hughes greatly admired Millais's work and often borrowed from his compositions, The Woodman's Child bears no evident relationship to Millais's Woodman's Daughter of 1850-1 (Guildhall Art Gallery, Corporation of London) or to Coventry Patmore's poem on which Millais based his painting.

Credit: Presented by Mrs Phyllis L.Holland 1958

Oil paint on canvas
610.0 x 641.0mm
Image and text © Tate Britain, 2022

Where you'll find this

Tate Britain
Tate Britain
Permanent collection