Monday, May 17, 2010

James Thomas Linnell - Firs and Furze

22 ½ by 31 ¼ in.
signed, titled, dated and inscribed on an artist's label attached to the stretcher: Firs and Furze/ James Thomas Linnell/ Red Hill/ Reigate/ Surrey/ 1854
oil on canvas
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 34,850 GBP

This delightful Pre-Raphaelite landscape was almost certainly painted on the Surrey Downs, close to Reigate where Linnell lived. A young herdsman has fallen asleep on the grass beside a bridle path, whilst his flock stray into the adjacent field, which is being furrowed by a ploughman and his horses. The subject suggests a knowledge of Holman Hunt's painting The Hireling Shepherd (Manchester City Art Gallery) in which a shepherd's flocks are allowed to stray whilst he idles in the arms of a comely maid. Hunt's painting had been completed in 1851 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1852, only two years before Linnell painted Firs and Furze. Linnell probably saw the picture at the Academy and might have already known that the Hunt had begun to paint the landscape near Ewell in Surrey. He may have taken inspiration from the quotation from King Lear that was appended to Hunt's picture in the exhibition:

'Sleepeth or waketh thou, jolly shepherd?
Thy sheep be in the corn;
And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,
Thy sheep shall take no harm.'

The study of the wildflowers in the foreground, including the buttercups and daisies growing along the path and the firs and flowering furze (gorse) from which the picture takes its name, are captured with a Pre-Raphaelite attention to detail.

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