Manchester Art Gallery

The Hireling Shepherd

Object description

A vividly coloured, minutely detailed painting of a shepherd and shepherdess, seated on the ground in a lush green summer meadow, surrounded by their sheep, a willow-lined grassy stream behind them. The shepherd is a 'hireling', a biblical reference [John 10,12]. In the centre, the young shepherdess leans back on her right arm, flirting with the young shepherd who is leaning forward on his knees with one arm around her shoulder showing her a death's head moth in his hand. The shepherdess is wearing a white long sleeved smock, with white circular embroidery, over a bright red dress, a yellow head scarf over her auburn hair. The shepherd wears a bright blue over-garment, secured at his waist with a belt, from which hangs a small barrel. His lower legs are bound with rope. Behind him on the left, his flock of sheep stray untended towards the trees and cornfield on the right, some of the sheep already amongst the corn. In the left foreground, two bloated sheep lie on the ground poisoned by the corn. The shepherdess has a small lamb on her lap, partly covered with a red shawl, eating sour apples, two of which have fallen to the ground beside her. Her bare feet are close to a small stream in the right corner. Yellow and purple flowers grow in the foreground, with poppies on the border of the cornfield. A line of tall trees is visible in the background to the left, with a field containing rows of hay behind. The frame is decorated with raised mouldings of wheat ears, with sheaves of wheat in the corners and centre of the sides, and beading along the inner edge.

Display label

Gallery text panel The Pre-Raphaelites in their Time Britain's first and best-known radical art movement emerged from within the Royal Academy in 1848. Its original members were rebellious art students who were disillusioned with contemporary practice. They looked back to Italian art before Raphael, seeing the pre-1500 period as one of great sincerity. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In an age of rapid industrial and urban expansion, Pre-Raphaelite artists like Rossetti, Hunt and Millais, and pioneering design reformers such as William Morris, sought a return to pre-industrial values of art and design in truth to nature and materials, and good workmanship. In addition, the arts of the Middle Ages and Middle East were important sources of stylistic inspiration. The Bible, literature and contemporary life were preferred over subjects derived from classical mythology. The Brotherhood also rejected contrived studio lighting and took canvases outside to paint directly from nature. Although attempting to convey exactly what they saw, they created a heightened reality of dream-like intensity with minute details and bright, dazzling colours. Their art was a new kind of history painting for a new age.