The Hireling Shepherd

William Holman Hunt, 1827 - 1910

The Hireling Shepherd

William Holman Hunt 1827 - 1910


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

The Hireling Shepherd 1851 William Holman Hunt 1827-1910 Oil on canvas Louise, Learning Manager: I don’t know what the dynamic is between those two. Her body language isn’t very comfortable. Margaret, Volunteer Guide: Some people think that they’re sort of flirting with one another. And then on some tours, people think that she’s pushing him away. It’s ambiguous. He has a death’s head moth in his hand, so it feels sinister. Janet, Curator: The sheep are rolling around and suffering from bloat because they have been eating apples and corn, so the hired shepherd has not done his job. Purchased from the artist by naturalist WJ Broderip in 1852; lent by him to the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857; in the collection of Newcastle Lead Manufacturer James Leathart by 1865; purchased from Tom Leathart for £1,250. 1896.29

Object Name

The Hireling Shepherd

Creators Name

William Holman Hunt

Date Created



framed: 110.4cm x 144.5cm
unframed: 76.4cm x 109.5cm

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint


© Manchester Art Gallery

Fill out my online form.