Photo credit: Bradford Museums and Galleries
The artist is clearly British, probably English, not Italian, and should be identifiable among mid-19th century genre painters – probably between 1840 and 1860. Could it be George Smith (1829–1901)?
The collection has commented, ‘Our Modes record has the title as A Wood Gatherer and a Girl Reading. But Bridgeman has the A Fisher-boy and a Girl Reading title for this piece . We did have a good look at this painting in our stores and even unscrewed the backboard but we are unable to see any signatures or identifying marks on the painting or the rear of the canvas. Is it possible the artist is German? It reminds me of Johan George Meyer (Meyer Von Bremen) (1813–1886).'
[Group Leader: Andrew Greg]
I agree with the NICE Paintings entry: ‘Traditionally attributed to the Italian School, this work is unlike Italian paintings of peasants dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, which tend to show peasants engaged in work. The painting shows a fisher-boy, identifiable by the net at his feet, and a peasant girl, possibly his sweetheart, reading a printed paper. The sentimental nature of the piece, and the emphasis on leisure, suggests it was painted with the British market in mind, as it is much more akin to Victorian genre paintings.’
This does not look Italian at all (the young people certainly don't), but it could easily be British, reminiscent in kind of work like https://bit.ly/3LNyCAz and https://bit.ly/3r9GdSj albeit more generic.
I think this may be by or style of Isaac Henzell (1815-76), who lived in Tyneside and often painted fisherfolk with a similar palette and style, as below:
Has the painting, including the back, been checked for a signature or name? An example of Henzell's signature is
Note that the NICE Paintings entry is more in favor of this being British than Italian. What is the basis for attributing this to Italian School? It looks somewhat pre-Raphaelite.
Meyer's work has a more subdued palette and a different sort of finish, and his figures are more delicate, sweetly romanticised and less hearty than the ones in this picture. In other words, Meyer's style is softer, quieter, more sentimental and less straightforward. In addition, for what it's worth, this picture does not feel German to me, but it could certainly be British.
Definitely a Fisher Boy by the hook and basket/creel on his back.
Here's a presumably working link to Henzell's signature:
Artnet listings for Meyer von Bremen:
The Cartwright Memorial Hall art museum was formally opened on the 13th April 1904 and, as the painting does not feature in the illustrated catalogue of 1908, it must have entered its permanent collection after that date:
Perhaps someone could expand on their description of "Museum find, 1977". A trawl through their accession records, for an earlier date than that, might yield a positive result.
Could the painting have come from the brush of one of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, such as Holman Hunt or other member or associate? It favours a comparison to flavours in the latter's 'The Hireling Shepard'. For the context of the suggestion, see the attached newspaper article, from the Bradford Observer of Monday 5th January 1942.
It is not by a Pre-Raphaelite - James Collinson is the nearest, but it is not by him. It looks English to me. It is not by Henzell - the paint is rougher in your painting - look at the sky. I can tell you who it is not by - there are a long list of Victorian Genre artists, but unfortunately, I cannot tell you who it is by. The models are a clue and the manor of painting. Sorry can't give you an artist, but there are many you can attribute it to.
James John Hill (1811–1882)? My composite is based on Hill’s ‘A spring headdress’ https://tinyurl.com/ynz69s53. According to an article about an exhibition of the Society of British Artists in the ‘Daily News (London)’ of March 24, 1862, some artists copied the work of Cobbett, including Henzell, Hill and Noble. Perhaps these other names will be helpful. Henzell was certainly a very good suggestion.
What is being read is not a letter but printed material. There is, of course, a fishing net in the center foreground between the two figures. I do not think this is by Hill, whose style was softer and closer to that of Cobbett. Still, this should be British.
George Smith born 1829
I like the idea of George Smith. As usual we cannot see sufficient detail on our painting to see the painterly style and brushwork, but some things like the use of foliage look plausible. I am not so sure about his figure compositions, which are less interesting than ours,
I suppose one could consider Thomas Faed or a follower.
Andrew, four details attached, in the hope that helps on the brushwork and style. David
Since the faces of both the woman and the child in my earlier composite are so very similar to the face of the girl who is reading, here are two additional composites in support of the artist being J.J. Hill.
The first composite is based on a BNA image in an article about the April 1858 Exhibition of the Society of British Artists. The newspaper commissioned an etching of Hill’s painting ‘The Ballad’ (one of five of his works at that exhibition).
It shows a girl and boy reading together in a rustic location – in my opinion an unusual theme and possibly duplicated for the Art UK work. Note: the hands, the girl's parted hair, the fingers brushing the paper, the amount of skin exposed in the girl's forearms and the small amount of white at the boy's collar and cuff.
The second composite is based on a painting of a wood gatherer on the Invaluable website that shows, in the background, a boy with a basket. https://tinyurl.com/fbthk5z. It is easier to understand the old title of the Art UK work since the boy's basket is so similar to the basket in this image. Note, too: the girl's bare feet, the blouse, the girl's hands and the boy's hat.
Hill seems to have signed his works in the bottom left or right corners in a thin, nearly illegible, hand.
The ballad being read in the Illustrated London News edition of 1858 is entitled "The Lovers Parting".
Hill is not out of the question, but his female faces strike me as more doll-like and "airbrushed." I think our picture shows a generally stronger or more vigorous hand.
The original for that ILN version is https://bit.ly/3NiuARw
I still think our picture is closer to the pre-Raphaelites than to more generic Victorian painters of rustic genre pictures.
Is she a shepherdess? Is he holding a crook? Hill showed ‘The Shepherdess’ at the Society of British Artists in 1856.
Hill’s ‘The Shepherdess’ included a dog, so it is not this work.
Attached is a version of the original ballad sheet for "The Lovers Parting".
What is the basis for the attribution to Italian School?
Jacinto, I have asked our Curatorial contact if the reference to 'traditionally attributed to' on the NICE Paintings entry might mean internally the Curatorial team at Bradford might use something else now. Regards, David
Jacinto, just to say the Collection are unsure where the Italian School reference originated and explained that some entries remain sparse of detail and identification references and so the identification remains a mystery. David
Thank you, David. That means there is no documented specific evidence for an attribution to Italian School, and certainly nothing that could be called authoritative.
One option is to list this under "unknown artist (probably British School)," given that practically no one thinks it's Italian and there is no convincing evidence for it being so.
While this may not be by a "name" pre-Raphaelite, I think it shows pre-Raphaelite influence, so a date of c. 1850s is plausible.