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Army life in the early nineteenth century could be harsh – but the punishment for trying to escape could be harsher. Flogging, branding or even hanging, might await captured deserters, most of whom were new recruits unused to the discipline, or men about to be sent abroad without their families. The expressions of anguish on the faces of the deserter and his family suggest that Smirke, a prominent supporter of radical politics, was aware of the hardships that encouraged desertion, and the effect on soldiers’ families.
oil on canvas
H 51 x W 61.2 cm
gift from Sir Alec and Lady Martin, 1964