The Wolf and the Lamb
William Mulready, RA 1786-1863
C. W. Sharpe, engraver
Oil on panel
24 x 20 inches
Source: 1856 Art-Journal
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Commentary by the Art-Journal
Except by a comparison of one with the other, the old maxim "Life is short and Art is long" will not apply to Mulready and his works: for more than half a century—an unusually lengthened period in Art-life—he has devoted himself to his profession, with an assiduity and zeal rarely known; and each year of that term 1ms, almost without interval, produced something that will perpetuate his name among the great painters of the world. And the most remarkable feature in his career is that with advancing years he appears to have been imbued with increased powers; his whole life seems to have been one of progress towards perfection, as if he felt that he bad always something to learn—that there was some point of excellence to be reached which, as yet, he had not attained to. Half the secret of his success may be traced to the manner in which he embarked on his course; he set out with certain defined principles of action, so to speak, and to these he has constantly adhered, so that the differences which the various epoche of his Art may show are not alterations of style, but progress in that he commenced with. Colour and execution are the results at which he aimed; and if we examine a picture of any single year, we shall find it was the best he was capable of producing at that particular period, his latest works being those wherein these two qualities are the most conspicuous; while even his earliest pictures exhibit a depth and force of colour which are found in the productions of other painters only after a life-time of severe study. We remember seeing at the Royal Academy, a very few years ago, two little pictures — views at Kensington, which were painted in 1813; they are simple scenes, but so extraordinary in execution and feeling, as to place them at once on a level with the very best works of their class of any age or country.
Yet it must not be supposed that Mulready's art is limited to the mere materialism of painting, and that he has had no higher motive than to excite admiration by tho brilliancy of his colouring, or surprise at the elaborateness of his 'manipulation : in these qualities some of the old Dutch masters may equal, though none surpass him. His humour is rich, natural,and delicate; his sentimental narrative, graceful and touching; so that we scarcely know to which class of subject to give the preference. Both are studies not only for the artist, but for those who desire to read the philosophy of human life; the former will find in them the very highest qualities of his Art, and the latter will discover, among the groups that make up his subjects, something beyond the types and Bhadows of individual character. Mulready is the "Æsop" of painters, inasmuch as beneath all his figurative expressions lies the moral of truth, fashioned indeed after the similitude of a fable, but cosily discerned and applied.
What a story, for example, is told in the picture of "The Wolf and the Lamb," already well-known from the engraving by Mr. J. H. Robinson, published many years since, tho plate of which is, however, destroyed. That wolfish boy—he has outgrown everything he wears—is the terror of all in the village; he is always ready to do battle, save in a righteous cause, and when his opponent is bigger than himself; his hair, his collar, his coat, and his sleeves, are all turned back, expressive of defiance; in his haste to place himself in a fighting attitude, or more properly speaking, a bullying attitude, he has burst the strap of his trowsers, while his countenance exhibits tho most perfect embodiment of juvenile tyranny. The other, a meek-looking—but, we will venture to assert, a well-disposed lad—is possibly "the only son of his mother, and she a widow;" the little girl is his sister, whose cries for assistance have brought their parent to tho door of the cottage to rescue the "Lamb" from the fangs of the "Wolf." Tho whole picture is full of natural incident expressed in the most felicitous manner. It is in the collection at Buckingham Palace.
“The Royal Pictures. The Wolf and the Lamb.” Art Journal (1856): 36. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 28 July 2013.
Last modified 5 August 2013