Tobias and the Fish

Tobias and the Fish by Francis Danby ARA, 1793-1861. Oil on canvas Signed with monogram, inscribed and dated 1834 on the reverse 10 x 12 inches, 25 x 30 centimetres. Provenance: Probably Joseph Gillott; his sale: Christie's, 19 April 1872, lot 37; to: a Price for 51 gns. Exhibition: London, Tate Gallery, Francis Danby, 1988, number 33

Commentary by Sally Burgess

This visionary work was painted during Francis Danby's five-year stay in Switzerland. The artist had fled with his large family from England in 1829 to evade his creditors and by May 1831, the threat of way prompted them take up lodgings in Rapperswill on the edge of Lake Zurich. In August 1832, they moved to Geneva where Danby was rescued from penury by Mine Munier, wife of the Director ofthe Academy of Arts, who arranged a subscription for a large picture of the Baptism of Christ (Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva). Danby wrote to his friend Gibbons reporting that "it quite pleases the connoisseurs who like deep toned pictures as well as myself" (2 January 1833). Tobias and the Fish was no doubt commissioned as a result of that larger picture.

The story of Tobias and the Fish is recounted in the sixth chapter of the Book of Tobit. Tobias was sent by his father Tobit to Media to recover a sum of money that he had hidden there. The Archangel Raphael, sent by God, asked Tobit whether he may escort his son on his journey and, in company with Tobias' faithful hound, they departed together. They reached the Tigris, where a gigantic fish attacked Tobias. The Archangel ordered him to capture it and had him remove and conserve its gall, heart and liver, whose miraculous properties allowed him to defeat a demon on his wedding night.


Adams, Eric. Francis Danby, Varieties of Poetic Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973. Catalogue number 33, plate 56.

Nahum, Peter, and Sally Burgess. Pre-Raphaelite-Symbolist-Visionary. London: Peter Nahum at Leicester Galleries. Catalogue number 57.

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Created 1 August 2001

Last modified 27 June 2020