The First Sunbeam by Thomas Faed RA, 1826-1900. 1858. Oil on canvas. Engraved by Lumb Stocks (1812-1892). Source: Hathi Trust e-version of the 1862 Art-Journal. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary from Art-Journal

About eight years ago there came to London, from Edinburgh, an artist desirous, like his countryman Wilkie before him, to put in a claim for the good opinion and favours of the southern connoisseurs. Previously to his arrival here, Mr. Faed, for it is he to whom reference is made, had exhibited, on two or three occasions, pictures at the Royal Academy, and had met with sufficient encouragement to warrant the step he was induced to take: and his subsequent success shows that he neither overrated his own powers nor formed a wrong estimate of the judgment others would pronounce on his works, which now rank among the highest attractions in the exhibitions of the Academy, while the artist himself has recently been elected into that institution.

A painter, emulous of general popularity, must necessarily depend much on the popularity of his subject. They who have studied Art look for qualities which the unlearned neither comprehend nor care for; the latter are interested in the subject rather than in the peculiar excellencies that may elevate it to the position of a great work of Art; they are critics easily satisfied if the theme do but please, and it is carried out with a certain amount of truth of character and beauty of colour: and hence painters of genre find a surer pathway to general favour than they who practise the higher department of historical Art, or even landscape, however well executed.

But Faed must not be placed in the ordinary muster-roll-of genre-painters, nor is he one who relies for applause on the mere attractiveness of subject. He knows full well the value of this, yet he is also perfectly aware that the reputation alone worth having, and which also can be alone permanent, must be built upon other and surer foundations. Hence a close examination of his works proves that he aims, and successfully too, to imbue them with the qualities which every sound and true critic expects to find in a really geod picture.

The ‘First Sunbeam’ is one of his later productions, and was exhibited at the Academy in 1858. The scene lies in the interior of the cottage, in which are assembled three individuals, the representatives of three generations, an aged woman, her daughter, most probably, and the young child of the latter, who is just learning the use of her feet, and, attracted by the flickering sunlight on the wall, stretches out its hands to catch the golden-coloured rays. The incident has given the picture its title. The eye naturally fixes itself on the young peasant-mother, as the most attractive figure in the composition —  beautiful without affectation, easy and natural in its assumed attitude, while there is grace in the apparent negligence, but not slovenliness, of her garments. The old woman, who has put aside her spinning-wheel for a time, and is employed in knitting, is not, however, thinking of her work; she gazes intently on her grandchild with an earnest and somewhat anxious look, as if the action of the child recalled to her mind the chequered scenes of a protracted life, sometimes sunshine, and sometimes clouds of darkness; that its joys “come like shadows, so depart" and that the attempt to grasp the glittering but unsubstantial must always, as it ever has done, terminate in disappointment. Whether or not the artist meant, by his treatment of the subject, to teach a lesson on the vanity of earthly pleasures and pursuits, and the folly of striving after “very vanities,” it is quite evident such alesson may be learned from it. He may, however, have intended that the pictured story should present another meaning, by showing that the sunbeam is no respecter of persons, it irradiates the humble dwelling of the poor, as well as the manslon of the wealthy, giving light, and life, and gladness, to all alike.

The picture is one of the purest gems 1n the valuable and extensive collection of James Fallows, Esq., of Sunnybank, Manchester.

Text and formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the University of Michigan and the Hathi Trust Digital Library and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.]


"Selected Pictures from the collection of James Fallows, Esq., at Sunydale, Manchester: 'The First Sunbeam'" Art-Journal. (1862). Hathi Trust Digital Library digitized from a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 3 April 2014.

Last modified 4 April 2014