The See-saw, by Thomas Webster, RA (1800-1886). 1849. Oil on canvas. 27 x 17 cm. Guildhall Art Gallery, London, permanent collection. Accession no. 743, bequeathed by George Gassiot in 1902 (this can be seen on the frame). Photographs and commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee, the photographs reproduced here by kind permission of the City of London Corporation. [Click on the images here to enlarge them.]

Some of the figures seen more closely.

The spectator in this painting smilingly supports a little girl on the felled tree-trunk on which two boys are see-sawing. A woman in the background, presumably the little girl's mother, is bending over and almost fading into the other trees nearby. The figures that emerge from the landscape do so because they are picked out by touches of red, white and black, the flesh tones, and because of the silhouette effect of the little boy outlined against the evening sky. It seems like an idyllic composition of rural harmonies. There is however a touch of humour here: according to an Art-Journal commentary on the painting,

a mischievous butcher's boy has induced another boy of lighter weight to become his vis-a-vis, when he plays him the trick of keeping that end of the plank upon which the latter is mounted, in the ascendant, much to his confusion. His expression of apprehension is highly relished by the butcher’s boy, and another who is present as a spectator. [167]

The scenario thus explained delights this commentator:

It is impossible that an incident of this kind could bo more racily rendered by any other hand. Wo hear, even at a distance, the wicked chuckle of the two elder boys, and equally distinctly the plaintive deprecation of the victim. The whole of the material of this beautiful production is brought forward with the most delicate finish. [167]

Related material


"The Royal Academy. The Eighty-First Exhibition — 1849." Art-Journal (1849). Internet Archive. Contributed by the Getty Research Institute. 165-76. Web. 27 November 2018.

Created 27 November 2018