Worn Out by Thomas Faed RA, 1826-1900. 1868. Oil on canvas, 41 3/4 x 57 inches. Formerly Formes Magazine Collection. Image capture 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 Hathi Trust Digital Library and the University of Michigan and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Commentary from the 1893 Magazine of Art
"From Dawn till Sunset" was dubbed ou all hands the picture of the year. . . . The Press headed by the Times, was unwontedly enthusiastic; and the public generally prepared for the epoch-making work, “Worn Out,” which followed it at no distant date.
With anything like a detailed description of this work we have now nothing to do. The outlines of the picture are known to all. With the homely Highland interior, with the wondering grey of dawn touching the fragile, querulous form of the sleeping child, and the rugged figure of the exhausted father by the bedside, we have most of us become acquainted. So have we no less with the other details and accessories of the pathetic Scotch scene, with the shabby coat of the rough nurse which serves to warm the sufferer, with the discarded picture-book, the bowl of food, and withal with the pregnant silence of the uncanny hour in which a mouse alone holds festival. "Worn Out," in a word, is probably as well known as any picture of the century. For not alone its subject, its technique, its very atmosphere has found imitators on all hands, but the very essence of its wholesome pathos, its air of poignant reality, has passed into, and become a part of, the artistic expression of our time. 
Commentary from Susan Casteras's Virtue Rewarded
This is among the best and most beautifully painted of Faed's many images of rural poverty and was executed during his most productive decade. Linked in his Scottish subject matter and style to the paintings of David Wilkie, Faed gained initial critical acclaim with The Mitherless Bairn of 1855 and subsequently with other works such as His Only Pair of 1860, Baith father and wither of 1864, and The Last of the Clan of 1865. Rather picturesque cottage interiors as well as urban themes were his forte, but while Homeless of 1869 showed a streetsweeper, presumably an orphan boy, sleeping on a city doorstep, his counterpart in Worn Out has the advantage of a parent to share the crisis.
Worn Out, an engraving of which was later remarked upon by Vincent van Gogh, proved to have considerable popular appeal when it was exhibited at the Academy in 1868. The Art-Journal deemed the picture impressive and admired the bravura brushstroke that brilliantly defines the textures ot the room and its furnishings. The vigil over a sick child was not a new subject in art, of course, and other Victorian artists treated it, including Mrs. Alexander Farmer in The Anxious Hour of 1865 and in Luke Fildes' famous The Doctor of 1891. While maternal concern for the welfare of children was a favorite subject in art, paternal solicitude was less so, but in this painting, as Faed himself described it, the focus is on "a working man who has been watching his little boy through a restless night. The child, holding on by his father's shirt sleeve, has fallen asleep: daylight finds them both at rest worn out." The London Times added that such details in this humble garret as the untouched food, the musical instrument and history book, the pot of flowers. the shielded candlelight, the father's rough coat warming the child, and the scurrying mouse on the floor all "help to toll the story of the struggle of love and care and some refined tastes of poverty." The outcome is encouraging - the child's pink cheeks suggest that the fever has broken and there is rest for both the boy and his protector.
Link to related material
- Linley Sambourne's Punch cartoon of 1888, Worn Out. A Recollection of Thomas Faed R.A. & the Year 1879
Casteras, Susan B. Virtue Rewarded: Victorian Paintings from the Forbes Magazine Collection. Louiseville, Kentucky: J. B. Speed Art Museum, 1988. No. 10.
Dixon, Marion Hepworth. “Thomas Faed, R.A..” Magazine of Art. 16 (December 1892-November 1893): 269-75. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of Toronto Library. Web. 8 September 2013.
Last modified 10 August 2013