A Welsh Funeral (To the Cold Earth). H. Clarence Whaite (1828-1912). 1865. Oil on canvas. H 46.4 x W 83.2 cm. Collection: Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Accession number: NCM 1924-21. Acquisition method: bequeathed by Samuel William Oscroft, 1924. Image released by the museum on the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence (CC BY-NC), via Art UK. Image download, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Close-up of the funeral procession.
Whaite shows a long funeral procession, with mourners leading, and following, a draped coffin. Presumably the people are drawn from isolated farmsteads in the lower slopes of the mountains, too precariously placed to have a church and churchyard nearer to them. In such communities, each loss would have been keenly felt.
Peter Lord points out that the painting is "close in conception to [David] Cox's A Welsh Funeral," the engraving of which had sparked a whole "genre of Welsh funereal scenes" (291). But Whaite's version, set on the patchy snow of a shelf of higher land, leading into a valley shrouded in cloud and mist, is more dramatic. The white cloth draped over the coffin stands out in contrast to the largely black-clad mourners, one of whom is mounted. Many wear formal black hats, surely only used on such solemn occasions. They will have a difficult trek down to the church: they seem to be almost disappearing off the edge of the world, as if all of them were bound, in the end, "to the cold earth."
There are sparks of life, however. A few of the mourners are clad in red, as if to celebrate the life that was lost; and one young lad is going the other way. Towards the right foreground, he strides out more casually, to play his part in local life. With his dog bounding beside him, he may be a shepherd-boy going to attend to the ubiquitous Welsh sheep, perhaps in a sheltered place at this time of year. Life is hard in these hills, but it continues. Meanwhile, the piety of the Welsh is not in question.
Links to related material
Lord, Peter. Imaging the Nation: The Visual Culture of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000.
Created 16 January 2022