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'The Stonebreaker', John Brett

Boy hammering stones in a rural landscape

  • Oil on canvas 51.3 cm x 68.5 cm (20 1/4" X 27")
  • Signed and dated John Brett 1857-58

For about six years, beginning in 1856, John Brett's landscapes were influenced by Pre-Raphaelite principles. His contact with the Brotherhood was limited and it was rather through seeing the work of John Inchbold, another artist who had adopted their technique, that he came to change his own style.

The subject is a boy breaking stones by a roadside. Such work was often given as part of traditional outdoor parish relief, the stones being used to fill potholes in the parish-maintained roads. Brett does not inject any note of social criticism into his depiction. Apart from a slightly flushed face and a trace of a scowl, his well-fed child labourer shows few signs of the destitution that might in reality have driven him to such onerous work.

The glorious, bright, summer setting with a singing bullfinch and a pet terrier playing with a cap compound the viewer's inclination to see this as a pleasant subject.