This painting shows a young boy breaking stones for road mending, a job often given to paupers. The landscape is Box Hill near Dorking, Surrey. The painting seems to reflect the critic John Ruskin's (1819-1900) ideal of truth to nature as well as the artist’s interest in geology.
When ‘The Stonebreaker’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858 it was admired for its accurate detail and the delicacy of its finish. Ruskin commented: "This after Lewis's is simply the most perfect piece of painting with respect to touch, in the Academy this year; in some points of precision it goes beyond anything the Pre-Raphaelites have done yet. I know of no such thistledown, no such chalk hills and elm trees, no such natural pieces of far away cloud in any of their works."