'And when did you last see your father?' - the story
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The painting shows an imaginary scene in a Royalist house during the English Civil War. The Parliamentarian soldiers have taken over the house and are questioning the little boy about his Royalist father.
During the English Civil War (1642-1649), Roundheads (Parliamentarians) and Cavaliers (Royalist) fought against each other in order to gain control of the country. The Roundheads were unhappy with the way King Charles I ruled the country. The Cavaliers were loyal to the King. Oliver Cromwell, a leading Roundhead, had the King executed and then became leader of the country.
In the painting we see the young son of a Cavalier being questioned as to the whereabouts of his father by Roundhead soldiers. Yeames was inspired to paint the picture after recognising that frankness and childhood honesty could lead to disastrous consequences. In this situation, if the boy answers honestly, he may endanger his father. However, to save him, the boy may be forced to lie. To the Victorians, children were seen as ideals of truth and honesty. The boy's dilemma would have made this painting very appealing to them.
The young boy in the painting was based on Yeames' nephew, James Lambe Yeames (1873 - 1960). He was about five years old when this was painted.
The little girl
Behind the boy, his sister stands crying, probably at the thought of what her brother may say, or of being questioned herself.
The young girl was modelled by the artist's niece, Mary Yeames (1868 - 1960).
At the far left of the painting two other women, probably the boy's elder sister and mother, can be seen. The anxiety about his possible answer can clearly be seen on his mother's face. Through a doorway, more Roundhead soldiers are also visible, further emphasising the family's helplessness.
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The questioning soldier
This man is asking the boy where his Royalist father is. The soldier and the boy's father support different sides in the English Civil War. If the boy tells him, his father may be captured, or worse. His expression seems calm and friendly. However, he may be behaving this way to try and trick the boy into giving up his father.
The kind soldier
Yeames painted the Roundheads sensitively. The guard with the sobbing young girl seems to be comforting her. This may suggest his sympathy for their situation. Perhaps he has children of his own and would not like to see them questioned in this way.
The soldier with the jewel-box
The gentleman standing at the table, however, appears to be opening the family jewel-box. This and the opened chest in the foreground of the painting hint at the Roundheads searching the house and helping themselves to the family's belongings.