And When Did You Last See Your Father?
You might recognize this painting - the Walker's most popular. During Britain's seventeenth century Civil War, in a Royalist house taken over by Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarians, a small boy has been brought forward for questioning. His blond hair, blue silk suit and pink cheeks contrasting with the soldiers' leather and armour, he's stepped up bravely onto a little stool to be level with his interrogator. He stands straight-backed and earnest in the spotlight. His interrogator has asked 'And when did you last see your father?' If he tells the truth his father may be captured and killed. William Yeames painted this picture in 1878, based on his apparently pure, honest nephew. The Victorians had an idealized view of children's innocence. That their honesty can have disastrous consequences would have made this boy's dilemma particularly compelling. The boy's mouth is open. Has he already betrayed his father? Can he save him without lying? We suspect we know the outcome. But, ever-hopeful, we're kept guessing. As we have been for well over a hundred years. The Walker, which bought the painting direct from Yeames, has received countless applications for its reproduction. It's appeared in schoolbooks, been a wax tableau at Madame Tussaud's, and inspired political cartoons. While they dreamed of election to the Royal Academy Victorian artists formed their own clubs. Yeames belonged to the St John's Wood Clique. They joined the Artists' Rifles 'for the delightful incomprehensibility of the manoeuvres'. They rented Hever Castle in Kent - featuring its Tudor interiors in their works - and dressed up as Old Master paintings. Yeames even appeared in a series of commercial photos with bushy beard, plumed cap and fur cloak. His eccentricity didn't stop him being elected to the Royal Academy eventually - on the strength of this painting.