The Woodcutters

LL 3688


This painting, by the successful landscape artist and portrait painter John Linnell, shows two woodcutters who have just felled a large tree. Linnell was a pioneer of the new observational landscape painting of the early 19th century, and this work reflects his lifelong interest in depicting men at work in rural landscapes. His sketchbook refers to LL 3688 under the title 'Wood'. According to his journal, he began the painting on 14 November 1875 and worked on it for a further six days that month and one day in December. Three days were spent completing it in February 1876. Linnell was born in Bloomsbury, London in 1792. His artistic talents were encouraged by his father, James, who was a carver, framemaker and picture dealer. At a young age Linnell was set to work producing copies of George Morland's work, which his father sold. Noticing his obvious talent, the distinguished landscape painter and teacher John Varley (1778 – 1842) persuaded James Linnell to let his son become one of his pupils, and in 1805, after a year with Varley, Linnell entered the Royal Academy School at the age of only 13. While studying with Varley, Linnell met William Mulready (1786 - 1863), who was to become a close companion. Between 1809 and 1811, Linnell shared lodgings with Mulready in the village of Kensington Gravel Pits, an area made up of gravel quarries, cottages and kilns, now known as Notting Hill Gate. The pair perfected their techniques and together sketched men at work and the local landscapes in the open air. Their portrayal of labouring male bodies in naturalistic working landscapes was innovative at that time, and represented a departure from the picturesque landscape tradition. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear, however, it has been suggested that there was a homosexual dimension to their friendship. These suggestions were prompted by the discovery of letters from Mulready’s wife, Elizabeth, which complain of his sexual desire for young men, accuse him of taking a ‘low boy’ to his bed, and blame the breakdown of their marriage on his homosexual affair with Linnell. Linnell's own marriage to Mary Ann Palmer (1796 – 1865) lasted until her death and resulted in nine children. His first child, Hannah, went on to marry the influential artist, Samuel Palmer, whose unique talent Linnell had helped nuture. A deeply religious man, Linnell was none-the-less critical of the hierarchical structures of the Christian church and questioned the accuracy of the authorised version of the Bible. For this reason he insisted that his own marriage was a civil ceremony, which, because this was not possible in England at the time, involved an arduous and expensive journey to Scotland. A horizontal tear approximately six inches long, to the right of the woodcutter in the white shirt, has been repaired and patched on the reverse.