A pastoral - "Then blow your pypes..." signed and dated 'Jas C Hook/1857' (lower right), also inscribed with artist's name on an old label on the reverse oil on canvas 70 x 97.5cm (27 9/16 x 38 3/8in).
EXHIBITED: London, Royal Academy, 1858, no. 326
The present lot comes from an interesting phase in J. C. Hook's career. In the mid 1850s the themes of his paintings change, as he switches from painting historical subjects- inspired by Shakespeare, the Bible, and European history- towards depictions of contemporary rural life, and coastal scenes. This change in theme coincides with the artist's move from a studio house at Campden Hill, to a country residence in Hambledon, Surrey. Although elected ARA in 1850 on the strength of his history painting, the artist really found his métier in changing to scenes of English rural and marine life, and it was for his new work that he was fully elected RA in 1860.
The accompanying quotation comes from the section on August in The Shepherd's Calendar, which was Edmund Spenser's first major poetic work, published in 1579. The rest of the quote reads:
'Then blow your pipes, shepherds, till you be at home; The night nigheth fast, it's time to be gone.'
The poem also proved inspiration for Hook's 1855 exhibit Colin thou ken'st, the Southern Shepheard's boy. (RA 1855, no. 77).
The mother and child in the foreground of A Pastoral are probably taken from Hook's wife Rosalie and elder son Allan, who also appear in paintings of the previous years, Colin though ken'st (see above) and A fisherman's goodnight (1856).
When exhibited at the Royal Academy, A Pastoral caused mixed comment among critics, The Times noting 'J.C. Hook's charming pastoral, in which real Surrey yokels piping their way home after the day's work are made refined without ceasing to be true'.1 Writing in his Royal Academy notes, John Ruskin called the picture 'exquisite in idea, and some qualities of colour, as Mr. Hook's pictures are always'; but he added, somewhat grudgingly, that the work is 'by no means better than what he did last year, and if not better, then necessarily a little worse. Pause is, I believe, not possible in art. It is a pity thoughts so beautiful should not be entirely realized: this is, at best, but a full and suggestive sketch. It is not the way to paint a dog, nor a woman's arm, nor a sky.'.2 It is interesting to note that, reviewing Hook's Academy exhibits for the following year, Ruskin has nothing but ringing praise for Luff, Boy (RA no. 369) which he calls 'A glorious picture most glorious!' And he considers that the other works Hook exhibits in this year are 'All of them beautiful'.3
The reviewer of the Morning Chronicle, clearly not enamored of Pre-Raphaelitism, notes that 'Mr. Hook, rather ashamed we imagine of last year's pre-Raphaelite absurdities, has toned himself down to the level of ordinary intelligence. There is nothing very objectionable in the pre-Raphaelitism of his "Pastoral." The herbage is of course too glaring, and you are forced to look in the picture at a great many things which you would never look at in nature. But the children and animals are very natural and there is a life and force about the scene which make us forgive many defects.' Despite these objections, however, the commentator concedes that the work is 'one of the best and most striking pictures in the collection'.4
Footnotes 1. The Times, 1 May 1858 2. John Ruskin, Notes on some Principal Pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy, No.4 1858; from The Complete Works of John Ruskin, ed. E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1904) 3. John Ruskin, Academy Notes, 1859, from Cook & Wedderburn, ibid. 4. Morning Chronicle, 11 May 1858
We are grateful to Dr Juliet McMaster for her assistance in cataloguing this lot