Kept In signed 'Nicol' and numbered '190' (lower right) oil on canvas 61 x 79.5 cm. (24 x 31 1/4 in.)
PROVENANCE: With Williams & Son, London Private Collection, U.K.
EXHIBITED: Possibly Edinburgh, The Royal Scottish Academy, 1871, no.297 (as They couldn't say their carritch) Glasgow, Scottish Loan Exhibition, 1878, no.3
Born in Leith in 1825 and educated at the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh, Nicol first came to Ireland in 1846 on a four year teaching residency based in Dublin. He had previously been employed as drawing master at Leith High School. His time in Ireland proved hugely influential and Nicol is considered to have found his true style there. Rural Irish communities, their people and traditions became lifelong subjects, which he frequently invested with humour. While his landscape paintings display an intimate knowledge of the country, his portraits of peasants often display a deep affection and insight into the character of its people. Nicol returned to Scotland in 1850 and in 1862 moved to London, however he made yearly trips to Ireland in order to paint. Nicol exhibited prolifically during his lifetime, submitting 172 works to the R.S.A., the institution to which he was elected in 1859 and then becoming A.R.A. in 1868.
The present work depicts the familiar scene of a classroom where a group of mischievous boys have been detained. The composition is centred on the angry looking red headed child who appears to be the leader of the group and stares firmly at us the viewer, flanked by his co-conspirators. As an artist with classroom experience, Nicol would have been familiar with unruly behaviour and the nature of young boys keen to break free from the constraints of academia into the outside world. As is the case with the best of the artist's pictures, extremely close attention to detail has been paid throughout the work from the scratches that have been made across the desk out of a presumed boredom to the vast array of objects strewn out across the composition.