James Campbell (British, 1828-1893) A Pastoral Rehearsal

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Lot 50
James Campbell
(British, 1828-1893)
A Pastoral Rehearsal

Sold for £ 31,312 (US$ 42,107) inc. premium
James Campbell (British, 1828-1893)
A Pastoral Rehearsal
oil on canvas
63.5 x 115.2cm (25 x 45 3/8in).


  • Exhibited
    Liverpool Academy, 1860, no. 95.

    Marillier, H.C., The Liverpool School of Painters, London, 1904, p. 84.

    This recently re-discovered work by the Liverpool artist James Campbell has been identified as his 1860 Liverpool Academy exhibit, A Pastoral Rehearsal. A group of men, women and children are gathered among a grove of trees on the edge of a village to sing and play. Led by the standing figure of a man who raises his right arm and bow to conduct, while holding his fiddle to his grey-bearded chin, and accompanied by a seated 'cellist and a third musician who plays a clarinet, six villagers sit side-by-side to form the choir. On the right, a man seems to gaze as if transfixed by the rhythm of the music and to which he beats time on a tambourine. At the centre, a flaxen-haired child wearing a pale coloured smock and with a school-satchel across his shoulder, holds the score for the violinist and 'cellist. On the left side of the composition, a youth with white shirtsleeves and a black cap rests in a wheelbarrow and holds a younger child – perhaps his sister – on his lap. One further spectator – a dark-haired woman – stands on the left side before a moss-covered drystone wall, holding a piece of embroidery or knitting. As the painting's exhibited title indicates, the folk seen together are preparing for a musical performance, perhaps as part of a wedding or May Day celebration. The various participants seem to be wearing workaday clothes, with the possible exception of the violinist/conductor who wears a shabby frockcoat and check trousers, so it may be assumed that the rehearsal is taking place at the end of the working day and when the children present have been released from school.

    James Campbell specialised in subjects showing the life of working-class men and women in his native city of Liverpool and surrounding countryside. For biographical information on the artist we depend on a short chapter in H.C. Marillier's The Liverpool School of Painters (1904). According to this source, Campbell studied at the Royal Academy schools in London (although, if this is the case, the academic training received there seems to have left no mark upon him). In 1851, having returned to Liverpool, he entered the Liverpool Academy as a probationer, exhibiting there for the first time the following year. Campbell was elected as an associate of the Liverpool Academy in 1854 and a full member in 1856. In 1857 he contributed to the Russell Place exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art in London, being represented by works lent from the collection of the Liverpool collector and art entrepreneur John Miller and for which Ford Madox Brown had negotiated. In 1858 Campbell was invited to send works to the exhibition of contemporary British art shown that year in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. That Campbell was regarded in a friendly way by members of the progressive circle of painters is demonstrated by his having subsequently been admitted to membership of the Hogarth Club. Among Campbell's most loyal patrons, in addition to Miller himself, were George Rae, of Birkenhead, and James Leathart, of Gateshead.

    In the 1850s Campbell sent works to the Liverpool Academy from an address in Brunswick Square, Kirkdale (now part of Liverpool itself and lying to the north of the city centre). Particular works in urban settings by Campbell, such as Twilight – Trudging Homewards (private collection), in which two itinerant musicians, each of them blind, lead one another home at the end of the day, or Dinner in View (Christie's, 6 November 1995, lot 127), also of 1858 and showing gaunt figures dazed by hunger, are amongst the most extraordinary images of deprivation to come down to us from the mid 19th century. On other occasions, Campbell made painting expeditions into the Cheshire countryside, taking lodgings at Eastham Woods on the Mersey western shore, and on other occasions working at Bidston on the Wirral. These were both places favoured by the Liverpool artists in the middle years of the 19th century, and it is likely that the present rustic subject was made in one or other of them. Campbell's career as an artist was cut short by failing eyesight and from which he suffered even while he was still in his thirties. He exhibited at the Liverpool Academy only until 1864, while the following year he showed for the last time at the Liverpool Institution of Fine Arts. He was eventually awarded a pension and the offer of accommodation by the Royal Academy, and for which support his patrons Rae and Leathart had petitioned. The fact that Campbell had such a short working career – hardly longer than a decade and a half – and because he painted in such an exacting and meticulous way, explains why his works are rare.

    The loving attention to detail that Campbell paid in his figurative subjects owed much to the example of the Pre-Raphaelites. In addition, it seems likely that he studied Dutch genre paintings (and perhaps also French art of the 17th century – on occasions his works seems curiously akin to that of the Le Nain brothers). The way in which Campbell documented the lives of the folk he observed – describing as he did the privations they endured with such humanity – gives his works an idiosyncratic quality that makes them compelling.

    We are grateful to Christopher Newall for compiling this catalogue entry.
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