A Pheasant in the Wood. James Smetham. 1864. Oil on board. H 19.4 x W 24.5 cm, accession number SM16. Acquisition method: deposited at Westminster College, Oxford, 1997. Bequeathed to Oxford Brookes University by the artist's great-great-grandson upon his death under the Capital Taxes Exemption Scheme, 2016. © Oxford Brookes University/Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, reproduced with permission. Caption material added by Jacqueline Banerjee, who also added the comments below. Click on the image to enlarge it.

The path seems to be deep in the wood and the pheasant hardly visible. Glints of lighter colours, like those that enliven the ferns and leaves on the trees, speckle its feathers, but its colouring almost camouflages it. Only the observant artist is able to capture it as it stalks across in front of him. Nature-loving Smetham saw the poetry in nature and responded to the "glimmer" of such a scene early in his career (see Casteras 9). The painting conveys something of the same feeling for nature that Gerard Manley Hopkins would express later on, in his poem "Pied Beauty" (1877) which starts, "Glory be to God for dappled things." For both men, beauty in nature was a revelation of God.


Casteras, Susan. James Smetham: Artist, Author, Pre-Raphaelite Associate. Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1994.

Created 28 May 2021