Lovers in Richmond Park. James Smetham. 1864. Oil on panel. H 9.8 x W 15.1 cm. Credit: Yale Centre for British Art. Accession number: B1991.32. Acquisition method: Paul Mellon Fund, in the Paul Mellon Collection. Image kindly released via Art UK as being in the public domain. Caption material added by Jacqueline Banerjee, who also added the comments below. Click on the image to enlarge it.
This could be any couple in a quiet corner of Richmond Park, which still has an abundance of deer, and ancient trees. The deer themselves make a harmonious showing here, weaving across the middle foreground, and matching in colour the darker shades within the mellow light of the parkland. Their graceful line points up the beauty of creation, which perhaps has inspired at least one of the two lovers sitting, leaning back on a stony outcrop, in the left foreground. He is perhaps reading aloud to his partner, although she seems withdrawn, lost in thoughts of her own. This might reflect the relationship of the artist and his wife. James and Sarah Smetham's marriage was, Susan Casteras tells us, "strong and affectionate," but it must have been a difficult one for his wife. Casteras explains that she had to help him "through numerous grim personal and professional times, enduring even the tragedy of his severe emotional withdrawal from life from 1877 until his death in 1889." Casteras adds that "Smetham was quite dependent on her for many reasons, and she shielded him from — or at least tried to deflect — some of the monetary and other demands of everyday life" (16). Love, a God-given gift within the bounty of nature, consists in more than romantic closeness.
Casteras, Susan. James Smetham: Artist, Author, Pre-Raphaelite Associate. Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1994.
Created 19 April 2021