The Stonebreaker, by John Brett (1831-1902). 1857-58. Oil on canvas. H 51.5 x W 68.5 cm. Collection: Walker Gallery, Liverpool. Accession number: WAG 1632; bequeathed by Sarah Anne Barrow in 1918. Kindly made available via Art UK under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence (CC BY-NC).

Christiana Payne writes, "This subject combined the elements that had brought him critical success to date — stones, plants and a figure — all set against a distant view" (Payne and Brett 59). But despite the beautiful scenery, the youth of the stone-breaker, and the playful little dog beside him, there is a melancholy air about it. The nearly-blighted tree on one side, and the milestone on the other, are obvious pointers to the life of hardship which lies ahead of those who grow up outside the towns, in rural poverty. Compare this painting to Henry Wallis's The Stonebreaker of 1857-58, in which the tragic outcome of a life of such labour is so convincingly and heartbreakingly shown. — Jacqueline Banerjee


Payne, Christiana, and Charles Brett. John Brett: Pre-Raphaeliite Landscape Painter. New Haven and London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale University Press, 2010.

Created 28 August 2021