The Toiler's Return

The Toiler's Return by Albert Goodwin, RWS, 1845-1932. 1877. Oil on canvas, 97 x 142 cm. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London Corporation. By kind permission of the Gallery. Click on the images to enlarge them. Commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee.

This work of 1877 already shows the direction in which Albert Goodwin's work was moving — that is, away from Pre-Raphaelite detail towards more Turneresque, atmospheric compositions. As in his much later A Gathering Storm, the human element here is very small in scale compared with the greater elements of nature, in this case the jagged cliffs as well as the sea and sky, but it is far more important both spatially and thematically than in the later picture, and has more of a story to tell.

The Toiler's Return, detail

As indicated by the title, a fisherman is returning from his toils, and, at a vantage point in the fishing village, above a huddle of fishermen's cottages and close to the fishing nets, his wife and children eagerly await his arrival. His boat is only a speck on the deeps, but (as show in the detail above) a little girl is running to greet it from the far left foreground, a boy looks from the fence in anticipation, and their aproned mother holds up her youngest infant, whose white garment stands out against the surrounding sea. Picked out in white, the little one raises both arms in anticipation of the father's return. Washing hung on a washing-line flutters just below the family, reminding us that the mother too has her toils.

Compare this painting to James Clarke Hook's popular Catching a Mermaid (1883), where the children playing on the foreshore are a more important part of the composition, and are shown in much more detail.

Created 2 February 2015