An Anxious Moment by Briton Riviere, RA (1840-1920). Oil on canvas. Measurements: 66 x W 101.5 cm. Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway, University of London. Accession number: THC0062. Purchased for Thomas Holloway, 1882.

The painting in its frame.

The painting, with the geese's various and very typical postures of trepidation and enquiry, was very popular. The illustrator Linley Sambourne used it in a cartoon, giving the geese the heads of certain RA members (Punch, 27 July 1878, p. 34; see Dahlgren, n. 44), and several years later John Ruskin brought it into one of his last Oxford lectures, on "Birds, and how to paint them." The lecture, given on 9 November 1884, was reported in the Pall Mall Gazette, with Ruskin's reference to Riviere's work appearing as follows:

And finally, there is the animal painting of Landseer and Mr. Briton Riviere. Landseer, however, is "strictly only a horse and dog painter; he seldom attempted birds, and wheri he did he failed. Riviere has done some wonderful ornithology of a comic kind — as, for instance, in his 'An Anxious Moment,' in which a flock of geese are debating whether they may with safety pass by an old hat." [Ruskin 529]

Probably the hat has been blown off in the wind, and while some geese on the left waddle past it, hugging the wall, two of the geese towards the other side are craning their necks upwards, possibly to look at the person who has just lost it. The effect of their mixed reactions is, anyway, endearingly funny.

Photographs, commentary and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee, with thanks to the Picture Gallery for allowing photography. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and the Picture Gallery and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.


Dahlgren, Anna. Travelling Images: Looking across the borderlands of art, media and visual culture (Rethinking Arts Histories series). Ebook. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018.

Ruskin, John. The Works of John Ruskin, Vol 33. Edited by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. London: George Allen, 1908. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Getty Research Institute. Web. 12 March 2019.

Created 12 March 2019