A Very Large 19thC Oil on Canvas 'Babes in the Wood'


Origin: English
Period:  Mid/Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1860-80
Canvas Height: 34.5 inches
Canvas Width: 58.25 inches

Created in the Victorian period and painted in oils, the unsigned and unframed substantially sized canvas measuring 4.8 feet x 2.8 feet, depicts the traditional children's tale of Babes in The Wood, showing two recently deceased children abandoned in a wood lying peacefully amongst a bed of foliage covered with leaves left by two busy robins.

In super condition there are no holes or tears to the canvas, verso it is revealed to be in untouched condition with the original stretcher, there is also a darker space where one would have found a paper label marrying the picture to a gallery, artist or framers but this has long since been absent.

The quality of the painting is certainly dexterous, and rather painterly, the deft strokes apparent especially the faces of the children, the light also rendered well amongst the backdrop of the woods. The gnarled and hefty oaks are painted with skill, as are the ferns, whilst the pale, innocent flesh of the children has an effective, eerie glow as in one another’s arms they died.

Thus wanders these two little babes
Till death did end their grief;
In one another's arms they died,
As babes a-wanting relief.

There have been several tales, pantomimes, and indeed works of art, centring on the story of Babes in the Wood. The ballad tells of two small children left in the care of an uncle and aunt after their parents' death. The uncle gives the children to ruffians to be killed, in order to acquire their inheritance, telling his wife they are being sent to London for their upbringing. The murderers fall out and one kills the other. He then tells the children he will return with provisions, but unable to see it through, they do not see him again. Abandoned, the children, wandering alone in the woods, die, and are covered by leaves by the birds. Unlike many morality tales, the story ends there; with no retribution to the uncle. Folklore has it that the events told in Babes in the Wood originally happened in Wayland Wood in Norfolk, and it is said that the uncle lived at the nearby Griston Hall with the ghosts of the murdered children said to haunt the nearby wood.

Oversize pieces in the decorative world are very much in demand and this generously sized picture wields a huge impact on the viewer, not least because of its magnitude but also its undeniably beautiful, yet haunting, quality.