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Oil painting - Sickness and Health
  • Sickness and Health
    Webster, Thomas RA, born 1800 - died 1886
  • Enlarge image

Sickness and Health

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    1843 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Webster, Thomas RA, born 1800 - died 1886 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, Room 82, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, case WEST WALL

Webster exhibited this painting alongside a quotation from Wordsworth's poem 'The Three Cottage Girls': 'The cheerfulness of innocence survives to mitigate distress'. He starkly contrasts the girls dancing to organ music with the sick girl and her anxious family. A critic thought it 'a simple subject, treated with infinite grace and pathos'.

Physical description

This painting also originally bore a literary quotation with its title: 'the cheerfulness of innocence serves to mitigate distress' taken from Wordsworth. The sickness and death of children was common throughout the social classes in nineteenth-century England, and was a constant theme in art and literature from the 1830s. A special impetus was given by Dickens, whose death of young Paul in Dombey and Son (1847-8) and of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) reached the hearts and minds of most of the reading public. Webster appeals to our emotions by contrasting the two children dancing to the music of the itinerant organ-grinder with the sick girl and her sympathetically morose brother. The picture was much admired by contemporary critics, not only for its sweetness of sentiment but for its careful handling of paint.

Place of Origin

England (painted)


1843 (painted)


Webster, Thomas RA, born 1800 - died 1886 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'T. Webster./1843'
Signed and dated by the artist, lower right


Height: 50.7 cm estimate, Width: 81 cm estimate, Height: 65 cm framed, Width: 98 cm framed

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'Sickness and Health' by Thomas Webster. Great Britain, 1843.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Ronald Parkinson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1990, p. 297


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Children; Health; Musical Instrument; Illness; Chair


Paintings; Health; Children & Childhood


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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