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Oil painting - The Contrast: Youth and Age
  • The Contrast: Youth and Age
    Horsley, John Callcott, born 1817 - died 1903
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The Contrast: Youth and Age

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    England, Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    1839 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Horsley, John Callcott, born 1817 - died 1903 (painters (artists))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

The contrasts between youth and age, innocence and experience, were staple subjects for nineteenth-century painters as well as writers. It is interesting to note that this picture was exhibited in the same year as Dickens first introduced Little Nell and her grandfather to the reading public. The artist appended lines of verse, unattributed, to the title in the exhibition catalogue:
Youth in its dawn, daring the thorough fare
Of life with fearless foot and roving eye,
Age in its humble lustre, breathing prayer
Upon the threshold of eternity!
Death with the accompanying expectation of eternal life is suggested by the tombstone, the spade and the freshly dug grave in the churchyard. The old countryman pauses at the church door while his grand-daughter looks at him no doubt wondering why he has raised his hat in tribute. The figures were painted from life, the child being the artist's young cousin, and the elderly man the local sexton of the village in which Horsley was staying in the summer of 1839.

Place of Origin

England, Great Britain (painted)


1839 (painted)


Horsley, John Callcott, born 1817 - died 1903 (painters (artists))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'J C H/1839'


Height: 45.7 cm estimate, Width: 40.6 cm estimate, Height: 60 cm framed, Width: 55 cm framed

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks,1 857

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'The Contrast: Youth and Age' by John Callcott Horsley. Great Britain, 1839.

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

Parkinson, R., Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, London: HMSO, 1990, p. 128
The following is the full text of the entry:
"HORSLEY, John Callcott, RA (1817-1903)

Born Brompton, 29 January 1817, the son of the organist and composer William Horsley, and great-nephew of Sir Augustus Wall Callcott RA. Studied at Sass's art school and the RA Schools. Painted portraits, literary and historical subjects, domestic genre (often in historical costume), and rural genre scenes. Exhibited 121 works at the RA between 1839 and 1896, and 11 at the BI 1837-50. Elected ARA 1855, RA 1864. Won prizes in the competitions for the decoration of the Palace of Westminster 1843, 1844 and 1847. Some of his works were engraved; he also contributed etchings to the publications of the Etching Club and drawings to Punch, and in 1843 designed the first Christmas card. Associated with the artist's colony at Cranbrook, Kent, where he bought a house in 1858. At the RA, he was Rector 1875-90 (his campaign against the use of naked models in life classes earned him the soubriquet 'Clothes-Horsley'), Treasurer 1882-97, and initiator and organiser of the first Winter Exhibitions of old masters. Died Kensington, 18 October 1903. The painter Walter Charles and architect Gerald Callcott were his sons.

LIT: Art Journal 1857, pp181-4; Illustrated London News 24 October 1903, p608 (obit with photograph); J C Horsley Recollections of a Royal Academican 1903 (referred to below as Recollections); A Greg The Cranbrook Colony exhibition catalogue Wolverhampton Art Gallery 1977

The Contrast: Youth and Age
FA81 Neg 51716
Panel, 45.7 x 40.6 cm (18 x 16 ins)
Signed and dated 'J C H/1839' on tombstone at 1
Sheepshanks Gift 1857

Exhibited at the RA in 1840, with the title 'The Contrast' and the following verse quoted without attribution in the catalogue:

Youth in its dawn, daring the thorough fare
Of life with fearless foot and roving eye
Age in its humbled lustre, breathing prayer
Upon the threshold of eternity!

According to Recollections, it was bought from the artist by John Sheepshanks. On his first visit to Sheepshanks

I told him I was painting another picture about the same size as the one he had already bought from me ['The Rival Performers', FA83, p129]. He cheerfully told me he would come and look at it. When next in town he at once settled to buy it, and plunging his hand into his very shabby coat-pocket, produced a cheque book, and asking for a pen and ink, wrote the cheque to pay for it on the spot, as was his invariable custom. This picture was called 'Youth and Age', and represents an aged countryman going into church with his little grandchild leading the way.

The Athenaeum critic wrote:

A little school girl is followed by a venerable man, whom she turns round for one instant to survey with gentle curiosity - the arch of the sacred building, by calling the thoughts away from earth, harmonizing these extremes of life, and reminding us how brief is the career just beginning, and just closing, when compared with the measureless past and future.

The Recollections note that the model for the child was the artist's young cousin, daughter of the Rev John Wall Buckley, with whom he had been staying in Totherfield, Sussex; the old man was the village sexton. This seems appropriate, for further reference is made to the brevity of earthly life by the tombstone on the left of the painting and the freshly dug grave at the right.

Horsley exhibited another painting with the title 'Youth and Age' at the RA in 1857 (180), showing an old widow and a group of village children.

EXH: RA 1840 (117); Exposition Universelle, Paris 1855 (833, as 'L'Enfance et la Vieillesse', lent by Sheepshanks)

LIT: Athenaeum 16 May 1840, p401; Recollections pp50-2"


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Church; Tombstone; Tools, Implements



Collection code


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