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Oil painting - Rustic Civility
  • Rustic Civility
    Collins, William RA, born 1788 - died 1847
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Rustic Civility

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1833 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Collins, William RA, born 1788 - died 1847 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 122, case WS

Object Type
Oil paintings with sentimental scenes of children in the countryside became popular with collectors such as John Sheepshanks and the Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend, as well as with the Victorian public in general.

William Collins trained at the Royal Academy and went on to become a popular painter of landscapes and rustic genre scenes. He travelled extensively in Britain and abroad, particularly in Italy, and these journeys are reflected in the subjects of his pictures. He was particularly fond of representing children. Here the combination of his fine technique and the agreeable nature of the subject in this painting appealed to a wide public, connoisseurs and amateurs alike.

This version is a replica of a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1832, and bought by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. John Sheepshanks subsequently commissioned this smaller replica.

Subjects Depicted
The picture provides a simple puzzle for the viewer: for whom have the children opened the gate? The answer is given by the shadow of the horseman on the ground. Negotiating the opening of an old gate while remaining on horseback can be difficult, so the children are indeed displaying 'rustic civility' to the rider of the horse.

Physical description

One of the artist's most famous works, and one of the best-known British paintings of the nineteenth-century. The sixth duke of Devonshire had bought an earlier version, which is still at Chatsworth, and in his guidebook of 1845, he wrote: 'People are amused at having to find out what is coming through the gate, which few do, till the shadow on the ground is pointed out to them'. The duke recognized the lasting appeal of the painting; its charm and popularity is indeed due to the way the two village children, one 'touching his forelock' in deference (as he does not own a hat he can raise), have opened the gate. They gaze, presumably hoping for a coin in reward, at the approaching gentleman on horseback, whose shadow only is included in the painting, while the smallest child looks directly out at us.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1833 (painted)


Collins, William RA, born 1788 - died 1847 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'W Collins 1833'
Signed and dated by the artist on bottom bar of gate, lower left


Height: 45.6 cm, Width: 61 cm, Height: 64.5 cm framed, Width: 79.5 cm framed, Depth: 9 cm framed

Object history note

Commissioned by John Sheepshanks and given to the Museum, 1857. By William Collins RA (born in London, 1788, died there in 1847)

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'Rustic Civility' by William Collins. Great Britain, 1833.

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

Parkinson, R., Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, London: HMSO, 1990, p. 36
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p.126

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Sheepshanks commissioned this replica of Collins' painting that had been exhibited at the Royal Academy a year earlier and greatly admired. The children are holding open the gate for a horseman whose shadow can be seen. They were described as 'simple and natural'. The small scale and the affectionate subject matter were qualities praised in contemporary British art. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

dated 1833


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Dog (animal); Children


British Galleries; Paintings; Children & Childhood


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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