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Oil painting - The Tinker
  • The Tinker
    Legros, Alphonse, born 1837 - died 1911
  • Enlarge image

The Tinker

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1874 (exhibited)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Legros, Alphonse, born 1837 - died 1911 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, Room 81, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, case SOUTH WALL

Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) was born in Dijon where he entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts before attending the ‘Petite Ecole’ of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1802-1897) in Paris and then Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He started exhibited at the Salon in 1857. In 1863, Legros visited London where he found admirers and patrons, notably the Ionides family, and was ardently promoted by the brothers Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Michael Rossetti. An etcher, a painter and a sculptor, he succeeded Edward John Poynter (1836-1919) at the Slade School in 1876 and was naturalized as a British citizen in 1880.

This work is a fine example of Legros’ genre paintings of the 1870s. It depicts a French tinker repairing one of his cauldrons in an open landscape. The subdued palette and earthen tones dominated by blue and green hues as well as the subject matter are indebted to the French Realist movement and in particular to the art of Jean-François Millet (1814-1875).Legros’ genre scenes were particularly praised at the time by British collectors with at the front line C. A. Ionides who purchased many of his works.

Physical description

In the centre a French tinker seated on a bank and turning towards the right in the act of repairing a metal vessel; on the left foreground large copper pots are lying on the ground; in the background trees on the left, a cottage on the top of a hill on the right.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1874 (exhibited)


Legros, Alphonse, born 1837 - died 1911 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

A. Legros
Signed on the right.


Height: cm estimate, Width: 132.5 cm estimate, Height: 150.5 cm frame, Width: 174 cm frame, Depth: 9 cm frame, Height: 154 cm frame, Width: 174 cm frame

Object history note

Royal Academy 1874, no. 24 <u>Un Chaudronnier<u/>; Probably purchased from Legros by Ionides in 1874, since he already owned it shortly after Legros moved to Brook Green that year (cf. undated letter in a private collection from Legros to Ionides, requesting an outstanding payment of £40 still due for it.); Listed as <u>Un Chaudronnier<u/> by A. Legros in Ionides' inventory of November 1881, valued at £600; bequeathed by C.A. Ionides, 1900.

Ref: Basil S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection.Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London : Printed under the authority of the Board of Education, 1925.
C. Monkhouse, ‘The Constantine Ionides Collection’ in Magazine of Art, vii, 1884, pp. 36-44, 208-214.

The collection formed by Constantine Ionides includes works of a wide variety of schools, periods and artists. His collection includes Old Masters, 17th century works, contemporary British works and French 19th century works. Constantine formed friendships with artists of the day, especially Legros, who, having spent 17 years in Britain, became a naturalise British citizen. Constantine proved a stable and generous buyer of Legros work, while Legros, in turn, became an advisor in the matters of art to the attentive Constantine. Under the influence of Legros Constantine developed a keen interest in French 19th century paintings purchasing works by Delacroix, Degas, Millet and Rousseau.

Constantine’s plans concerning his collection conformed to a more ‘public-welfare’ vein of thought than his father or brother. He decided to donate his collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum, instead of privately distributing it or disposing of it in a Sales room.

His will states:

'All my pictures both in oil and water colors and crayon or colored chalks (but subject as to my family portraits to the interest herein before given to my said Wife) and all my etchings drawings and engravings to the South Kensington Museum for the benefit of the nation to be kept there as one separate collection to be called "The Constantine Alexander Ionides Collection" and not distributed over the Museum or lent for exhibition. And I desire that the said Etchings Drawings and Engravings shall be framed and glazed by and at the expense of the authorities of the Museum so that Students there can easily see them.'

The collection bequeathed to the museum in 1901 comprises 1138 pictures, drawing and prints, to which a further 20 items were added on the death of his widow in 1920. The works are listed in the V&A catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection.

Historical significance: This painting is a fine example of Legros' genre scene. It was originally titled Le chaudronnier ou le rétameur de campagne. It depicts a French tinker repairing a cauldron in an open landscape. This subject matter is typical of 19th-century French Realist paintings based on the impartial observation of contemporary life and popular imagery.

T. Wilcox suggests that this type of paintings responded to a double concern in Legros' career. On one hand, it reflects his interest in the ideas of Thomas Carlyle (whos portrait he engraved twice) and in socialism; it also draws upon Millet's famous peasant scenes which were often exhibited in London from 1870 onwards.

It is difficult to assess to what extent Legros' painting conveys his own political concerns. Depiction of humble everyday activities were Legros' main themes during the 1870s: see for instance Le Repas des Pauvres, 1877, Tate Gallery, London (N02898) and La tombée du jour ou le promeneur fatigué, 1878, Museum and Art Gallery, Sunderland.

Historical context note

'Genre painting' describes scenes of everyday life set in domestic interiors or in the countryside, especially those produced by 17th-century Dutch painters such as Gerard ter Borch, Jan Steen, and Pieter de Hooch. These subjects were not particularly popular with Italian and French artists before the 18th century. Even then, Italian genre painting is mainly restricted to works produced by Northern artists active in Bologna and the Veneto such as Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747), Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754), Pietro Longhi (ca. 1701-1785) and Giacomo Ceruti (1698-1767). In this pre-Enlightment society, issues of social class, the legitimacy of power and the needs of common people were beginning to be discussed in Holland, England and France and the debates were slowly filtering down to Italy. Bolognese intellectual life was particularly active and Crespi, who was corresponding one of the most notable academics, Antonio Muratori (1672-1750), appears to have created a visual response to these debates. The works of the Bamboccianti, mostly Netherlandish painters specialising in low-life paintings, painted in Rome in the mid 17th century, may also have provided a source for Italian genre painters while the commedia dell'arte profoundly inspired Crespi and the development of this new Italian version of genre painting. From Bologna the genre spread to Venice thanks to Venetians artists such as Piazzetta and Longhi. They drew the attention of foreign collectors, most notably Joseph Smith the British Consul in Venice, who amassed an impressive collection of such artworks and of Venetian art in general and contributed to the growing taste for these in England. In France, the genre was mainly introduced in the second quarter of the 17th century by the Le Nain brothers, especially Antoine and Louis, whose works still pose problems of individual identification. Genre paintings would be reactivated during the 19th century when artists such as Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) whose art was based on the impartial observation of contemporary life.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'The Tinker', Alphonse Legros, 1874

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

no. 51
Alphonse Legros 1837-1911
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p.174
The Athenaeum, 9th May 1874, p. 638.
The Art Journal, 1874, p. 162.
The Times, 1st May 1877.
Summary Catalogue of British Paintings, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 80-81.
B.S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection. Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London, 1925, pp. 32-33.
Oscar Wilde, l'impertinent absolu, exh. cat. D. Morel with contributions by R. Badinter, Ch. Dantzig and M. Holland, Paris, Petit Palais, 2016, pp. 84-85, cat. 44


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Tinkers; Utensils, Pots, Pans; Landscape; Genre scene




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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