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Oil painting - The Butt: Shooting a Cherry
  • The Butt: Shooting a Cherry
    Mulready, William RA, born 1786 - died 1863
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The Butt: Shooting a Cherry

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1822-1848 (painted)
    1848 (exhibited)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Mulready, William RA, born 1786 - died 1863 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 122, case WW

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

Subjects Depicted
Mulready had started this scene of a crude childhood game as early as 1822 but he had abandoned it unfinished. He was persuaded by John Linnell to resume work, and it was finally exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848. Although the technique was much admired, some reviewers thought the subject unworthy of such painterly skill in colour and effect. Mulready's subject matter was frequently criticised as being too low-life or even violent, the disturbing and realistic scenes of children bullying others were too contrary to the current idyllic view of childhood innocence.

William Mulready (1786-1863) had four sons of whom he had custody after a bitter separation from his wife, Elizabeth Varley. She was the sister of John Varley, Mulready's first teacher, who remained a lifelong friend in spite of this misfortune. It is evident he used scenes from their childhood and his own as subject matter for some of his paintings.

Physical description

Mulready was at the height of his success in the 1840s: one critic, in the New Monthly Magazine, said this picture was 'one of the gems of the exhibition. If you see a very pretty little picture, with a very large crowd assembled to see it, you may be pretty sure it is by Mulready'. The artist's bright and precise technique appealed very much to contemporary taste, as did the charm of his subject-matter, both qualities very much in evidence here. Two errand boys have met: one, a laundry-boy sitting on a basket of linen, has acquired from the Gypsy girls a cabbage-leaf full of black cherries, which he is now trying to lob into his friend's mouth. The butcher-boy's face is stained with the fruits that have missed, his dog watches with interest, and the accuracy - and humour - of expression provoke comparison between Mulready and such great masters of Dutch seventeenth-century genre as Teniers and Steen.
Oil on lined canvas

Place of Origin

England (made)


1822-1848 (painted)
1848 (exhibited)


Mulready, William RA, born 1786 - died 1863 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas


Height: 38.4 cm, Width: 45.4 cm, Depth: 7 cm, Height: 57 cm framed, Width: 63 cm framed

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857. By William Mulready RA (born in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, 1786, died in London, 1863)

Exhibited at the Royal Academy 1848

Descriptive line

Oil painting on lined canvas entitled 'The Butt: Shooting a Cherry' by William Mulready. Great Britain, exhibited at the Royal Academy 1848.

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

Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Ronald Parkinson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1990, pp. 206-207

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Although reviewers admired the technique of this painting, some thought the subject unworthy. Mulready's subject matter was frequently criticised as being too 'low-life' or violent. His realistic scenes of children bullying others disturbed the more popular idyllic view of childhood innocence. [27/03/2003]


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Dog (animal); Children; Cherries


Access to Images; Images Online; British Galleries; Paintings; Children & Childhood


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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