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Oil painting - Brother and Sister - On Pinching the Ear
  • Brother and Sister - On Pinching the Ear
    Mulready, born 1786 - died 1863
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Brother and Sister - On Pinching the Ear

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Britain, United Kingdom (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    1836 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Mulready, born 1786 - died 1863 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, room 82, case EAST WALL

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This picture was originally entitled 'Pinch of the Ear'. It shows one of Mulready's favourite subjects, often found in his life drawings: the neck and shoulders of a young woman. He later changed the title to the more ambiguous 'Brother and Sister'.

Physical description

Oil on panel depicting two young people leaning on a tree branch in an embrace. The girl is holding a baby.

Place of Origin

Britain, United Kingdom (probably, painted)


1836 (painted)


Mulready, born 1786 - died 1863 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'W Mulready/1836'


Height: 30.2 cm estimate, Width: 24.6 cm estimate, Height: 46 cm frame dimensions, Width: 39.5 cm frame dimensions, Depth: 65 mm frame dimensions

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'Brother and Sister' by William Mulready. Great Britain, 1836.

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

Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Ronald Parkinson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1990, pp. 204-205
The following is the full text of the entry:

"MULREADY, William, RA (1786-1863)

Born Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, 1 April (not 30 as is sometimes recorded) 1786, son of a leather breeches maker and amateur draughtsman. Moved to Dublin 1797, London about 1799; encouraged by the Scottish painter John Graham and the sculptor Joseph Banks, entered RA Schools 1800 (won silver medal for drawing 1806). Pupil and assistant of John Varley, whose sister Elizabeth (also an artist) he married 1803 (separated 1810). Exhibited 78 works at the RA between 1804 and 1862, and five at the BI 1808-9 and 1826. Wide range of subjects in early years, including history and portraits, but by 1815 almost exclusively domestic subjects of precise detail and brilliant colour, and with Wilkie the most popular and admired artist in the genre. He noted his own goals as 'Story, Character, Expression, Beauty'. Elected ARA 1815, RA 1816. Many book illustrations; accomplished draughtsman, particularly perhaps of academic nude studies. Designed first penny postage envelope 1840. Elected member of many distinguished institutions at home and abroad. Died 7 July 1863; his studio sale was at Christie's 28-30 April 1864. His four sons Paul Augustus, William junior (see entry below), Michael (see entry above) and John were all trained as artists. Much manuscript and graphic material in National Art Library and V&A collections, also Tate Gallery.
LIT: F G Stephens Memorials ofWilliam Mulready RA 1890; A Rorimer Drawings by William Mulready V&A exhibition catalogue 1972; K Heleniak William Mulready 1980; M Pointon Mulready V&A exhibition book and catalogue 1986. (The three last all have full bibliographies)
The most comprehensive recent catalogue raisonée of Mulready's works, arranged in chronological order, has been compiled by Kathryn Moore Heleniak, in her book William Mulready 1980, which provides the basis for the following entries. Her numbers have been quoted, and a brief resume given of her listing of alternative versions and related drawings. Further reference should be made to both her book and to Marcia Pointon's catalogue Mulready which accompanied the exhibition of 1986 held at the V&A, National Gallery, Dublin and Ulster Museum, Belfast; to Heleniak for more detailed comments on related works and documentation and Pointon for social commentary and aesthetic analysis.
Brother and Sister
FA144 Neg GH1583
Panel, 30.2 × 24.6 cm (12 × 9 ¾ ins) Signed and dated 'W Mulready/1836' br
Sheepshanks Gift 1857

Also known as 'Pinch of the Ear', the work appears in the artist's Account Book under 1835 as 'July 18 "Ear" on Panel'; under 1836 'J. Sh[eepshanks] £152.10 "Ear"', and under 1837 'March 10 J. Sh £157.10 Brother and Sisters:
"Ear" [and] Finden. Copyright "Ear"'. It was exhibited at the RA in 1837.
The critic of the Gentleman's Magazine wrote of this and 'The Toy Seller' (see FA149, p207) that Mulready 'does not appear to advantage. His pictures are mannered, and though abundantly laboured, they are altogether wanting in originality and effect. So few as he exhibits, he ought to give the public no cause to complain of them upon the score of sameness. Surely he might give a little play to his imagination, and employ his talents on something rather more elevated than he has hitherto done'.
Heleniak rightly groups the painting with 'Open your mouth ...' (see FA143, p202) and 'First Love' (see FAl41, p201), and points out that while the young woman 'could conceivably be the boy's older sister (as the title implies and as contemporary reviewers read the painting), their close proximity and her attractive shoulders suggest, perhaps inadvertantly, another interpretation - one that apparently occurred to the artist as well, for Mulready's earliest sketches for 'Brother and Sister' and 'First Love' were drawn on the same day.' The two sketches are dated by the artist 17 July 1835 (repr Heleniak pl 128-9). However, as Pointon notes, 'In the drawing a darkly hatched male figure reaches over and around the woman's body, trapping her with his knee. In the painting the knee is replaced by a tree trunk and the sexual tension implicit in the sketch is much reduced. Instead the woman's dress is allowed to slip from her shoulder thus moving the emphasis from the male to the female figure.
A larger (76.9 × 62.4 cm), 30 ½ × 24 ¾ ins) replica, also known as 'The Young Brother', with a few variations was commissioned by the collector Robert Vernon (1774-1849); it was not finished until eight years after Vernon's death, was paid for by his executors, exhibited at the RA in 1857 (24), included in the Vernon Bequest to the National Gallery, and is now in the Tate Gallery (for full details see Heleniak, cat no 170, p221, repr pl 151). At the 1857 RA exhibition, John Ruskin thought it 'without exception, the least interesting piece of good painting I have ever seen in my life', and that Mulready 'succeeds in using more skill in painting Nothing than any other painter ever spent before on that subject.'
In their reviews of the Sheepshanks Gift in 1857, both the Art Journal and the Athenaeum compared the two versions: 'apparently the sketch from which the Vernon picture, exhibited this year, has been painted', and [it]
shows how inferior the copy in this year's Academy is. The expression is quite lost in the duplicate, and the beautiful pattern of the girl's gown is changed in colour, but not to advantage.'
Liebreich opined that the difference in colouring between the present work and the later Vernon replica was due to the deterioration of Mulready's eyesight, particularly the yellowing of his retinae; the colouring of the later picture can be corrected by viewing it through yellow glass.
A watercolour version of the composition was recorded in a US private collection in 1904.
EXH: RA 1837 (61); Society of Arts 1848 (XLIX); Exposition Universelle Paris 1855 (892); William Mulready South Kensington Museum 1864 (77); William Mulready V&A 1986 (114)
ENGR: ? E. Finden (see above)
LIT: Gentleman's Magazine (VII) 1837, p629; Art Journal 1857, p240; Athenaeum 1857, p857; Dafforne pp47-50; R Liebreich 'Turner and Mulready: On the Effect of Certain Faults of Vision on Painting with Especial Reference to their Works' Macmillan's Magazine 1872 (XXV), pp499-508; Heleniak, pp129-30, 213 (cat no 147, repr pl 147); Pointon p129 (repr in colour pl xxxvi)

Ronald Parkinson"

Exhibition History

Napoléon III et la reine Victoria: Une visite à l'Exposition universelle de 1855 (Musées et Domaine nationaux de Compiègne, Chateau de Compiegne 03/10/2008-19/01/2009)


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Children; Siblings


Children & Childhood; Paintings

Collection code


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