A Girl seated and fondling a dove thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

A Girl seated and fondling a dove

Oil Painting
ca. 1780-1804 (painted)
Place Of Origin

Painting depicting a girl, seated in a woodland, holding a bird.

object details
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief Description
A Girl Seated and Fondling a Dove. Oil painting by George Morland, ca. 1780 - 1804.
Physical Description
Painting depicting a girl, seated in a woodland, holding a bird.
  • Estimate height: 9.375in
  • Estimate width: 7.75in
Dimensions taken from Summary catalogue of British Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973
Marks and Inscriptions
  • 'G Morland' (Signed on the right, under the bird-basket)
  • [Printed] 'RA Exh. of the works of the Old Masters, 1878". [Lent by] J. H. Anderson, 23 Upper Grosvenor St. W' (This label (now on the Department file) was originally attached to the stretcher)
  • Mss, 'Sale of Hesketh [sic]/ Smith Esq/ among many good things 30 Morlands / at which I preferr'd this Lot 59 [or 5a?]/ Christies 1864' [written in ink over the original lighter pencil inscription below] (This label (now on the Department file) was originally attached to the stretcher)
  • Mss, '[cut in half, so illegible] Esq./ sold at Christies / in a collection of 30 / June 1864' (This label (now on the Department file) was originally attached to the stretcher.)
Object history
Bought (Anderdon Collection), sale Christie's, May 1879, along with four other oil paintings; by John Crome (museum numbers 232-1879 and 236-1879), Richard Heighway (233-1879), George Morland (234-1879). Two labels on the stretcher (now on the Department File) indicate that it was bought by J H Anderdon at Christie's in 1864. This was at the Haskett Smith sale, May 1864 (bt. Anderdon £21), p.28. It was Lot 198 at the Anderdon sale, Christie's, 31 May 1879 (2nd day). James Hughes Anderdon was a collector of paintings, engravings and autograph letters. In 1875 he presented to the Royal Academy an annotated set of Royal Academy catalogues for the Annual Summer Exhibitions from 1769 to 1850.

Historical significance: George Morland (1763-1804), landscape and genre painter, was the son of Henry Robert Morland, painter, engraver and art dealer. His father encouraged his early artistic promise, training him through copying old-master drawings. At 14 Morland began an official seven-year apprenticeship with his father, during which he made a particular study of 17th century Dutch landscapes and genre scenes, copying works which his father sold as original works. He also made copies of shipwreck subjects by Cluade-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) and landscapes and fancy pictures by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). These subjects had a great impact on his mature work. Once freed from his apprenticeship he embarked on the life of drinking and association with low-life characters for which he became notorious. By 1786 he had embarked on a fruitful partnership with the engraver William Ward and John Raphael Smith, also a printmaker and a publisher. Morland became established as a painter of moralizing and domestic genre subjects, most of which were intended for the popular print market. As the DNB notes "The subjects were usually of a didactic, moralizing nature, portraying contrasting virtues and vices". Modelled on the work of William Hogarth, they were more in tune with late 18th century ideas of sensibility and were more refined, even sentimental. In 1790 however Morland made the decision to move away from such clear narrative content, painting genre subjects in which there was no narrative or subject matter as such. This seems to have been a response to a shift in taste away from essentially elegant domestic genre, to the picturesque. At the same time he began to modify his style to a less finished, more painterly, even rough handling. He found his new subjects in the village of Paddington where he now lived, opposite an inn frequented by drovers and other country characters. He was hugely prolific and sold most of paintings to dealers. He also continued to work closely with the printmakers and publishers. However, he was no businessman and was often in debt. The last years of his career he was in decline, physically and professionally.

In 1786 Morland had lodged with the engraver William Ward, with whom he was to work closely for the rest of his career, and the same year he married Ward's sister Anne. BLK Henderson, in Morland and Ibbetson (London, P.Allan & Co., 1923), offered a critique of this painting, which he calls Girl Fondling a Dove, on page 81, and prefaced his discussion with an assessment of this moment in Morland's life, and the impact of marriage on his work. "May it not be that in his early married life, with the grace and soft beauty of his young wife before him, Morland sought to recall the lessons of the great painter [Romney] who had understood and sympathised with him in the cheerless days of his tuition at home? These pictures are plain evidence that at this particular point in his career Morland did make a serious effort to refine and, as it were, to domesticate his genius; but a streak of superficiality in him, which, it its slurring over of the sordidness of his themes drawn from low surroundings, constitutes a great deal of his charm, stood in his way here, for his 'refined' types lack vitality and individuality; even though it was plainly his wife who was his model, he could not make effort to penetrate into her character nor to realise the atmosphere proper to such themes, and so the phase passes, and he goes back to the easier way, that of seeing and painting the superficial charm, while he waded deep in the underlying mire, of 'low life'. With the passing of this, the reminiscence of Romney fades as well".

Henderson then specifically discusses what he calls Girl Fondling a Dove; "One of the most interesting pictures painted at this time is the Girl Fondling a Dove. "The figure of the girl... affords us another study of Mrs. Morland. We see again the same beautiful, soft, brown hair. In this picture three touches of pink relieve the simplicity of the white dress. There is a pink ribbon on the hat, another round the waist, and the shoes are pink. The lower limbs offer the suggestion of lack of proportion. But the interest of the picture lies chiefly in the landscape. For clearness, softness, detail, and vivid light effect, this little view offers a marked contrast to Morland's subsequent work. The colours are not, so to speak, Morland's: they are so bright and yet so effective. While distance is convincing, and the light penetrative, there is something peculiarly pastoral in its effect. If the picture is painted in Morland's youthful manner, it is clear that there must have arrived soon after this work, from some source or other, an influence that banished completely this earlier style. There was, therefore, an earlier and a later Morland...".

Certainly at this early point in Morland's career he painted a number of what were essentially elegant portrayals of attractive young ladies. In this he echoed the work of his father, Henry Robert Morland, who was one of the earliest artists in England to produce so-called 'fancy pictures'; single figure images of young women, always attractive, often rustic or serving girls, occupied in some typical activity such as ironing, or, as in this picture, absorbed in their own thoughts; in each case occupied and so available to be admired by the viewer. The faux-oval framed setting of this oil painting emphasises its almost illustrative, vignette-style quality, and it is easy to imagine this image translated into a popular print, with some choice lines attached. Henderson no doubt over-emphasises the impact of Morland's new wife, at the expense of the impact of Morland's new brother-in-law. This stage in Morland's career seems characterised by efforts to find an audience and a market, both for his paintings and for prints after them. Morland moved away from such sentimental, refined images within a few years, and embarked on a more robust approach, both in style and subject matter, which is now typically associated with his name.

A note on the Departmental File comments; "the canvas has been relined. As far as it is possible to tell, the oval forms part of a rectangular canvas and has not been inserted. There is however a difference of level and texture between the painted oval and the dark-toned remainder of the rectangle - possibly this border has been painted over a gesso ground".
Historical context
Taken from Lionel Lambourne, An Introduction to 'Victorian' Genre Painting, from Wilkie to Frith, (Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1982).

"...Throughout the eighteenth century, as the capital [of London] grew in size so did the nostalgia among sophisticated Londoners for the joys of a rural Arcadia. [Francis] Hayman's decorations for the supper boxes at Vauxhall Gardens, the famous London pleasure garden, which portrayed boys sliding on the ice and other rural games, and the charming freshness of milkmaids on May Day [V&A, P.13-1947 and P.12-1947] mark the first phase in the characteristic English development of the 'fancy picture', of which Thomas Gainsborough was the greatest exponent [with his Cottage Door paintings]. Such pastoral themes were to prove hardy perennials in the English genre tradition. As the eighteenth century came to a close, a new note was introduced into pastoral painting by the work of artists like .... W R Bigg. The title alone of Bigg's 'A Cottager at His Door' [V&A, 198-1885] might lead one to expect a fancy subject similar to Gainsborough's frequent treatment of this theme, but the painting's uncompromising note or realism reminds us of the actualities of rural life behind the idyllic Arcadia of the pastoral painters. These qualities are found to an even greater degree in the work of George Morland (1763-1804).

Morland's erratic genius has been long neglected as a subject for serious study. In his own lifetime he became a legendary figure, the public delighting in seeing him as an intemperate genius, always in debt, who miraculously never lost a happy facility for turning out pictorial combinations of pigs and pretty girls. In fact, a closer study of his work reveals both a surprisingly wide acquaintance with contemporary artistic theories and literature (he illustrated Voltaire), and a considerable knowledge of the Dutch School acquired during his apprenticeship to his father, Henry Robert Morland ... Thus equipped, George Morland was able to give to his chosen rural themes a surprising strength [see V&A, The Reckoning, FA 237]. Occasionally, in a work like Johnny Going to the Fair [also called] The Valentine [V&A, 541-1882], a note of ambiguity is introduced which distinguishes the treatment from that of [later] 'Victorian' painters who sometimes were less subtle and understanding in their approach.

The work of Bigg and Morland should be seen against the background of social upheaval in the Agrarian Revolution of the later eighteenth century. The rural life they recorded was soon to be affected also by the remorseless growth of the manufacturing cities, and a dramatic increase in population. The middle classes which arose during these difficult years of economic reconstruction and expansion after the Napoleonic wars still felt a nostalgia for their rural roots, which was to be reflected in the painting which they purchased with the fruits of their new-found prosperity" [end Lambourne].

For an alternative interpretation of the depiction of the rural poor in the genre paintings of George Morland and in the prints after his work, see John Barrell, The darkside of the landscape: The rural poor in English painting 1730-1840, (Cambridge University Press, 1983 [paperback], pp.89-129).
Subjects depicted
Bibliographic References
  • Henderson, B.L.K., "Morland and Ibbetson", (London, P.Allan & Co., 1923). For a critique of this picture see page 81 (see under 'History' for extract)
  • Exhibition of works by the old masters : and by deceased masters of the British school, including ... works ... of the Norwich School ; and engravings after Sir J. Reynolds, R.R.A., T. Gainsborough, R.A. and G. Romney : Winter Exhibition, London : Printed by William Clowes and Sons for the Royal Academy, 1878292
Accession Number

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record createdJune 29, 2006
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