The Reckoning: A Farmer Paying the Ostler and Pot-Boy of an Inn thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

The Reckoning: A Farmer Paying the Ostler and Pot-Boy of an Inn

Oil Painting
ca. 1800 (painted)
Place of origin

Oil painting entitled 'The Reckoning', A Farmer Paying the Ostler and Pot-Boy of an Inn.

Object details

Object type
Materials and techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief description
Oil painting by George Morland entitled 'The Reckoning', A Farmer Paying the Ostler and Pot-Boy of an Inn. Great Britain, ca. 1800.
Physical description
Oil painting entitled 'The Reckoning', A Farmer Paying the Ostler and Pot-Boy of an Inn.
  • Estimate height: 73.7cm
  • Estimate width: 99.1cm
Dimensions taken from Summary catalogue of British Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973
Marks and inscriptions
'G. Morland' (Painted on the cattle stall at lower right.)
Credit line
Given by F. Peel Round
Object history
Given by F. Peel Round, 1862. A note on the Departmental File notes that; "Donar, in letter of 2.2.1862 in Board Minutes, Vol.P, says 'It was painted to order for my Grandfather Mr. Caswall of Sacombe Park Herts and was by him taken away wet from the easel & consequently has never been engraved'". This would have been Timothy Caswall, of the Guards, and M.P. for Brackley, who was married to Mary Constantia Rolt, who had inherited Sacombe in 1758, at the death of her elder brother. Caswall was a personal friend of Pitt. He died in 1802 (Morland died in 1804).

A further note on the Departmental File states that "According to MS Register of Pictures, FA 237 was exhibited at the International Exhibition 1862, at the close of which it was given to the Museum."

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.

This oil painting depicts a farmer paying the ostler [stableman at an inn] and the pot-boy [publican's assistant] of an inn. The work is undated but was undoubtedly painted after 1790; by this time Morland had moved away from the strong narrative content of his earlier work, and had begun to paint scenes of everyday life that were almost entirely without incident. From 1790 Morland had also moved to the rural village of Paddington and was living opposite the White Lion inn, which was used by drovers en route for London. In this setting he found many of the subjects for this new type of painting, and it is likely that this scene was inspired by observing the life of the inn on a day-to-day basis. The way in which he manipulated elements from one picture so as to paint further 'versions' can be seen from a note on the Departmental file which records that the museum was contacted in 30/12/22 by the owner of a "replica" or copy of "The Reckoning". The owner noted several differences; in the copy is a barrow with a solid cut wheel which is included in the left hand corner, and a lantern suspended from the central beam. According to the owner the copy is half the size of the V&A Museum picture. This version of The Reckoning was painted directly for the donor's grandfather, and so unlike so many of Morland's paintings was not engraved.

See Bibliographic references for full citation of catalogue entry from 100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum., London: V&A, 1985, p.86.
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
  • 100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum.London: V&A, 1985, p.86
  • Lambourne, Lionel. An Introduction to 'Victorian' Genre Painting, from Wilkie to Frith, Victoria & Albert Museum (HMSO, London, 1982), ISBN 0 11 290379 7. Plate 5, p.9.
Accession number

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Record createdDecember 15, 1999
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