"Retribution" was exhibited 'on the line' at the Royal Academy, Lecture Room in 1876 (no.874) with a whole portion of the wall to itself, thus reflecting the importance and size of this painting.
It is altogether a fine example of Richard Ansdell's unmistakable style, colour palette and subject matter. This composition gave him a chance to depict all his favoured elements on one canvas, which, by the mid eighteen-seventies, he had perfected. This is a picture with a story to tell - so often loved by the Victorians.
We see the familiar texture of the rocky Highland landscape with the expertly depicted groups of ewes and lambs, vulnerably perched on a ledge with Ansdell's 'trademark' birds of prey circling overhead. A shaft of sunlight shines on them through the dark clouds reassuring the viewer that this particular group are safe - one lamb is looking back to what might have been and the other is seeking reassurance from its mother. A sense of distance is provided by the other ewe, and the ever-changing weather promises a hopeful blue sky.
The foreground is dominated by a dead fox - bloodless - as is typical of Ansdell. To the right there is a sheep's skull, telling the viewer what might have been, and there is a small lamb trapped between the rocks: certainly the object of the fox's attention. To the left, there is part of a bird's wing - either a pigeon that was previously caught by the fox, or a magpie symbolising "one for sorrow".
The hero of the piece is the expertly painted tri-coloured Border Collie (this particular one is believed to be Ansdell's own). He has caught the fox, saved the flock from danger, and is looking around for his master's approval with a satisfied look in his eye.
We are grateful to Sarah Kellam for her assistance with the cataloguing of this lot. Sarah Kellam (great, great granddaughter of Richard Ansdell RA) is currently compiling a Catalogue Raisonne of Richard Ansdell's works and she invites contact and enquiries via her website www.richardansdell.co.uk.