This picture demonstrates the fate which befell some Victorian Pictures during the middle years of the last century. The canvas is a fragment of a much larger picture, originally measuring 49 x 74 in, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1898. At some point in its history it has been cut down for commercial reasons, and the parts sold separately. No doubt a collector somewhere is currently enjoying a picture of a rather anxious looking milkmaid, probably without the figure of the deserter lower right. It is to be hoped that one day the parts will be re-united.
Nevertheless, it is a testament to Reid's skill that the picture we currently enjoy works so satisfactorily. The scene is immediately comprehensible, and as his original canvas was conceived in two halves, the figures of the milkmaid and deserter now in some ways seem incidental. Reid was a Scot, and was taught by George Paul Chalmers and William McTaggart. His style is consequently vigorous and robust, and his subjects tend towards drama. His scenes of rural life were immensely popular. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy, and Toil and Pleasure was bought by the Chantrey Bequest in 1879 and is now in Tate Britain. Several other works can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.