Arthur John Elsley (British, 1861-1952)
Arthur John Elsley (British, 1861-1952)

Here He Comes

Arthur John Elsley (British, 1861-1952)
Here He Comes
signed and dated 'Arthur J. Elsley/1917' (lower right)
oil on canvas on board
32 ¾ x 24 ½ in. (83.2 x 62.2 cm.)
The artist.
acquired from the above by Thos. D. Murphy Calendar Company, Red Oak, Iowa.
T. M. Miller (1882-1942), Oklahoma City, acquired circa 1922.
By descent to the present owner.
T. Parker, Golden Hours, The Paintings of Arthur J. Elsley 1860-1952, Somerset, 1998, p. 128. illustrated with the reproduction from the calendar, p. 87.

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

This charming painting features two of Arthur John Elsley’s favorite subjects – St. Bernards, and the artist’s only child, Marjorie. Elsley's first painting to feature a St. Bernard was Victims, exhibited at the Royal Academy 1891, which showed a girl placing a small white kitten on a dog’s back while a boy tries to pull the dog along. This was followed by I'se Biggest, shown at the Royal Academy in 1892, featuring a child standing on tip-toe atop a thick book, comparing her height with that of the dog. Elsley continued to paint these good-natured dogs throughout his career, and they appear in more than thirty of his paintings.
Elsley would study the dogs and take source photographs in preparation for each composition and was particularly renowned for his ability to paint dogs’ paws well, a difficult task. In Here He Comes, the well-rendered paws are centrally placed in the composition, where a lesser artist of the era would have hidden them behind some obstruction instead. Despite the fact that these dogs usually stand only three feet high at the shoulder, St. Bernards are always portrayed in Elsley’s work as gentle giants, with their massive bone structure dwarfing the children in his paintings. Elsley helped reinforce the breed's reputation for being dignified, trustworthy, caring, wise and particularly devoted to children. Here we see the large animal as both a guardian and patient teacher, watching over both her small puppies as they learn to climb the well-appointed stairs of the orangery and the young girl who helps as well.
Elsley was among the most beloved and commercially sought after artists of late Victorian England. His idealized depictions of the lives of children and animals appealed to the middle and upper classes of society, and his work also gained popularity through chromolithographic reproductions. Reproduction rights to Elsley’s work were so eagerly sought after that print companies often competed to buy the copyright to his paintings. His paintings were routinely reproduced for use in color calendars published by the American firm Thomas D. Murphy Company, soap advertisers, as well as for the cover of publications such as Bibby's Quarterly. The present composition was purchased by the Murphy Company after its completion, and dispatched from England by boat en route to their headquarters in Red Oak, Iowa. While in transit, the boat on which the picture was sailing was sunk by a German U-Boat, and Elsley painted a replica of the composition from a reference photograph he had made of the original work. After the work reached the Murphy Company, a reproduction of the painting was used in a calendar printed in 1921, where it was seen by the wife of the painting’s first owner. She liked the image so much that she hung the reproduction on the wall, where it remained until her husband surprised her at Christmas with the original painting to hang in its place.

More from 19th Century European Art

View All
View All